Saturday, October 29, 2016

Niele Toroni

"Niele Toroni proceeds with his highly personal and disciplined art with a degree of consistency and clarity going all the way back to 1967, when he started using a size 50 (50mm) brush to make this gesture of pictorial "impressions" at a regular distance of thirty centimetres from each other, both in height and in width. The support he uses for his action may be a canvas, a wall, a sheet of paper, or the ground. In its marking and defining, his time image feeds on the movement of a visual progression and multiplication. In Toroni's art, the module/impression is the sequential freeze frame of a continuous narrative. It is the equal that is only apparently identical to itself in its repetition: the component of the painter's gesture brings about a variable pressure in the force applied by hand, which is enough to make each individual impression unique in its seriality. In its apparent reduction to the essentials, in terms of instrument-colour-image, Toroni is actually bringing about his greatest ambition, which is to give material form in pure painting to the synecdoche of the entire Universe.

What might appear as a purely conceptual and aesthetic act, as a cold, detached work by the artist actually means for Toroni the greatest possible emotional involvement. It means a feeling of pietas for the human world."

- Francesco Castellani

"Repetition forms the basis of life, our heart always beats the same way and it is precisely its repetitive beat that ensures our life."

- Niele Toroni

Photographs of a permanent installation at 
A Arte Invernizze, Milan

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Lee Lozano

In 1969, the American artist Lee Lozano (1930-99) initiated her
General Strike Piece in which she withdrew from the New York
art world:

"Gradually but determinedly avoid being present at official or
public 'uptown' functions or gatherings related to the 'art world'
in order to pursue investigations of total personal and public
revolution. Exhibit in public only pieces which further sharing
of ideas & information related to total personal and public

Two years later, in 1971, Lozano began an even more extreme
work of withdrawal, the notorious, Decide to Boycott Women.
Initially intended to last for a month, she continued this work
for the rest of her life, refusing to speak to or deal with women.

Inevitably controversial in a high period of the feminist movement,
this work, while causing constant inconvenience, confusion and
offence, was intended to "improve communication" with women,
presumably at a more intimate or intense level than the verbal
or conventional.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Cecilia Vissers, Beyond

Just seven days remaining in order to pledge support for Cecilia Vissers' Kickstarter project to publish a volume on her work. Please help out if you can.

Further information about the publication is available via Peter Foolen's blogspot.


The latest edition of OPEN Editions has just been published, edited by David Blamey.

This volume focuses on 'specialism' and includes an essay by Alistair Rider, titled 'The Routine Art'.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Michael Rouillard and Jonathan Borofsky

Many of the long-term art projects explored on this site involve practices that are time-consuming and labour-intensive to produce. 

Making the dimension of process visible in the final product becomes very important, because this alerts viewers to the artist's expenditure of effort. 

Some artists have recognised that their outlay in time and work can be powerfully conveyed to viewers when it is insinuated, rather than seen.   

In around 1968 Jonathan Borofsky started to count for several hours each day, recording his progress on sheets of paper. Drawings occasionally interspersed the chain of numbers, although the basic process of counting remained his primary focus. By 1975, he had reached 2,346,502 which amounted to a stack of pages that stood 34 inches off the ground. By 1986 he had got to 3,227,146.


Viewers can only see the top page of his vertical, paper column, and have to imagine the appearance of the millions of numbers on the sheets below. The ragged edges of the pages, as well as the small variations in colour, come to stand in for the many hours a day that Borofsky had devoted to his obsessive project over the previous 18 years.  

Michael Rouillard has chosen to adopt a similar mode of display for his long-term drawing project, which he has called 'Stacked Pages'. The work dates back to 1993 and remains ongoing.  

It involves covering sheets from a sketch pad with a ball-point pen. In order to ensure that the ink is distributed evenly across the entire surface, he uses four pens in both hands, and rotates the pages frequently, working both sides. Once the sheets are completely covered in a sleek layer of ink, they are added to a neat pile, which is exhibited on a custom-made steel shelf.

Rouillard last exhibited the work in 2003, when it consisted of 43 pages (although now there are closer to 80).

The 2003 display specifically invited viewers to consider what the work would look like, if they could see all inked surfaces at once, arrayed side-by-side.


Rouillard drew a line, 3 feet from the ground, which represented the height that the sheets would reach if they had been affixed to the white gallery walls from the floor up. The effect is that his discrete pile of drawings seems to float on an imaginary high water mark of ink-filled hours of expended effort.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Life & Work

If Opalka’s paintings are to be considered as Details of a single work and Kawara’s date paintings can be similarly understood, then the sense of a separate art object is loosened, in spite of the stand-alone, highly-crafted aspects of the two series.

The status of the art object is further undermined if the separate manifestations are part of an ongoing work, an opus, which is virtually inseparable from the course and conduct of a life. The individual paintings become evidence of a life, in and out of art, in which the act of painting is central but only indicative.

Opalka’s insistence on the photographic self-portraits which accompany the paintings and Kawara’s equal insistence on avoiding photography are both tactics for binding art to life, for the one in the other, for art as life or life as art. In Opalka’s case, the art is accompanied by an inevitable mortality that the photographs document. While numbers are untroubled by time, this is far from the case for the artist who paints numbers.

For Kawara, the absence of a photograph of the artist perhaps suggests the ineffability of experience, of a life that stretches beyond any and every self-image. The inclusion of newspapers behind the paintings is an indication that art and life take place in a world, in a political, historical and cultural context. While individual date paintings indicate a day in a life, when any number of date paintings are placed together, paintings and artist and world are inextricably entwined.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

regula et vita

In his study of monasticism, The Highest Poverty, Giorgio Agamben identifies this phenomenon as an attempt to bring together a rule and a life, regula et vita, to a point at which they are indistinguishable. “What is a rule, if it seems to be mixed up with life without remainder ? And what is a human life, if it can no longer be distinguished from the rule ?”

This distinction, and near conjunction, might be useful for our purpose here. For just as the bringing together of rule and life was only imperfectly realised in monasticism, so the artists we discuss will lean to one side of the distinction or another. While Buren, Charlton and Toroni might be said to adhere to a rule as artists, there seems little or no impingement of the rule on life. For them, art is seen as a separate matter from personal history or comportment. For Kawara and Opalka, there is a closer conformity between art and life, and between a discipline in art and a form of life.

In both the religious and artistic context, a third term mediates between rule and life, the term work.  The monastics conform not only to a life of work and prayer, but this joint life is itself a work, an opus dei. For artists, of course, work is the making of art, and the art is specifically referred to as a work. The artists mentioned here might have the distinction of being the first to conceive of a work as a single practice, an opus, a life-long undertaking or discipline.

Although commitment to a single art practice has always been rare and is increasingly so, the bringing together of art and life, such as we see in Kawara and Opalka, brings their example closer to a contemporary concern for a practice of the everyday, for art to reach into and transform the quality of contemporary life. While artists are far from monastic (although communitarian ethics are much in evidence), a strong element in contemporary art does aspire to a practice of art in life, towards an infusion of one into the other, that might be “without remainder”.

Giotto, St Francis preaches to the birds, 
Basilica di San Francesco, Assisi

Sunday, May 3, 2015

versions of infinity

In the Bosco di San Francesco, at Assisi, there is a work by Michelangelo Pistoletto, named Terzo Paradiso, a grove of olive trees set out in a variation on the sign for infinity. Visitors are invited to participate in the work by walking on the path through the grove, thereby duplicating or tracing the expanded infinity sign.

Different as it is in form and intention, this work by Pistoletto offers an alternative notion of infinity to the one pursued for so long by Roman Opalka. Pistoletto’s infinity is available by means of its sign, and may be realised, however briefly, in following its course. For him, infinity is not an aspiration but a space of possibility. The visitor who walks attentively along the path may enter a different condition. Pistoletto’s olive grove is a device for accessing a paradisal renewal of creative possibility.

In contrast, Opalka’s numbers move towards an infinity that never arrives, a purely numerical, and therefore impossible, infinity. In his long working life, he never got any nearer to the infinite than in making his first canvas. Of course, this is something of which Opalka was perfectly aware. His life’s work may be seen as one long momento mori, within which the distance between achievement and mortality could be kept constantly in view. The numbers 1 and 5607249 are the most poignant in his work.

Where is the place of the viewer in this enterprise ? We can watch Opalka’s steadfastness, hopefully with sympathy. We can understand, from the start, the heroic nature of the work, with its built-in certainty of failure. For us too, it can function as a reminder of mortality, a great chastening example. But we remain onlookers at a remarkable endeavour.

This sense of spectatorship is confirmed by the aesthetic qualities of the Detail paintings, the beautiful flow of marks across the canvas, perhaps a legacy of abstract expressionism, or tachism, or lettrism, in what is essentially a conceptual art. The distance here is not that between infinity and mortality but between the skilled artist and the unskilled viewer. Or one might perceive a distance between the rigour of the concept and an inherited mode of  execution.

The generosity of Terzo Paradiso is that Pistoletto encourages us to participate in the work more directly. We become co-creators. Along the course of the path among the olives, we walk in paradise. To the two connected circles of infinity, Pistoletto has added a third circle, the three standing for nature, for culture, and for a sustainable balance between them. This to-be-achieved balance is the third paradise. Perhaps for Pistoletto infinity itself needs augmentation, by meaning and participation.  

Opalka’s course is one of acceptance – acceptance of the task at hand, acceptance of mortality. Freedom, or any possible happiness, is to be found within the condition of things, in faithfulness to the task and in denial of any possible freedom outside of the task or outside of mortality and the given. To activate Terzo Paradiso, you follow the olive path round an expanded infinity, and then you step away from it, into your own freedom.

Monday, April 20, 2015

James Howell, A Celebration

The painter James Howell passed away in October 2014.

On April 17th, his wife Joy hosted a Celebration of his Life in his New York studio and home. Artists, collectors, family members and friends gathered to pay tribute to his work and life.

What is it about his paintings that makes them so compelling, that obliges people to keep returning to see them, again and again?

Standing at a distance from one of his canvases we perceive an even gradation from a lighter to a darker hue. The eye glides effortlessly across its surface. A gentle, controlled descent … a measured glissando. 

Standing closer, the rungs of the ladder that facilitated our movement come into view. We see the gradations of the grey as horizontal bands. These are the notes that make up the scale, and, as when an accomplished musician plays, they are evenly and crisply delineated, not over-accentuated.

When two shades abut one another it is just about possible to acknowledge the shift. We can see the difference. 

But that task is made considerably harder when we try to compare one grey -- or range of greys -- to those of another painting. Holding a hue, a tone, in the mind's eye is hard. It takes training.

Yet undergoing the training is, in itself, a deeply rewarding experience. Who could deny that learning to see more acutely is a good thing? The capacity to discern variation and diversity within a given field -- any field -- is always life enhancing.

James Howell knew well that our eyes and our minds are endlessly nuanced resources, and he gifted us the stimuli to keep us exercising our facilities repeatedly. Like lifting the blinds each morning as we rise from our slumbers, these are paintings that renew and reinvigorate.

Susan Morris, Sun Dial: Night Watch

Since 2010, the British artist Susan Morris has been wearing an Actiwatch -- a medical device that collects data on the wearer's sleeping and waking patterns.

When connected to a computer, this information can be displayed as a graph that exhibits the subject's periods of activity and rest over a twenty-four hour period. Separate days are recorded along the horizontal axis, and each vertical line reflects wakefulness over one day and a night. Black signifies 'sleep', while red is a register of 'activity'. Colours in-between convey the relative proportion of activity to non-activity.

Morris has converted her sleep pattern Actigraphs into large-scale tapestries. To do this she uses a weaving company in the Low Countries who operate computer-guided Jacquard looms. Each horizontal thread represents one minute of her days, and a tapestry shows one year of her life.

Susan Morris, Sun-Dial: NightWatch_Sleep/Wake_2010 (2011)

Several of her tapestries are now permanently installed in the John Radcliff Hospital in Oxford, UK.

Having persisted with the project for five years, Morris plans to conclude the work later this year.


Roman Opalka voice recording

Roman Opalka, taken from the LP published by Galerie Rene Block, Berlin, in 1977.

The artist issued four sound recordings over the course of his career, and this one documents his counting progression past the number two million.

The recording attests to his extraordinary productivity during the 1970s. It had taken him eight years to paint the numbers from one to a million. He had started in 1965, and reached one million in September 1973. Now, just four years later, he was moving into the two millions. Essentially, he had doubled his pace of working.

At the Guggenheim: On Kawara - Silence

Photo: David Heald, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation

The current exhibition at the Guggenheim New York, On Kawara - Silence, which runs until May 3rd, is particularly strong in its emphasis on the wide range of the artist's long term practices. 

The 'Today' series is afforded pride of place. But the postcards, the journals, the faxes, the maps and the calendars are also accorded considerable attention.


The outcome is an exhibition that accentuates the diaristic nature of On Kawara's art. Interested viewers can move from vitrine to vitrine and find out a fair amount of information about what the artist was doing on any particular day. We can learn when he woke up, what he read, where he went and where he was staying, who he met, and whether or not he chose to work on a painting that day.

As Jeffrey Weiss writes in his excellent catalogue essay, the record-keeping produces something that might remind us of a diary. But it has a different status to standard diaries, because it is more than mere documentation of events and actions that have happened. Instead, the activities that the documents tell us about were initiated so that Kawara could generate the documents. 

Diarists don't usually decide to do things so that they can write about them in their diaries.

Unless, of course, they are interested in the literary and fictional status of their writings. Weiss' approach to Kawara is to encourage us to think harder about his 'narrative voice', and the performative ways in which he chooses to narrate his life for posterity.


Filming for life

"In one of his interviews for the press Andrzej Wajda admitted that it was his secret desire to record one real human life on film, the 'complete' life of a chosen person, within the dimensions of moments and years of the time that has passed, so that the film would accompany him throughout. The film director declared that time and again similar formulations have been made by artists of our time -- not only those of films but also of literature and pure art."

Urszula Czartoryska, 'Grafika antyprofesjonalna, Anti-professional graphic art', Projekt 94,3 (1973), p. 41

Thursday, November 6, 2014

at Tenderbooks

Launch of Peter Dreher: Just Painting
published by Occasional Papers

6th November 2014
at Tenderbooks, 6 Cecil Court, London

"I do the paintings almost exclusively in my studio in St Margen.
It is the only place perfectly suited to the purpose. It is situated
over 3,000 feet above sea level, the air up there gives you the
feeling you get when you've drunk some sparkling wine, and I can
start painting straightaway. When I sit down and look at the glass,
it is like seeing an old friend. And then I'm happy and each time
it comes as a surprise, because I still think the same after forty
years: this glass is strangely unique."