Jamie Shovlin, Derrida from Various Arrangements, 2011-12
For many people, the Fontana Modern Masters series provided an introduction to philosophy, critical theory and assorted other aspects of twentieth century thinking. The books, first published in the 1970s sand early 1980s were portable and cheap and the colourful geometric designs on the covers made them easy to spot. I know a trawl of my bookshelves would yield a few; certainly Bryan Magee’s Popper helped me through philosophy of science one of the few bits of my physics degree I properly enjoyed (yes, that’s right, physics; and no, I have no idea what I was thinking either).
So, why am I writing about some book covers from several decades ago now? Well, I’m not really, expect as a bit of background on the matter in hand: Jamie Shovlin’s Various Arrangements which I caught recently – somewhat by accident and on the last day – at Haunch of Venison.
In Stanley Milgram’s 1961 experiment to test obedience to authority, the experimenter orders the volunteer subject – cast in the role of teacher for the purposes of the experiment – to administer a painful electric shock to an unseen pupil when they get something wrong. In fact the experimenters and pupils were actors and the screams were pre-recorded sounds. The test determines the degree to which the subjects of the experiment were prepared to obey orders when doing so involved – or so they believed – inflicting pain on others.
In 2002, artist Rod Dickinson, working in collaboration with Graeme Edler and Steve Rushton, exactly recreated the setting used by Milgram – the Interaction Laboratory at Yale – and engaged actors to reenact the experiment as an art performance.
Alighiero Boetti, Mettere Al Mondo Il Mondo (Bringing the World into the World), 1975
There are three paying exhibitions at Tate Modern at the moment. The Damien Hirst exhibition is being widely advertised and has been the subject of a lot of media attention. Of the other two, the Yayoi Kusama seems to have generated the most discussion. Hirst is of course a household name and Kusama was already firmly in the consciousness of Londoners with an interest in contemporary art following Walking in my Mind at the Hayward Gallery in 2009 which was heavily centred on her work, indeed her polka dot wrapping of the trees along the South Bank ensured that her work also reached a signifcant non-art audience. The Hirst and Kusama exhibitions are also the ones making the most – visual – noise in the gallery, and while the Hirst was proved mercifully quieter than I had expected when I visited, they do seem to be attracting the bigger crowds.
There were things I liked about the Hirst – it was good to see those early works again and entertaining to stare in horror at the worst excesses of his more recent output – and I really liked the Kusama exhibition (at some stage I may well write about both) but it’s the other show – Alighiero Boetti: Game Plan – that I found by far the most inspiring.
Idris Khan, every… Bernd and Hilla Becher Spherical Type Gasholders, 2004
The objectivity that characterises Bernd and Hilla Becher’s recording of industrial architecture resulted in pictures that allow examination of the structures in almost forensic detail and their typological approach to display allows comparisons between buildings of the same type. The precision that comes from using a large format camera and the neutral lighting of an overcast sky makes for an extraordinary level of detail. There is a sense of completeness that comes from seeing multiple structures of each type.
Idris Khan has taken the Bechers’ work as a starting point for a different examination of the same territory. Rather than building up a picture of the whole from the precise detail of each individual image, Khan has taken an average. By overlaying all the Bechers’ images of a particular type of structure – for instance spherical type gasholders – Khan has produced sketchy pictures that seem to suggest an approximate version of how each type of building might be expected to look.