Feeding, Cleaning, Looping

Kazimierz Jankowski interviews Ian Law
Autoimmune Symposium, Goldsmiths University 2016

 

Kazimierz Jankowski: …there was hint of that a little bit in the solo exhibition at Laura Bartlett Gallery in 2014, the newspaper works, where you kind of had to lean in against the wall. And it’s funny thinking about the Rodeo show as being immersive because it doesn’t feel immersive, but then again it was…when I think about the show and how the space was sealed of in that way that I would associate with something maybe being claustrophobic, but it didn’t feel claustrophobic perhaps because there were only a few objects in the space..

Ian Law: But I think the idea was to have the paintings seal off the space, enclosing the other works, which is something I had done very early on…this was something I was doing at the Royal College, I’d make paintings to fit spaces, but in a very err, dry, monochromatic way, tapping into a specific lineage of European painting, which this very definitely wasn’t engaging with. For me these large surfaces were like therapy objects, an activity of preparation very repetitive and familiar to me which were then interrupted with an image of dysfunction, a kind of compensation. The image of the budgerigar feeding its reflection, was perhaps not super clear but is a behavioral trait I had previously witnessed, and was an activity I felt tallied with some of these ideas in the exhibition, how a non-human/animal/bird dealt with an absence by not necessarily understanding why its attempts to feed another bird were rejected, or failing. I guess the show at Rodeo dealt with ideas of waiting..

K: Oh yeah, because of it being a waiting room..

I: ...but also a confusion or moment between this and death. So, in these kinds of care institutions where hand-sanitisers, specific seating arrangements, screens and large bright artworks/ murals all play their role in tempering the space, I attempted to approach these objects as if they were addressing sites of the absent body, creating some kind of dysfunctional loop…

K: it’s kind of a closed system, like a feedback loop with the budgerigar…is that a little bit what you mean? That they’re locked into this routine, where they could potentially go on forever, the mirror is like this endless... the mirror sets up this endless situation between the budgerigar and it’s fake-partner…

I: With our budgerigar it never…I mean you would just clean the mirror and it would just continue again, it never understood that it wasn’t another...

K: I’m thinking of this repetition now and thinking of the hand-sanitiser and how that repeatedly squirted out the liquid despite no-one being there with their hands cupped underneath… was there a conscious relationship with the budgerigar’s reflection - its mirror image - tying into the looping cycle of the sanitiser squirts?

I: Well I think there was yeah…what is present, is an absence of another, or some form of physical interaction. So with the hand sanitiser, a visitor might expect it to function in a particular way, but when making an approach, it would either be spurting on the floor before they got to it, or it just wouldn’t work when hands were placed underneath it; you would hear it in the space, but you wouldn’t be able to use it…so yeah, there is a relationship between the way that those two things were functioning, with the images of the budgerigars feeding a reflective surface. If the paintings were some kind of personal meditation (hah) you could think of the hand sanitiser as being the physical public manifestation of a feeling or sensation…

K: Ok, so just to be kind of like, to bring it back to Instagram, like you could hashtag something ‘hand-sanitiser’ that wasn’t a hand sanitiser but could be something that would rally a kind of focus on this word and bring together lot’s of heterogeneous things… and it makes me think about how the hand-sanitiser is displaced in the exhibition, from being a functional Sand Hanitiser

I: Hand Sanitiser (laughs)

K: Hand San-it-is-er (slowly) … A hand-sanitizer in a hospital, for instance…I was wondering, like what I said in the email to you, something about how the hand-sanitiser becomes performative. It’s clearly not functional in any normal way, you know it functions aesthetically…I guess I’m trying to work out like, with this conversation about the auto-immune as something that within your show and more generally within an art context, whether that somehow relates to the way that performativity can send the function of an object back against itself, or reverse the function and do something else with it that is somehow, in the same way with the hashtag thing, sends you off an a wild goose-chase…?

I: Yeah, I guess that the hand-sanitiser was the one thing that was extremely locatable, for an audience or a viewer, familiar, installed at a height and position that was accessible in a way that a functioning hand-sanitiser would be, whilst the other objects were kind of posing in their former functionality; they had been distorted, or deconstructed to a point where they no longer necessarily appeared as, for example a waiting room chair…but it felt important to have one thing in the space that would kind of situate the viewer into this body of work or this kind of system, whilst at the same time I think that it’s…what was your question again?

K: I guess it’s just related like to how it operates… it’s quite ambiguous how it operates because it doesn’t invite the viewer to actually put their hand under. I didn’t feel like I should be doing that and I don’t know if anyone else did that because it is merely a signifier, like we’re in this hospital space, medical institution or whatever… but then how is it functioning if it’s not functioning practically? does it perhaps flip that hospital space in a certain way? … like what kind of spin does it put on that space?

I: I guess the idea was that it would produce this kind of lack of a body, that is not being enacted upon, in itself, in its circuitry, it’s just doing it..

K: It’s just doing it regardless... so it’s serving like this ghostly...

I: Or it’s just doing it, it’s not acknowledging a ghostly presence, it’s just not...

K: Ok, so it’s completely independent of a kind of …

I: It’s just not acknowledging your presence…I guess. I mean I don’t know if you could then leap and say it’s representative of a body that’s not there...

K: No no, when I think about it, it was so mechanical, and so kind of autonomous, it was just producing these splurges every couple of minutes or something?

I: Yeah, it was every five minutes… I wasn’t that interested in what was going to happen with the stuff that was going on the floor, but it was never cleaned throughout the duration of the exhibition, and it was very unremarkable, because I remember we had a conversation with someone (at the opening) by that machine, crouched by the accumulating blob of hand sanitiser, and it was just quite unremarkable, in terms of what it does and how it appears. So to then be in that space of an exhibition…where you are going to talk about the hand-sanitiser, addressing it, isolating it as a work it feels kind of ridiculous, despite it being so important to the exhibition.

K: Exactly…but that’s where… that’s an important moment in the show, or in a work, when you start to try to speak about something and you realise it’s just silly to try. Trying to speak about that splodge of gel on the floor, like ‘ooh is it a sculpture?’... it feels kind of absurd to give it a…but then nevertheless it is of course a... yeah

I: But these are also conversations ...because it was also not...I mean I think it would have been a lot worse if it was happening in an institution because it would be, ‘ well, this would be a health and safety hazard, we can’t have this on the floor’ da da da da da… but there wasn’t that because it was in a commercial space, but then the other conversation you have is like, well what does this do and what is it gonna be, is it something in-itself, or is it gonna be salvageable as something. No, I actually don’t know how this material is gonna behave...

K: Did it go a nasty colour or anything?

I: No, it just kind of congealed a bit, it just went...because it started to evaporate it started to look more like intestinal or something, because it had these...

K: Intestinal?

I: Intestinal, yeah, it had grooves around the edges. And the liquid would continuously fall into the middle, but it would build up, it would just slowly spread out whilst at the same time evaporating. It’s like if you had a bowl of custard or yogurt or something and it started to dry out, it would pull away from the edge of the bowl, it looked a bit like that. So yeah, speaking about the materiality of it, is an odd thing, because ultimately it conditioned the space, in a similar way to the newspaper works… but actually the newspaper pieces were really different because they physically moved the body of the audience engaging them in reading, watching even...

K: That’s what I liked about them, that the viewer had to lean into the show, like they were leaning into this work, which ends up being this porous thing…

I: Which displaces them within the exhibition space because these were paintings on paper and usually you would interact with them on the wall as hung upon a wall, facing out, but because they were made sculptural on these flimsy pieces of wire, it reorientated the viewer so that they had their backs to the wall and they were looking down at the work. I think the way that the hand-sanitiser functioned in the show, was really important in terms of locating the viewer in the space, but also denying their access, because of its familiarity, because of its dysfunction…so it’s that kind of thing that ‘it’s not here for you’ ... but maybe not on those terms...

K: It’s like alive or something...it feels somehow appropriate that it’s involved in it’s own logic as some organism, some little creature spurting stuff out...

I: Yeah, it did need some attention, once in a while for a refill, so it was kind of tended to in that…

K: Like it was being fed...

I: Yeah, but then otherwise it would then just go about it’s daily routine...

K: Dry heaving...

I: Yeah, but it’s this mechanical thing that’s made to function in a…and I didn’t really think about it at the time but maybe you could think about how that might, or if that could extend into artificial ways of feeding, but I didn’t really think about that at the time…like through a drip or something...

K: What do you mean exactly, like a drip that goes into your arm?

I: I guess that just has a tube that is administered and is regulated...

K: And it kind of resembles that in that it’s feeding the room a way?

I: No no, just the mechanics of how the hand-sanitiser was made to function by not being there for when a hand was there but was just doing…

K: Sustaining something…

I: Isn’t that how, if something is drip fed, it was also just to regulate, it has like a dose that it just administers over a period of time… hmm, but this wasn’t something that was in my mind.

K: But the vocabulary of that, whether it’s a drip or the hand-sanitiser, it’s very much of a particular environment, the space of hospitals, or some medical institution and the floor, which was…I didn’t notice the floor to begin with...

I: Well I think a lot of people didn’t, because maybe a lot of people hadn’t been to the gallery before so if you see a grey-ish floor I think you might just immediately read it as, ‘oh, gallery grey floor’...

K: It was plastic, or laminate?

I: It was medical grade linoleum

K: Did you anticipate it being as invisible as it ended up being? As camouflage, or something…

I: I was sent a lot of options to choose from and I went with one that was like a blue-grey grey-blue kind of thing, which is obviously close to an expected…in my experience, the most like the care institutions that I had been in, it felt the most familiar.

K: And it wasn’t even a work

I: And it wasn’t even a work, but was there as a conditioning factor of the exhibition.

K: Maybe this is getting too, splitting hairs or something, but is it not a work in the same that the gel on the floor isn’t a work? Like what is more or less a work?

I: Well the stuff on the floor is a product that is very definitely an artwork, it is what it is and it functions in a particular way. And then I would say that the product on the floor is just emission…

K: I never thought of that having this other sexual kind of, ejaculation or something...

I: One of the exhibition reviews took a really ‘scatologica’ reading of the show, so the hand sanitiser it seemed for him… was kind of shitting, I think that says more about him…but I don’t know? …It becomes an odd object or presence if someone sees it as either shitting or ejaculating or...

K: Some abject thing…

I: Yeah…it sounds and looks and does everything the same as it would with regular function, but once it stops working to your command it’s shitting…or being bodily is kind of interesting, odd…

K: It’s interesting that he had to go there in that particular direction, straight to I suppose, something that was diametrically opposed almost to the cleansing, the sanitary…

I: But maybe that’s because for some people hospitals are, bedpans, vomit, and bedsores and that kind of…

K: That’s their association...

I: Yeah

K: So the association is more with unpleasantness, being uncomfortable…

Sound of dogs attacking each other and some guy playing a wobble board interrupt the conversation.