Reaching the end of a row of terrace houses on a busy yet unassuming road in South London you are met suddenly by the ominous grey building that is the Agency gallery; “an agency of what?” the passer-by may wonder – well, currently, an agency of subtraction and slippage. The connotation of these terms in relation to our finances may fill us with fear, but this curated group show Representing Nothing attempts to treat these themes as non-negational, so as the movement towards the void becomes a process revealing complex and sometimes disordered layers of meaning.
The pure hearted minimalist would be irked from the start as their quiet contemplation is broken by intermittent bursts of percussive alarms and jaunty ragtime music relaying back and forth from Appau Junior Boakye-Yiadom’s short and playful video loops. The long delays and sudden appearances of imagery and sound create a tension that underpins the rest of the show; this is not a serene and static place but rather one that writhes with anticipation, like an absurd and foreboding waiting room. This impression is carried further by the strange amorphous meteor of black tape and tinted glass that sits unconventionally on a desk near the entrance, like the giant paperweight of a sci-fi villain. This sculpture by Sovay Berriman provokes a disquiet that is echoed in the nonsensical symbols of her exquisitely rendered screen-prints, as if they were characters of a long lost or utterly obscure language. Existing without tradition, the hieroglyphic symbols impress the sensation of authenticity, of “truth”, yet offer no further reassurance, suggesting the absence of meaning in all semiotics beyond the consensus of our arbitrary designation. Further absence leaves its traces in the embossed paper works of Leonie Lachlan; depicting simple diagrammatic forms made from the impression of matchsticks, the flammable heads of the absent matches are still embedded in the paper, leaving one to wonder at their potential for imminent combustion.
Sovay Berriman, (Print) Symbol for Porned, archival giclée print,2011; Courtesy The Agency.
Any preconception of minimalist aesthetics is deftly undermined by Are Blytt’s Roses for Lady Lyndon, two canvases that at first glance appear painted entirely off-white, until pink and green hues are discerned breaking through from beneath. In fact what lies beaneath is a sentimental picture of a bouquet of flowers, subsequently obscured by layers of white on top. The thought of such an image hiding within an apparently minimalist painting is amusing in itself, but a whole array of ironies are unleashed when one considers that the flowers in question portray those given by Barry Lyndon (the fictional rogue who adopted false identities to dupe the wealthy) to the lady he was chiselling for money. Two chairs, some rolls of carpet and a tall lampshade are arranged suggestively near the back of the gallery, the props for a performance piece by Jefford Horrigan whose insistence on the piece not being documented means that they remain as a puzzle to all who didn’t see the event, at the show’s opening. A further performance will take place later in its run.
Stefanos Tsivopoulos, Lost Monument, 2009, Single Screen projection, DVD, 27mins; Courtesy the Artist and Prometeogallery di Ida Pisani, Milan.
Those with deeper political acuity will perhaps be able to decipher some specific allegory within Stefanos Tsivopoulos’s beautifully shot film Lost Monument, but for me in context of the show it offered an interesting aesthetic contrast to the other works, with its lush production and imagery. This parable-esque narrative of a monument that keeps popping up, and is found ugly and valueless by all who discover it, seems to be the story of an object that can’t be subtracted though its meaning is lost, a melancholic situation that adds gaiety to the other works on show, which seem to gain by their lack.
Upon leaving the show my head is buzzing with thoughts, no clear arch meaning rising from the miasma of evasive concepts, the stripping back, the subtraction both literal and figurative leaving a sense of multiplicity, and even a little duplicity, far removed from what one might expect from a show dealing with minimalism.
(Image on top right: Jefford Horrigan, Angel, 2012, Photograph of an Action, C-Print, 6 x 8 cm, frame; Courtesy of Jefford Horrigan)