21 January 2013

Art | undergraduate crush // london art fair, part 2

I did have this big plan to blog about my favourite things from LAF, categorising the works by theme under snappy headings such as 'ephemerality', producing an enlightening and witty snapshot of the whole affair. It may still happen. It probably won't. As per usual, I have failed in my blogging mission. Instead, I'm going to gab on about one piece in particular, and an artist very close to my little heart.

My undergraduate dissertation was a complete labour of love. It was 10 months and 11,000 words of tears, tantrums and typing that culminated in my biggest achievement to date. It was difficult, stressful and testing, but I was lucky enough to have picked a subject I really, truly adored and, however many hours I spent reading, writing, declaring I couldn't do it, I still enjoyed it wholeheartedly.

I am fascinated with artworks that change and breakdown over time and the tensions this causes within the context of an institution in whose very nature it is to preserve and archive. Over the last 50 years an increasing number of artists have turned to using more natural materials within their practice, creating work which not only eludes the stasis of the gallery space but often even begins to biodegrade within it; it was these ideas and juxtapositions I wanted to explore in my dissertation.

 (Anya Gallaccio, because nothing has changed, 2001, cast bronze, 250 live apples, twine, Lehmann Maupin)
Anya Gallaccio is an artist working within this practice. Her use of flowers, fruit and trees fascinated me and she became one of four artists whose work I examined in my exploration of entropic work. Often Anya will combine living elements with permanent materials to create pieces that mirror the tension between the work and the gallery space within the work itself (because nothing has changed, 2001, bronze and real apples). Trees play an important role in her work - often bronze, the rest living - and Anya has experimented with bringing them within the walls of the gallery as well as working with them in their natural environment.
(Anya Gallaccio, preserve (beauty) Installation View, 2003, 900 red gerbera 'beauty' pressed behind glass, Lehmann Maupin)

In works such as preserve (beauty) and preserve (cheerfulness) flowers are trapped behind and between panes of glass, the material's function as a protective layer replaced as it speeds up the process of decay. As the flowers begin to breakdown - an attempt to return to a more static and simple state - their drooping heads fall out of the edges of the glass as their putrid juices collect on the floor underneath the work. The work still exists, but its existence is constantly changing. Each moment of the piece is fleeting; decay continues without faltering.

It was on my first day at LAF that I came across Cast from 2003 at The Multiple Store stand.
(Anya Gallaccio, Cast, 2003, acorns, bronze cast acorn, The Multiple Store)

I fell in love.

6 square inches of perfection.

I have never been tempted by such a ridiculous amount of money in my life.

The Multiple Store commissions small editions of work by some of the best contemporary British artists in an attempt to create affordable pieces whilst also allowing artists to explore their practice through new works. Anya Gallaccio created Cast in an edition of 35, which was selling at the fair for £1,100+VAT.

It's not like I neeeeeed a house or a car in the future, right?

And who needs to pay rent when you own acorns?!

The Multiple Store website states “Cast” brings together a handful of real English acorns and one unique cast bronze acorn in a box specially produced by BookWorks for the project. The buyer is invited to plant the acorns for the future, keep them to dry out and die or throw them away, leaving only the cast acorn. “Cast” has both the association with throwaway culture and that of permanence.

Coming across the piece did get me thinking. I was honestly, honestly, considering it. (Mama Siddalee was very unhelpful in her role as discouraging-parent: Well, it will increase in value - so if you want to start becoming a collector and have some money to spare on treating yourself why not?! If anyone's wondering where my shopping mania and ability to spend, spend, and spend some more came from, look no further.) But I couldn't help being slightly bothered by the piece's ephemeral nature. Me, the girl championing entropic work and its ability to bridge nature and culture.

I just couldn't help thinking about how the piece had already changed, the fact that it wasn't new, that I wasn't experiencing its changes from the beginning. If I went to sell it one day, would collectors have the same issue? Would it even be worth the same, let alone more? Would it be worth less?

I hate that it bothered me, especially when I love the idea of it so much. But I felt uneasy. I guess this helps me to understand the issues around collecting works such as Anya's. I had only explored them within the context of the museum institution; it's a whole other ball-game when people start exchanging money for the works, when they have owners and a context away from the gallery space. It mirrors issues around collecting new forms of art such as performance art and video works (blog post to come...perhaps).

What is it that you own when you buy an art work whose natural tendency is to breakdown?
(Anya Gallaccio, into the blue 1993, one ton of salt bricks on Bournemouth beach, variable, Lehmann Maupin)
I visited Cast every day I was at LAF. It was wonderful, but it doesn't hold the same charm for me as other works such as into the blue. Private ownership just gets a bit...messy. I like the concept of this tension, nature vs. culture, decay vs. archiving, but I didn't like what the reality would mean for me.

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