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Richard Deacon

Catalog

Couverture du catalogue

« Richard Deacon. The Missing Part»
Éditions des Musées de la Ville de Strasbourg
320 pages
Collective work directed by Joëlle Pijaudier-Cabot and Ulrich Krempel
with contributions by Eric De Chassey, Richard Deacon, Julian Heynen, Phyllis Tuchman,
Clarrie Wallis
ISBN : 978-2-35125-082-2
Diffusion / Distribution : Le Seuil / Volumen
Price : 45 euros

 

Extracts catalogue

Richard Deacon, Camera, 2009
Imagery was important, but the camera was not always, I thought necessary and I sometimes had doubts about looking at the world through a lens. In the summer of 1967 I set out with Mike Harrison, a school friend, to hitchhike across France, aiming towards the Mediterranean and the Spanish frontier. It was a rite of passage, we had just done our A levels, Mike had left school and I was about to be eighteen. I did not take a camera with me.
In 1968, at around the time I started on my Foundation Course at Somerset College of Art, I part-exchanged the Pal for a Practika, a cheap East German copy of a Japanese Pentax and something of an Art School standard. I was sometimes discomfited by having this camera, its bulk and weight were a presence on my shoulder and the wide opening of the large lens seemed to suggest a voyeuristic or domineering gaze. Unlike many of my contemporaries who carried their cameras with the lens exposed, I carried mine in its case, hooded like a falcon, which, of course always meant a certain amount of unpacking prior to use. Nevertheless it seemed to me that this was a real camera (and because of theft and carelessness I had three of them over a five year period) which I had become qualified to use and, of course, above all I loved looking through the lens, seeing what the camera sees, feeling myself registering the world as if I were a piece of unexposed film. The camera seemed an adjunct to being an art student and the photograph itself became a material. As I began to find other ways of making art, the camera served to provide a documentary record. When I persuaded a group of fellow students to carry the linked elements of one sculpture through the streets of Taunton, the work became the accompanying series of photographs. In the darkroom I found it was possible to make prints without negatives by either laying material on the photographic paper or by inserting translucent material in the negative carrier of the enlarger. I used spit and saliva in this way to create a series of prints which then became the material, covering and hiding a white painted wooden chair, photography played back onto the world, and then becoming itself a photographed object.

Phyllis Tuchman, Becoming a sculptor, 2009
During the second and third years, the dynamic of the “A” course at Saint Martins was altered. Students could initiate their own projects. Nevertheless, these independent works continued to be process oriented. At the start of his second year, Deacon made a performance on the roof of the school. When he later applied to the Royal College, he described this event. “My object,” he declared, “was to demonstrate a process of involvement with materials.” He further explained, “This involvement was, to a certain extent, governed by the proposition that I should ‘undertake a responsibility for the condition of an amount of material over an unspecified period of time.’”
Deacon spent four weeks preparing his performance. He gathered the materials he would be using—polyethylene, cardboard, road metal, grease, and work clothes—in one area or zone. Then, in a second area or zone, he outfitted a handyman’s uniform—what he calls a white boiler suit-- and tool belt. The actual performance on the roof occurred in yet a third area or zone. He did not work in just one place because he wanted the site of the performance to be specific to its location. Or, as he put it, in the argot of the time, “Performance was not intended to be a demonstration of involvement with an arbitrary material in an arbitrary place for an arbitrary time, but with a particular material in a particular place for a particular time.”
Recently asked whether he was making a sculpture, Deacon replied, “I thought I was. If I didn’t think I was making sculpture, as against art, I knew I wasn’t painting.”
He also explained what he did another way. “At the beginning of the second year” Deacon recalled, “I didn’t know what sculpture was; but, I knew it was made by someone out of something at a particular time.” He also does not believe that what he was doing “was out of context with what I was reading in Artforum.”
To document his performances and other activities, Deacon took photographs or directed someone else to take them. Elsewhere in this catalogue, he describes some of his experiences using various cameras. As an art student, he used a cheap one manufactured in East German as well as a more expensive model with a Pentax body and a fish eye lens. He recalls how he “used printed photographs as a support for text and drawing in a sequences of images containing propositions about space, line, area and structure.”
With the narrative-like aspects of these documentary photographs, they resemble a cross between Theater of the Absurd and the Nouvelle Roman of, say, Alain Robbe-Grillet. Consider Deacon’s roof performance, which involved he and two other students at the beginning of his second year.  “I devised a role structure,” he says. “You needed someone looking at [what was happening].” The three of them took turns as Performer, Assistant, and Observer. The Assistant photographed the Performer. One of the black and white prints of the Performer is labeled, “At wall end facing wall, shoulders hunched, head down, arms bent, elbows back, hands hanging down, weight on right leg, left leg back, lifting.” Another notes the Performer is, “Bent over pushing large bench towards door, right leg back, straight, left knee bent under body, both heels off the ground, arms apart, elbows bent, hands pressed against bench top.” As monotonous as these photographed images are, they are more compelling than “the sculpture” the performer made. That was formed from mundane materials layered on a large sheet. The ex-Performer now admits, “The material is playing a supporting role.”

Julian Heynen, Between the Two of Us, 2009
If the Shoe Fits (1981) verschiebt solch ein Beziehungsgeflecht ins Quasi-Bildliche. Erinnert die frühere Skulptur an die Abstraktheit eines technischen Details, entsteht diese zwar auch aus industriell vorgefertigtem Material, wird jedoch unmittelbar figürlich bzw. narrativ wahrgenommen. Die zu einer Art Zunge oder Horn aufgebogene Schürze biegt sich einem Loch mit breitem Kragen entgegen und wird dabei von einem freistehenden Ring, der wie die grafische Darstellung einer Bewegung wirkt, unterstützt. Zwischen Schwung und Öffnung herrscht eine ambivalente Beziehung, sie suggerieren eine gemeinsame Handlung, die nirgends explizit wird und zwischen Sexualität und Spielzeug changiert, um nur zwei Möglichkeiten zu nennen. Wenn die frühere Arbeit an einem einfachen Modell primär formale Mehrdeutigkeiten erprobt, verengt If the Shoe Fits das Spektrum planmäßig in Richtung einer bildhaften Erzählung. Beinahe könnte man von einem dreidimensionalen Comic sprechen, dem in gewisser Weise ja auch eine Sprechblase in Form des Titels beigefügt ist. Zum ersten Mal tritt bei Deacon eine Skulptur aus der ‚Anonymität’ heraus und erhält einen ‚sprechenden Namen’. Nun besteht anders als im Comic hier keine direkte, erläuternde Beziehung zwischen Bild und Text. Diese und die anderen Redensarten oder Einzelworte, die Deacon ab jetzt häufig verwendet, erweitern das Feld der Mehrdeutigkeiten vielmehr noch. Auf sprachlicher Ebene binden sie das Gesehene zwar in die Geläufigkeit des alltäglichen sozialen Austauschs und seiner Tradition ein und bilden auf diese Weise eine Parallele zu den gängigen Materialien und Arbeitsverfahren, die er in den Skulpturen benutzt. Die Titel definieren die visuellen Tatbestände jedoch nicht, sondern begleiten sie im Sinne einer Metapher, auch wenn sie das sprachlich gesehen selten sind. In den glücklichsten Fällen erscheint der Titel wie ein Eigenname, der auf kaum erklärliche Weise zu einer bestimmten Person ‚passt’, um die Gesamterscheinung der Arbeit, ihren formalen und inhaltlichen Rhythmus sozusagen, aufzunehmen und wie ein Echo zusätzlich in den Bereich der Sprache zu leiten.
Gleichzeitig mit solchen Skulpturen aus Stahlblech, die über weite Partien eine geschlossene Außenhaut besitzen, entdeckt Deacon eine ganz andere Technik für sich, die für seine weitere Arbeit von entscheidender Bedeutung sein wird und für einige Zeit beinahe so etwas wie ein Markenzeichen werden sollte. Es entstehen Skulpturen aus laminierten Holzstreifen, die zu fast beliebigen Kurven gebogen werden, skelettartige Formen von hoher Bewegungsdynamik, die wie Material gewordene Zeichnungen im Raum wirken. Das Verfahren wird unter anderem im Boots- und Flugzeugbau angewandt, weil die zusammen geleimten Holzstreifen eine hohe Festigkeit bei guter Formbarkeit ermöglichen. Deacon hat im Laufe der Jahre nicht nur die technischen Möglichkeiten zu immer wieder neuen Formverläufen und zu Skulpturen von teilweise beträchtlichen Dimensionen ausgereizt, er hat ebenso aus dem Verfahren eine eigene Materialästhetik gewonnen. Der überschüssige Leim, der beim Zusammenpressen der Holzschichten an den Rändern austritt, wird stehen gelassen und teilweise auch eingefärbt. Auf diese Weise entsteht der Eindruck eines handwerklichen Zwischenprodukts, eines vorläufigen Zustands in einem größeren Prozess. Das, was man vor sich hat, hat gleichsam das Potenzial, auch in anderer Form erscheinen zu können. So stimmig und abgeschlossen die Form sein mag, die Anmutung des Materials deutet eine Unabgeschlossenheit an. Gleichsam im Konjunktiv weist die Skulptur so über ihren derzeitigen Zustand hinaus. Auch in der Tatsächlichkeit ihrer physischen Erscheinung steckt noch ein Anflug vom Transitorischen des Performativen, mit dem sich Deacon in den 70er Jahren intensiv beschäftigt hat. An der Oberfläche der Skulptur bleiben aber auch die bei der Arbeit auftretenden Kräfte, die körperlichen Anstrengungen ebenso wie die Eigenkräfte des Materials, sichtbar. Die Spannung der gebogenen Stäbe und der sich windenden Linien im Raum vermittelt sich eben nicht nur formal, als rein visuelles Phänomen. Es tritt eine physische Dimension hinzu, die nicht nur aus dem Hier und jetzt des Erlebens des Betrachters herrührt, sondern auch auf den körperlichen Einsatz anderer bei der Herstellung zurückweist. Ähnlich wie die Titel ist diese Betonung des Gemachtseins, der kollektiven Anstrengung und der Tradition von Arbeit, ein Versuch, in den Skulpturen ein Element sozialer Kommunikation und Einbindung zu etablieren.

Clarrie Wallis, The Quick and the Dead, 2009
That interest in ‘material diversity’ and a prompt from fellow artist Thomas Schutte, resulted in his using the workshop of Niels Dietrich in Cologne to make large scale hand-built ceramic works. The qualities that perhaps have caused clay to be sometimes overlooked as a medium in modern and contemporary art are precisely those that make it attractive to Deacon. It is a base material – inexpensive, unpredictable and therefore inherently subversive. The contrast between these unitary forms and the very open structure of the wooden sculptures is particularly important. In both the choice of materials and method of assembling them, Deacon is intent on denying the interiority of the sculpted form – or at least to renounce the interiority of the sculptural from which meaning and structure originate.
Deacon’s interest in ceramics has a beginning close to that of the sculpture he started making at the beginning of the 1980s. The group of drawings It’s Orpheus When There’s Singing (1978-79) (discussed earlier in this essay) was followed by an exploration of throwing clay on the wheel as a way of working on the inside and outside of an object at the same time and as a paradigm for a way of working which produced volume around a hollow.  At the time he was particularly interested in the clay walls of thrown pots, in the relationship between inside and outside and in the possibilities of hollowness. During this period Deacon produced a number of classical pots and a few sculptures. As he recalls, with this body of work ‘autonomy was a strong issue, partly perhaps with to do with making a separation between myself and the sculpture. The main difference to me seems to be that the material now occupies more of the volume of the sculpture, so that the boundaries are somewhat indistinct.’
The recent group of large scale ceramics all grew from small scale trials, experiments in ways of modelling and their resultant forms. As the artist explains, ‘All of them basically begin with a small lump which is pushed, pulled, squeezed, twisted, rolled, poked, carved, etc…. The resulting sculptures are very much unitary object, although not lumps, and I find the question of their identity compelling. The contrast between this unity and the very open structure that recent wooden pieces have had has been particularly important.’ Scale is determined, in part, by what can fit in the kiln but the enlargement is generally between ten and twenty times that of the maquette, which itself enforces a distancing process. The first ceramic sculptures were fairly symmetrical. Challenging assumptions about material, structure, function and place, highly finished forms such as the green polygon Lotus (2001), offer no clue as to their means of fabrication but rather have the appearance of idealised forms, where appearance is divorced from the means of fabrication.  Over a ten year period the range of forms have evolved through a process of modelling, constructing, enlarging, glazing and firing.  For example, the Range A – G (2005) pieces shown at the Lisson Gallery in 2005 started from a different premise – that of hollowing out blocks of clay –thus continuing his investigation of the boundaries between interior and exterior in new and exciting ways. Placed on red earthenware bases, the pieces evoke the creative process of their making by opposing the highly finished, lean geometry of their structures with the earthly solidity of their bases. Covered with a rich glaze both reflective and transparent, the surface plays with the sensual experience of the sculpture as both tactile and visual.