Brian Groombridge

11 August 1981 - 29 August 1981
Opening Reception 11 August 1981 8pm

Large Gallery:

Constructing Parallels

An installation with architectural references involving wall studding and photographs. A wide range of associations are evoked by this piece which concerns itself with elements of transience.

Rick Rhodes

Vanguard, October 1981

Brian Groombridge’s installation Constructing Parallels has the clear-headedness of a trade show exhibit. The piece works up from a red floor plan, to mock walls of 2x4s, to photographs on the gallery walls of the frame skeleton of a house. Like a lesson in construction, reality thickens from step 1, to step 2, to step 3.

But although this gives it the look of being thought out every board foot, the over-weaned rationality of the installation is set up for a fall. The wall struts in the photographs are, but don’t look, parallel. And so, the perspective recorded by the camera undermines the other sets of parallels, the crisp right angles, the complimentary match of the red colour of the floor plan with the green sealer of the 2x4s. A whiff of contingency and openness invades the purist space of all the structuring and planning. To press the point, we see the wayward parallels not only through a screen of evenly spaced wall studs but through added parallels formed by the vertical edges of the panels into which the photographs have been cut. The device is so unsubtle and the theme rides so high in consciousness that one can imagine at this point labeling the clouds floating behind the frame house: the vagaries of appearance.

The situation addressed here is by no means new. It harks back to the primary structures of Morris and Lewitt. They showed the countering of the pure, static character of a form with its distortions under observation. They first isolated an estrangement between knowing and seeing, intellect and sensation. Groom bridge has transposed all of this into a roomier, slower knit, work of art. Though an installation, his piece plucks at the same chord of experience.

Noting the derivation, it is hard not to be aware of unfavourable comparisons. The Groombridge seems like an attenuated version of the real thing, with its staged development from floor drawing, to mock-up, to photographs. The sculptural moment is spread thin. The wall sections, as structures, are not strong enough in themselves to set up a discernible parallel/non parallel friction. There is recourse to the photographs to make it work. They show a large enough scale (like Morris) and a dense enough structure (like Lewitt) for the break between form and appearance to come in play. But regardless, the effect seems hard-won and slightly puffed when it straddles two types of space and two different media.

Then, too, in transposing, Groombridge had added a naturalistic dimension not in the earlier work. Instead of tight focus on a fundamental subjective condition, we are presented with a formal appreciation of the commonplace. In the process the emotional stake has lightened and the intellectual scale shrunk. We can see minimalism winding down as wall studs and cross beams replace the conceptual and physical purity of cubes and grids.

The work is stranded by this debt to the past. A theme so borrowed and readable acts against the character of the installation establishing itself. The viewer sees the piece through clusters of familiar signs from other work and the memory of emotions associated with them. It never quite makes a convincing case for being an installation, even though the floor plan and the wall sections are tailored to the gallery. Those facts seem useless, or worse, a conceit of the style. For the most part, the gallery space is used generally, as a convenient physical support, just as more traditional art uses it. Sure enough, the piece hints at a more meaningful integration, but it is not accomplished.

Because of its faults, Constructing Parallels makes a good case for the necessity in art for some palpable originality of form. Thinking a piece, developing it conceptually isn’t enough without a matching freshness in the physical qualities. And retooling properties that belong to other work only recalls the other work. Originality is not an abstract; it works on a real level as something, that can be seen. To forsake it for conceptual analysis and ready-made forms as Groombridge has done is to end up with only a shadow of art.