Text by Daniel Potts
In Numbers does not claim to be an exhaustive survey of serial publications since 1955, but aims to provide the contours of the genre. An extensive collection of artists’ serial publications is arranged into different groupings of periodicals in the Lower Gallery at the ICA, proving a diverse array aesthetically and globally, and requiring close inspection. Although periodicals first appeared in Europe around the end of 18th century, this exhibition features periodicals by avant-garde artists working within the last 60 years who adapted the format in their own ways, coming from movements such as Dada and De Stijl. There is no typical publication on display, although a commonality between the artists featured is that they are outsiders. There are general themes of subversion, resistance, evasion and innovation running through works in the survey.
The concrete poetry in the four issues of Daniel Spoerri’s Material (1957-1959, Damstadt, Germany & Paris, France), fascinates, puzzles and draws the viewer in with the angular, geometric lineations of verse. Sparse, minimal, though intricate, there is a coolness to the works on display creating a sense of clinical numbness. Where there are large portions of the small pages not used in the artist’s execution of the works, their blankness is essential to this effect. Similar at least in this regard are those selected for display from the 24 issues of Edgardo Antonio Vigo’s Diagonal Zero (1962-1968, La Plata, Argentina). In this visual poetry the verse is interspersed with sometimes complex geometrical shapes. The use of colour is somewhat unsettling, but this is offset by the sense of balance that comes from the shapes. The overall effect is warmer than in Material, though to a lesser degree the numbness can still be felt, coupled with wonder at the surrealist collected unity of unrelated constituents.
The selection exhibited of the 9 issues of Scott Treleaven’s This is the Salvation Army (1996-2003) captures the memory, and conveys a sense of what for many is associated with the melancholy and fury of issues of self and identity. Here, in the exhibition, the Salvation Army is described as “a queer/punk/occult hybrid to operate as a focal point for a (hypothetical) dispersed underground group of ‘queers’ who felt restricted by both straight and gay concerns.” Drawn with pen and black ink and sometimes involving photocopied images, wolves and skeletal nudes are depicted. Some prose is included, in one instance lambasting Christian Fundamentalism, thus tying in with the double meaning of the title of the publication. This conveys the sense of liberation intended as the focal point for this group. There is sort of cool sensuousness to the artwork related in part to the stark contrast of the black and white. Overall, the examples exhibited appeal to the memory of adolescenct melancholy and identity issues, evoking responses similar to those drawn forth in many by the songs of Morrisey. Similarly subversive are the examples displayed of the twenty-six issues of File Megazine (1972-1989) by AA Bronson, Felix Partz, and Jorge Zontal. The most striking image is of a female nude crucified, wearing a gas mask. This is a black ink, printed photograph with the background coloured red along with the gas mask. It is quite a shocking image at first glance and calls up contradictory responses. On the one hand, the crucifixion connotes divine sacrifice and the elevation of humanity; on the other, the gas mask connotes fetishism and renders the sacrifice as a form of degradation. In this way it seems to impart the essence of misogyny.
The photograph postcard is the form of serial publication used in 100 Boots (1971-1973) by Eleanor Antin. Here we find rows of boots queuing in line along roads, pathways, in restaurants, in houses – in all sorts of natural and articial physical contexts. At first glance it is a humourous, playful series. However, on reflection, taking the historial and political context, perhaps the absence of humanity in the images communicates a sense of anonymity, echoing the enforced anonymity of those conscripted to fight in the Vietnam War. Perhaps the absence of colour in photographs lends the images gravity and can be felt ot compound this idea. Whether or not this was the intention, the series of postcards forms an interesting narrative. In a similar way, absence of colour can be seen to lend gravity to the photocopied photographs of Zerokkusu (1970) by Nobuyoshi Araki. Here exhibited , for example, a female nude can be seen; in another, a group of people in an office .The intensity of the tone used in the photocopying process is very low resulting in very vague, faint, grey images. There is a warm softness to them that can be felt to heighten a certain sense that these are faded memories inspiring feelings of nostalgia. Perhaps this sense is related to feelings we have about actual photographs that have faded with time. This is most affecting and beautiful.
In Numbers is a large collection that, in featuring the general format of the serial publication, allows us track the artists’ development during particular periods of their working lives. It is a varied though not exhaustive survey defining the contours of an often overlooked genre and containing evocative and thought-provoking works which can be shocking and moving.
In Numbers: Serial Publications by Artists Since 1955, 25/01/2012 – 25/03/2012, ICA, The Mall, London SW1Y 5AH. www.ica.org.uk
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