Abstract Possible


Liam Gillick talks about his work in relation to the concept of formal abstraction.

Liam Gillick: My name is Liam Gillick and I am the common thread in my work. For me and for certain other people of my generation, the attention hasn´t really been on the physical quality of the work. The physical manifestation of an idea has been viewed as the least significant, the area that requires the least amount of examination. What happened in fact because of that is: you got by this point a kind of real split where you see that there´s an almost parodic kind of allegorical, sort of super-subjective realism on one hand, which is over analyzed and overvalued by the people who support it. And on the other hand, you have various forms of critical consciousness, you could say, which possess, use or deploy certain forms of abstraction. Yet those forms of abstraction are often under-examined. So, you have one side where things are over in excessive meanings or significances put into something and the other side where there´s been kind of a limit. The thing that means, for someone like me is that, for nearly twenty years, it´s been possible to sort of evade scrutiny on a certain level. You see what I mean? The focus has not been on certain abstract manifestations of work but more on what is behind it, because that´s been the drive, the drive to understand, the drive to educate, the drive to decode art.
When you think about abstraction you have to think about it in at least two ways and these things have to exist in your head at the same time: One is, what you could call “The Semiotics of the Built World”, where you encounter, even if you are just in the middle of the country side and there´s one road, one long line leading into the distance: You are dealing with some form that has been deployed by the human being that changes something, that has this kind of clarity about it and that of course leads to certain forms of art and certain forms of abstraction within art. You have to keep this in your mind, this idea of “The Semiotics of the Built World” of how that can be clarified, decoded, be more democratic, how it can be not just nationalistic, all this kind of old terms for abstraction, that they could speak beyond language, that they could communicate beyond closed.
On the other hand, we also have what I call the Abstraction of Development and Neoliberalism and Globalization which means, that it creates ongoing abstractions all the time. People think it doesn´t but in fact it creates structural abstraction that is divorced from the reality of what it is. It is abstracted from the actual reality of certain exchanges and it means that people thought, I think, that you could deconstruct and use postmodern tools to take apart images in spectacles, in objects and commodities and that would be enough to understand it but of course you got to… I believe quite strongly you got to look at this much more out-of-focus components of these phenomena and deal them as abstractions as well. Is hard to explain but it’s sort of, to certain extent, it’s something I´m trying to do in my work. And by doing it means that there is always a time problem, that the work that I present is always out of time with itself. So, the different components of an exhibition or of a project don’t synchronize in terms of their usefulness of time. That is because, in one hand, I´m dealing with “The Semiotics of the Built World” and on other hand, I´m trying to address the abstraction of development and the abstraction of the under examined results of abstraction, if you see what I mean.
The first exhibition I did in 1989 was a series of simple schematic facades for potential buildings but not in this kind of utopian way, things that could really be done, like modest, simple buildings and structure that had no unique visionary quality. They had this sense of just being these; I could do this endlessly, this endlessness. This sense of endlessness that you could keep returning back to this sense of this constant, this desire in a way of might trying to keep alive the corpse of a certain kind of abstraction. Keeps recurring in the work, it keeps coming back. Even though I´m deploying it for different reasons; I´m not always doing it for the same reason.
On that first exhibition it was done because I was interested in the idea of the things that were alongside art and I wanted to occupy the role of a person that is not an artist but it´s just alongside and later on I used it to indicate a backdrop or a setting for some ideas to be exchanged. And then later still, I would use it to demonstrate a physical form of part of the narrative and within that, what you see, what I´m trying to achieve is, something that cannot be resolved, that there are this things that kind of sit in a sort of semiautonomous way, like they are not completely separate from the world, they can never be truly apart but they have this kind of parallel relationship to other ideas. I don´t try to resolve these two things, things keep going side by side, there are this parallel tracks and this is the key in a way to understand the approach, I think.
I´ve always been interested in this. If you could say that there was a gap between the moments of modernity, like the general track, that can of course be devastating and complicated if you are getting up at 5 of morning to go work in a factory in China, but it also means a kind of procedure of technological development, progressive modernity which can force people into many directions, in relation to the critical potential of modernism as a kind of response to industrial development into progress and I´m really interested in the gap between these two tracks: the critical subconscious abstract ideas behind modernism in relation to the trajectory of modernity. Is in this gap that I find the ideas.

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