Letter from LONDON: RICHARD WRIGHT: Turner Prize 09

Tate Britain, London
October 6, 2009 – January 3, 2010

Viewing 2009 Turner Prize winner Richard Wright’s pareidolia-like no title (2009) sets in motion a collection of considerations about the contemporary condition of art. Something prime is shifting.

Richard Wright, ââ¬Åno titleââ¬Â (2009). Courtesy the artist; Gagosian, London; The Modern Institute / Toby Webster Ltd, Glasgow and BQ, Berlin é Copyright the artist. Photo: Sam Drake and Gabrielle Johnson, Tate Photography (room view)

I think I can sum it up by saying that the success of Wright’s large but delicate wall mural signaled to me the return of magical immersive thinking into mainstream art. This at the expense of the pop icon/logo. Its gold, monochromatic (but kaleidoscopic) ground dominates its configuration, producing an all-over fervor that needs to be interacted with imaginatively. 

One feels immediately a sense of languor in the room. People are in no hurry to move along. Rather, they seem immersed in their own mirrored filigreed realms. And one hears the word “beauty” repeated over and over. Clearly we are in the presence of an invitation to reverie.

That said, initially I was a bit nonplussed when encountering “no title,” since the composition has a distinct resemblance to the kind of work I was doing in 1991-92 when I first uploaded my drawings into a computer and began mirroring them with Photoshop. My companion at the museum also pointed out that Wright’s mural shares its structure with pioneers of algorithmic art, such as Roman Verostko, especially his series “Epigenesis: The Growth of Form” from 1997—pen and ink drawings executed with a multi-pen plotter coupled to a PC—or the mirroring manipulations in the early '90s work of the British artist Carl Fudge based on the Dürer etching, “Resurrection.”

In addition, I was slightly annoyed by the uneven lighting that produced distinct hot spots on what should have been a unified undifferentiated field.

But nevertheless, I shall not quibble. This golden work (not at all typical of Wright’s other temporary murals) made opportune a re-appropriation of our finer senses in a way similar to the experience of listening to the prepared piano “Sonatas” and “Interludes” of John Cage. It is more affective than discursive, more enigmatic than dogmatic. The work is full of complex inter-relational transitions and rhythmic overlapping, interlacing perceptions. It displays elasticity by coupling sameness with difference. Forms emerge from other forms, both up and down in scale, and nest within larger units, so that things become component parts of other things. Image-formations surface from the depths of our mind. 

If the primary feature distinguishing aesthetic consciousness is imagination, it is worth recalling that imagination’s two components, visioning and symbolizing, are integral to heightening perception and intuition. Indecision, ambiguity, and conflict become dynamic and useful. The apparitions and angelic visual pleasures concealed in the florid ground turn apparent “flaws,” such as the all-over ambivalence of the mural’s superficially illusory groundlessness, into affirmative values.

That is the interfering shift I detected in what I think of as the responsibility of looking—a shift towards (and into) visual noise. Here we can re-appropriate our senses and our fragile capacity to visualize where the noise of bewilderment and indistinctness govern. Here is an interiorly reverberating resonance that cannot be appropriated by capital. Here one feels oneself feeling as a first person singular. This is an art to self, in self and for self.

However, the result is empathetic—as one experiences the power of imaginatively projecting feelings and perceptions into the vaguely apprehended forms glimpsed in the balanced and mirrored symmetry. This is a shift towards an anti-pop, no-logo emancipatory labor, one that is indicative of social relationships outside of passive pop consumption. Here we can take back our head.

Caught in the cognitive interactions of its florid web, I drifted off into the Tate’s permanent collection and was rewarded by a similarly mirrored and webbed enticement in the lace collar depicted by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger in his “Mary Rogers, Lady Harington.” So Richard Wright’s “no title” seems to be pointing at a reevaluation of high art, and to the necessity of our re-conceiving it in our time. It rewards the inner privacy of the human condition, not the constructed social spectacle that tries to encompass us. Perhaps a certain regime of seeing is in the process of coming to an end.

Contributor

Joseph Nechvatal

Joseph Nechvatal teaches at the School of Visual Arts. In 2011 his book Immersion Into Noise was published by the University of Michigan Library's Scholarly Publishing Office in conjunction with the Open Humanities Press.

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