Do you ever have one of those experiences where seemingly disparate events converge and you unexpectedly go full circle? Well, this weekend was one of those times. I had a heady two days planned of exhibitions and the new Art13 art fair in the capital. I had been desperate to see the Aspen Magazine show at the Whitechapel, and as it closed this Sunday it was my last chance to see it. As it happens, Gerard Byrne was also on display there, which was lucky, as the gallery where I intern has some of his work in their collection and I welcomed the chance to get better acquainted with his work.
Central to the Byrne exhibition is a multi screen film installation entitled A man and a woman make love.The dated tone of the original text is juxtaposed well against tilted chunky surfaces onto which the film is projected, on a time delay meaning each clip is framed by fraction of a second of darkness. This is a re-enactment of a well-known surrealist conversation regarding the ‘woman problem’. I had to smile at this. My senior honours Surrealism tutorial at uni had a female to male ratio of something like 20:1, so the token male bore the brunt of our indignation at some of the patronising and amazingly backward chauvinism expressed by Breton and his milieu. I say amazing, because of course so much of the artistic output of this avant-garde was so incredibly ahead of its time.
Anyway, I digress.
My artistic six degrees of separation went like this: Byrne (Whitechapel) – Surrealists/Duchamp – Duchamp/Cage/Rauschenberg/Cunningham (Barbican) – Cage/Cunningham (Aspen Magazine, Whitechapel) See? Full twentieth century art-historical circle.
The complete set of Aspen magazines were on display at the Whitechapel. They were loose leaf publications presented in a box, and were not limited to text or paper.
The celebrated Roland Barthes essay ‘Death of the Author’ was in fact commissioned for this very magazine. All manner of significant artists and writers were involved in this publication, along with an impressive calibre of musicians. What I liked about this exhibition, aside from seeing the entire contents of Aspen spread out before my eyes, was the behind the scenes documentation including recorded interviews (which reveal how haphazardly the publication was actually put together, surprising now when you see how important some of the included work has become) and also editorial drafts by people like Susan Sontag, giving an insight into the organisation and aims of the editors. I have a penchant for archival shows, I think it must be my history background. I get completely engrossed in glass cases full of what is normally deemed ‘support material’, so when it is actually made the subject of the exhibition I find it really interesting. It is a tricky type of exhibition to pull off, however, as visually it can be a little monotonous.