Liam Gillick at Le Magasin

Liam Gillick From 199C to 199D
Le Magasin, Grenoble 6 June – 7 September
Published in September issue of ArtReview. CLick Pages from Art Review September 2014-2 for PDF

Can relational aesthetics be relational when the only visitors on Saturday afternoon for Liam Gillick’s From 199C to 199D were the critic and her friend? Maybe it was just a quiet day. And it might not have concerned Gillick too much in any case, since, as he stated in a 2012 ArtReview interview, he’s less interested in ‘broad publics’ than in a ‘fractured and layered public’, albeit one also absent that day. For Gillick, public reception isn’t the primary issue; for him, ‘we actually have to think much harder about production than consumption’.
This position is consistent throughout the exhibition, a reactivation of a 2012 collaboration with Bard College’s curatorial students whose loose format and concept is repeated with Le Magasin’s own curatorial students. The emphasis is demonstratively on the processes involved in developing the exhibition, rather than on the exhibition itself.

Under the many layers of theory and jargon presented in the press packet and additional written material, this show is effectively a retrospective curated by six curatorial students, with Gillick as maître de cérémonie. Charged with selecting and presenting his most important 1990s works, and in the tradition of ‘new institutionalism’, the six engaged in nine months’ worth of discussions, debates and conversations that became material for further consumables: brochures, video interviews and other documentation, parallel to the show but also its impetus.

Presenting these dematerialised, process-oriented works would indeed constitute a challenge, most of them existing solely in Gillick’s vague instructions. The three versions of the Prototype Erasmus Table (1994–5) are described as tables ‘intended to occupy as much space as possible in order to provide a “terrain” for the display of information and the production of new research work’. On Prototype Ibuka! Coffee Table/Stage (Act 3) (1995) sit other instruction-based works, such as Just Out of Time (1995), which describes how to make a bound 152cm pile of newspapers. Even more perplexing is the Information Room (GRSSPR, Tattoo Magazine, Women’s Basketball) (1992–2014) made of ‘stretched Hessian stapled directly to the walls
[that] function like giant pinboards for the display of various information’, described as ‘a large space to display information of secondary importance alongside any other material that the user of the work deems interesting or important’.

This latter bulletin-board-like presentation introduces elements from The Trial of Pol Pot, undertaken, also at Le Magasin, by Gillick and Philippe Parreno in 1998, This project did push the boundaries of exhibition-making and the creative process, the artists submitting to supervisors’ suggestions and exhibiting only documentation of discussions. This modus operandi so typical of 1990s practices, which is the subject and material of both exhibitions, questioned the roles of curator and artist, the exhibition itself, the hosting institution, the relationship between artist, institution and viewer, and ultimately art itself.

This philosophical discourse finds a successful self-contained form, surprisingly enough, in two films, both titled Vicinato (Neighbour), made collaboratively by Gillick, Parreno, Carsten Höller, Rirkrit Tiravanija and other artists (the second version, from 2000, includes Douglas Gordon, etc). The first Vicinato (1995), beautifully shot in Italian neorealist style on 16mm film, treats themes of proximity, politics and aesthetics by presenting a conversation among friends – one that derives from an actual conversation among the artists, recorded
and recreated.

Despite the philosophical implications of this exhibition and its production processes, as well as the important questions raised about the nature of art and the renegotiation of the power structures involved in creating and exhibiting, the artist’s and curators’ minimal interest in the reception of the public (the one not profoundly aware of these discourses) made the exhibition difficult to engage with despite much ado about participatory practices. The key to its riddle resided in the brochures, texts and additional parallel material, where the issues were debated and pronounced, and explanations offered. This mostly did not translate in the
exhibition’s actual forms and presentation. Maybe due to its collaborative nature, maybe due to the artist’s rejection of ‘transparency as a middle-ground conspiracy’, From 199C to 199D remains ‘as a zone of potential’, as per the artist’s intent but to the detriment of the viewer’s experience. Olga Stefan

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