It was almost exactly a year ago that Julian Dashper presented “The,” a curatorial project shown at The Suburban. Dashper also delivered one of the most memorable artist talks I’ve had the pleasure to attend, at the University of Chicago. At that time, and until recently, I was unaware that Dashper had long been suffering from a disease that he finally succumbed to in July, 2009. So it was surprising to receive the news that Dashper had passed away via the statement that Tilman Hoepfl released for “SUBSTANCE (for Julian)” at The Suburban.
Tilman Hoepfl, along with Petra Bungert, founded the Center for Contemporary Non-Objective Art (CCNOA) in Brussels in 1998. CCNOA is a non-profit space dedicated to abstract art in all its forms. For the exhibition “2step” at CCNOA, Dashper created a sound piece, which is included in Tilman’s “SUBSTANCE (for Julian)”
Julian Dashper was an artist that I heard about every now and again. I had a general idea of the work, but was never sure where I had first learned of his work. I just somehow knew about him. This presence and absence, the absence now even greater, speaks to an aspect of his practice. He outlined this in his talk last year: “I make a point of not being there. This fits well with living in New Zealand.” Being located so far from what he called “the center,” Dashper would make extended trips with many stops whenever he ventured from New Zealand. “Portability is a big aspect of my life,” said Dashper and he noted that while the show he curated for The Suburban took up a lot of space, it was collapsible. He carried it with him on the plane and it could be mailed back to him.
I rarely come across artists and artwork that invigorate and inspire me, and this is how I felt meeting Julian and hearing him talk about his work and his ideas about art. So maybe this review is my small contribution to his legacy, like going on the record and saying this artist made some great work and had some great ideas and I am sorry I had only just begin to get to know them.
Tilman, having been a friend and collaborator with Dashper, has much more reason than I to dedicate an exhibition in his honor. I am not speaking from the position of an insider or friend. More like just someone who briefly came into contact with the artist and his work and wants to point others to it.
The installation currently on view, “SUBSTANCE (for Julian)” at The Suburban is simple but massive, perfect for Dashper, a self-described “passive-aggressive minimalist.” The small rectangular gallery space is lined with bright glossy red Chromolux and buff white Bristol Paper, hung in a sort of checker pattern as they wallpaper the room. It has a bit of a nautical effect, calling to mind the coded flags associated with boating. In the center of the room, a simple, well-designed naked wooden table supports a large book, bearing the same title as the exhibition. The book itself is a sexy, black fabric case-bound volume with the same red and white paper that fills the gallery space.
The pages in the book are made from a network of sheets, strips and bands. As a result, there is not a clear definition of what constitutes a page. The slips of matte white paper and the glossy reflective red Chromolux create a constantly shifting abstraction. Each time you flip a “page,” the whole abstraction changes. There is no front or back, what you see is what you see, depending on whatever way you look at it. I don’t know if you can call it an image, since what is seen is so physical and so contingent on the person turning the pages. You, as the “reader” or the page-turner, are controlling the outcome, writing the book if you will. It is a visual moment in flux, restricted to red and white. In this case the “author” has set the parameters and “the reader” acts within them.
Thinking about that powerful bright red reminds me of a comment Dashper made in his talk, “People say they like my use of color. But I think they just really like color. They are complimenting me, but really complimenting themselves for how much they love color.”
Accompanying the installation by Tilman is a squeaking sound, almost like a minimalist or experimental music composition. Searching for a location the checklist, I looked behind the door and found it. It is Untitled/Studio Door, a 1:15 minute loop on a CD by Dashper himself. It emanates from a small speaker in the corner facing the door, tying the act of looking behind a very real door, to the annoying but satisfying music made from being bored in the studio and playing with creaking hinges. The contrast between the serious abstraction and aesthetic book, with this almost silly, meditative and monotonous sound is perfect. It highlights the two ends of a practice.
To me, Dashper’s work always mixed the aspirations of high modernist abstraction with straightforward lightheartedness. I can’t imagine a more subtle, fun and poignant self-portrait than the squeaking of a studio door. Here is Julian, there, but not there.
(Top image: Middle image: Tilman: Substance for Julian 2009. Site Specific Installation. 2009. Chromolux / Bristol Paper, Substance for Julian 2009. Artist Book. 16.75 x 12 inches.)