Aporiaby David Marcus
April 1–May 25, 2006
Aporetic is perhaps the most fitting adjective to describe the show currently on view at EFA gallery. Imagine an exhibit composed of impossibly ambitious installations whose singular record of existence is a self-mocking and presumptuously recondite thirty-minute recording the “viewer” listens to on an I-pod Nano, and you have only begun to “get the picture.” If this sounds daunting, that is just the point. The curators of Aporia (which as we are reminded derives from a-‘without’ + poros ‘passage’), are excruciatingly aware that the formal constraints imposed upon their participating artists are inauspicious to any attempt at exhibiting the works themselves. As the show’s preface willingly acknowledges, “we started with too big a question—too complicated, opaque, doubtful, perplexing. The closer we came to it, the further it receded from our understanding.” I cannot help but recall Francis Ford Coppola who, on the eve of releasing Apocalypse Now, likened his movie to the war that forms its backdrop, saying, “there were too many of us, we had access to too much equipment, too much money, and little by little we went insane.”
In the case of Aporia, it is the abundance of interlacing conceptual agendas that frustrates the migration of ideas toward any concrete ends. Hence the show, in spite of its impeccable presentation, does come off a bit too much like a brainstorming section among graduate students at Johns Hopkins in the 1970s. What is truly remarkable, however, is how effective Aporia is at achieving its goals: to substantiate the insubstantial; to make porous the impervious. “The works are real. They really exist,” I kept hearing during the long afternoon I spent on 39th street. By the time I left, I had become receptive to the notion. After arriving home and listening to the audio again (downloadable from www.aporia-heuristic.com), I was thoroughly convinced that these imagined projects were in fact extant, if only in the minds of the initiated (and patient) few.
Critically, Aporia plays directly into dialogues of the postminimalist era. This is “dematerialized” art at its extreme—reification un-pejoratively flaunted. In 1969, after Conceptualism had entered onto the main stage, Lucy Lippard conceived of the exhibit “When Attitudes Become Form.” In Aporia we are given works which take it as an ontological truth that attitudes, or, more specifically, ideas are form. This basic proposition, enriched by Cai Guo-Qiang’s assertion that unrealized projects have greater mnemonic longevity, helps to set the guidelines imposed on each contributing artist. These guidelines, in turn, encourage the artists to grapple with freedom in the face of a most obvious and un-flinching failure: the works’ lack of realization. Dauo considers these Beckettesque restrictions actually quite conservative. And although this may be hard to believe in relation to a show that includes plans to freeze and excise a 1000-square-foot portion of ocean water, farm a stingless honeybee colony aboard a spacecraft, and create a multi-dimensional reality, the aesthetic experience on the whole remains both minimalist and grounded in formal considerations as rudimentary as figure/ground and form/content.
If I neglect, here, to describe any individual artwork, it is not to refute Guo-Qiang’s exaltation of the unrealized project. It is simply that more often than not the ideas behind “Aporia” are more exciting than the works themselves. As a project, this exhibit is fully, painstakingly, realized. And to try to rehash the lengthy audio recording seems senseless. What still puzzles me about the exhibit’s philosophical groundwork is how precisely it distinguishes itself from 1960s and ‘70s Conceptualism, or from certain more overblown public art acts. Christo’s “Iron Curtain” from 1969 consisted of oil barrels in a narrow Paris street that caused a massive traffic Jam. The artwork was not the barricade, of course, but the resulting traffic jam. Sarah Oppenheimer’s work fuses a similar public spectacle with formal considerations of space and time. But existing as it does as shear potentiality casts a degree of uncertainty over its inherently radical intentions. Can one truly argue that none of the experience of these artworks is lost by their stubborn material refusals? Where do these artworks actually exist? Is there a price list? Granted, a gargantuan bisection of the Atlantic cannot be packaged and sold like so many containers of Piero Manzoni’s shit, but the heuristic sketches for the artworks included in the “non-catalogue” certainly could be. I am not suggesting commodification is the end all for determining a work’s substance—only that what we have here might be reducible to a wild, and, at times, tritely whimsical response to Process art. You could label such a distinction academic. But then try listening to a recording that drops Proust, Nietzsche, Goethe, Mann, and Bataille in the same breath. Behind a wall of verbiage, these works “really exist.” If only the greatness of a piece of art were determined by the difficulty with which it is apprehended.
DAVID MARCUS was the much-loved editor of numerous anthologies of Irish fiction and poetry.