Deborah McCarthy, Murray MacDonald, Tim Clark, Judith Schwarz
Curated by: David MacWilliam and Renée Van Halm
16 July 1979 - 25 August 1979
Opening Reception 13 July 1979 8pm
Installations / On site
A cycle of installation works executed at Mercer Union and co-sponsored by A Space
Yesterday’s News, Today’s Sculpture
Globe and Mail, Saturday 19 August 1979.
There are some who open their doors every morning to find a newspaper, rolled tight as a croissant, fetch it inside and don’t give it another thought. A skim of the headlines, a glance at the ads, a peek at Morning Marketplace—finish. Judith Schwarz is not such a person. She takes her Globe and Mail seriously (as of course she should)—not only its contents, but its meaning. Schwarz, 34, asks herself questions like: how is a paper put together? How much effort goes into it? What are the qualities of newsprint? And what, by the way, is the meaning of life? Newspapers, in other words, have become her way of exploring culture and making art. The fascinating results of her ruminations can he seen at the Mercer Union until Aug. 25.
Schwarz’s installation looks like a Mayall excavation site—only instead of having dug up the remains of a city, she has constructed them herself. She is part archeologist, part architect. She has uncovered/created the remains of a foundation, floor, platform, pedestal, pillar, tower; yet the installation is composed of only four pieces. In other words, Schwarz’s plump ziggurats and towers are suggestive, not definitive. A single section of her site may intimate elements of tower and pillar simultaneously. It all depends where you stand and how long you look.
Schwarz’s building/excavation site is so memorable because of the way she’s handled her two chosen construction materials: concrete and newspaper. At first it might seem that they are irreconcilable opposites. In Schwarz’s mind they’re not. She associates left-over columns from ruined buildings with left-over columns from yesterday’s newspaper. Her pieces are made by stacking square-cut pieces of Globe and Mail — thousands, maybe ten million of them—in different formations between concrete tiles she makes by hand. In this novel fashion Schwarz is showing how levels of information build up and keep changing –how the discarded past assumes the shape of things to come (not to mention of buildings past).
This correspondence between two kinds of historical remnant, stone and paper, allows many subtle contradictions to add nuance to Schwarz’s work. For example as you walk around the site, the structures appear to change in scale.
They have surprising monumentality considering their miniature dimensions. But then again, argues Schwarz, so do newspapers. They might be flimsy little things which quickly turn as yellow as autumn leaves but they certainly can bend your mind. As well Schwarz considers the hours of labor it takes to mold the cement and cut the paper the rough equivalent of the sweat that goes into grinding out a newspaper.
This brings us to the next level of Schwarz’s editorial comments. Despite the fact that her paper-tiered platforms and columns look so serene, so immobile, so dignified in actual fact they’re anything but. Seething between the sheets of print waiting to be unleashed, are words information, intellectual dynamite. Inside every edition, the artist implies, is a tiger trying to get out. Schwarz isn’t saying whether that potential is positive or not. It’s simply there, underpinning our culture the way ruins once supported entire civilizations. Above all, her work is wise. It is based on those ocean-deep paradoxes that wise literature has always embodied: the beauty of evanescence, the spirit in matter, the energy of decay.”
Mercer Union, July 30 to August 11
Vanguard, October 1979
This summer Mercer Union received funds from A Space to select and prepare three exhibitions: Judith Schwarz, Deborah McCarthy and Murray MacDonald, from Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal respectively. Of the three, only Murray MacDonald chanced to use the given space directly, presenting an installation which deals with the structural features of this particular location.
MacDonald started as a sculptor in the heroic American tradition of Caro and diSuvero. Like them, he worked large and used metal. Last year, informed by the most recent developments in sculpture during The Sculpture Symposium and the exhibitions it occasioned in Toronto, MacDonald started working differently, substituting wood for steel, and more importantly, rethinking the function of the work of art as an object. The resulting show at Mercer deals with art as an experience.
The first work Column Couch, consists of a boardwalk intercepted by the gallery pillar. The walk connects two small cabins made of particle board. The cabin that is further from the gallery entrance is curtained by black cloth. If one stands in the nearer cabin a painted rectangle which covers the width of the column makes the curtained box “disappear.” Less we miss the point, black tape is placed on the boards of the walk to guide our perspective.
The other work, a larger raised cabin that one enters via three steps turns out to be something of a labyrinth inside. We have to side-step the incomplete partitions until, suddenly, we find ourselves sandwiched against a full-length of the window that gives on to the street two storeys below.
Originally this work was to hang suspended from construction scaffolding to create a structural tension which would mirror the uneasiness MacDonald felt in the building under construction; the experience which determined the “theme” of this show. Because of the high deposit fee on the scaffolding, however, MacDonald had to scrap the idea. One regrets this: the instability of the piece (it would wobble slightly when entered), and the knowledge that the cabin was suspended would heighten the sense of insecurity felt by the participant. There is another regrettable feature in this show: the explicitness of MacDonald’s statement. Instead of giving the participant/viewer the satisfaction of discovering the logic behind the Column Couch for himself, MacDonald, in fear of misinterpretations, spells it out. Not only does this diminish mental involvement with the work, it also reduces it to a simple perspective trick. As the artist states:
“This on-site installation consists of two pieces: the first is from a series of platform constructions conceived over the past year and a half. The second, Column Couch deals specifically with the actual space and placement within it of openings and pillars. Both pieces are to do with the interaction of viewer/participant and object/environment (architecture).
The platform construction presents a certain space, within considerations given to both human and architectural scales, which acts, in a sense, like a conjunction between the interior and exterior of the gallery. The particular feeling I was after, came from an experience of sleeping in a small bed in a house under construction. There were no walls and no ceiling, only studs and joists which gave me a strange awareness of the ‘bedroom’ space, the space around the house, and more important, the space my body occupied. That experience was very personal—what the ‘conjunction’ presents in this case will, I suppose, reflect what the individual brings to it.
In the second piece, again I am interested in the role of the spectator, how he/she relates to the object (column)—a kind of transposing of object and participant. From the viewing platform one can mentally place the column in the container at the other end. Walking to this end one can push aside the curtain spacer, stand inside and view the column from its previous position. The dimensions of and between the various parts relate to such things as a ‘normal’ human scale, observed and contrived perspective and available space.”
But the Column Couch is more than that. It is a complex work that combines MacDonald’s old interests with the new preoccupations. Though the intention and execution are different, one is reminded here of Caro’s Early One Morning in which various elements of the sculpture are placed behind one another on a steel beam. From the side one perceives the amount of space it occupies. When seen dead-on one cannot appreciate this space; all the elements appear to exist in a single plane. (Cf. Rosalind Krauss’ discussion of Early One Morning in Passages in Modern Sculpture (New York, 1977), p. 187-191.) The flattening that happens in Early One Morning is taken a step further in Column Couch. MacDonald uses the same device of aligning the elements of the work, so that, viewed from the designated post, half of the construction is rendered invisible. We see the thickness of the wood that the cabin is made of as an incomplete frame around the painted rectangle—the cabin well as the board-walk that resumes behind column are obstructed by it. (Conversely, if stand against the wall of the curtained cabin the column fills the slit between the two part the black curtain.)
It is this disappearance that prompts us to examine that part of the work we know to be beyond the column (since the Column Couch is positioned in such a way that we see its side first, we are already familiar with all components). What remains is the familiarization with the work accomplished by walking length of the board-walk and finding out what lies beyond the black curtain. There is nothing except a very slight feeling of discomfort being in a small dark space which leads nowhere. (Again one risk of on-site installations: MacDonald was misinformed about dimensions of the pillar–he thought it was much thinner allowing for smaller cabins which would have enhanced the feeling of be cramped.)
Still, Column Couch works. Its success depends on the synthesis of the sculpture pictorial dualities of Caro’s works such as Early One Morning and the more recent phenomenon of bodily experience inside sculpture-architecture of such artists as Aycock or Trakas. But these two approaches to sculpture are not merely put together into one work: MacDonald uses the first to achieve the second. And here lies the sophistication of this piece. Most often the artist presumes we engage in exploration of the work just because it is there. Murray MacDonald arouses curiosity and gets us to explore the work; engages the body by first engaging the mind.