3 July 2003 - 2 August 2003
Opening Reception 3 July 2003 8pm
In Spite of This
“What is given is a light play — a kind of skit for the gallery — achieved by insisting on improvisational handling. ” – Scott Lyall
Pam Lins conducts a formal study of formlessness. For her exhibition at Mercer Union, the formless nature of clouds becomes the material centre. For Lins, the cloud is tangible and can be formed out of and into any shape and any space. With pieces of wood, strips of tape, paper cut outs and plaster forms, Lins is determined to give the cloud a multiplicity of material qualities.
Brochure Text by Scott Lyall
As an image, the clouds have incalculable value. They are fleeting, but their passage is continuous, atemporal. They proceed indifferently, but are always available. Clouds hang in the sky as though propped on the updraft of a daydreamer’s impression of any object, whatever. For Pam Lins, the clouds seem to add up to something. If Lins’s work gives us something like the outside of a daydream, its effects are directed to observation and thinking.
1. Tacks and Clouds: In the past, clouds gave artists a sign of perfection. They were a means for the highest resolution in painting. You could draw up some clouds at the edge of a perspective and confirm the fine charm of a representation. If a tack – the little stab at the heart of a painting – marked the spot for the establishment of perspective and spatial consistency, it was clouds that pushed your ideal of the painting to the edge of its capacity for containment. Tacks and clouds, you could say, were the frames of your object. They restrained the collection of symbolic relationships by distributing them according to a pleasurable logic between the signs of two different ideas about vanishing. Clouds, for their part, represented inconsistency. They pointed to a difference that a tack couldn’t handle; to an outside escape at the edges of painting. But artists pinned them against a far horizon line, never counting them as anything more than atmospheric perspective.
2. Inconsistency: A cloud, as vague density of particulate matter, is only held in the sky by the air that surrounds it. It is shaped and reshaped by air currents passing through it. Each cloud is an index of the air, which is multiple. So, inconsistency is not a function of the clouds in a painting. It results if the area between tacks and their clouds is compressed as the site of irreparable differences. Inconsistency (the outside that threatens a painting) is the difference between the tack and its structure, and the multiple of unrepresentable air it forecloses.
3. Airless: Thus, the tack and the clouds, or the one and the multiple can’t be placed on the current of the air that supports them without causing disruption to the structure of painting. Because painting – or any art that composes an image – has no method of imitating the movement of the clouds. There is no part of pictures that capture the oscillations of a cloud between its recognized shape and dispersal; there is no way to capture the cloud’s constant indifference to being thought of as the one of the object, or as a multiple. But then clouds as motif of an absence of movement are only found in a depicted sky – that is: airless.
4. Exhaustion: Who said ‘airless?’ The word reads like a vacuum. But if you say it, if you leave it in your mouth for a minute, it starts to sound like a crisis of succession – an heirlessness. This is something, no doubt, like the idea of the bachelor on whom Duchamp pinned the desires of an optical subject. With the bachelor, the phenomena of imitation in painting are replaced by an insistent desire for daydreams. And the idea of finding objects in the clouds and their passage gives way to a felicitous material as the sign of deferral, of un-encountering glances. In the endless repetition implied by deferral, desire drives the tired bachelor to the edge of his thinking, into non-space, the entropic delirium of gases. And in this state of the airless, the dream of clouds is exhausted.
5. Subtraction: Robert Smithson said the thick coloured paint of abstraction was a gas. And the prospect of continuing a painting meant your thinking was stagnant, pouring off into toxins. The landscape of pictures had itself become toxic. If this idea is so, it won’t do to stand apart from the airless looking sideways from the tack of cool critical perspective. What you want is a technique of artistic production that subtracts from this gaseous and airless condition. It may be that a name – saying ‘clouds’ and sticking to it– that does the work of subtracting a thought from dispersal, in a way that gives artists a means of accounting for productions that are valued by their own differentials.
6. The Cut-Out: So, a cloud. Neither abandoned nor returned to the airless. Cut from the density of a building material. An irregular shape, a jigsaw improvisation that’s subtracted from particle board or a white sheet of paper. It might have been called an example of formlessness. But an image of the props from some regional theatre ties the shape to a cloud and allows it to function as a sign organizing vestiges of place, sky and landscape.
Such a cloud is a choice of procedure. It restores the possibility for light play, a type of impressionism, as an animating means of continued production. It is a choice, then, on behalf of productive efficiency. Things proceed under the sign of the cloud as a cut-out: not exactly a change in the weather. But a phasing, a giving way, to a space for production. Air itself is not a problem for cut-outs. It is there all around them, in the gaps and in between things. It fills all the vents, it takes conditions from coolers, and brushes lightly on the surfaces of the thick painted canvases. Air, implied everywhere by an arrangement of cut-outs.
7. Relief: …is the word I want to bring to the gallery. I want to try it, pass it through Lins’s display and production. This doesn’t mean therapy. It is local tactility. A kind of pleasure from conducting thought’s inconsistent connections through the trial of an eye linked to fingers and handling.
Lins refers to her work as a method of thinking. It’s a means and a record of her thought and its passage. So she builds a loose form, breaks or cuts it to pieces, reassembles the fragments, wanting to tack on new pieces. Every step responds to what has just gone before it; and this thinking – this procedure of desiring and handling – continues until the value of the clouds is exhausted. This might read like a kind of phenomenalization of cloud watching, but the effects of Lins’s practice are not dedicated to the production of daydreams. They declare their identity in disjunctive assembly without need for the clarity of a linear construction, nor the duct-work of channeled, recognizable syntax. What is given is a light play – a kind of skit for the gallery – achieved by insisting on improvisational handling. It tests itself on the currents of the air in Toronto. It is holding itself still against the tack of your glances. You are asked to do the same: to move slowly through the gallery, to trace the paths of the work as display and production. To imagine, for yourself, this collection of fragments: how the clouds, the tacks and detailed handling are thinking…