Thursday, 9 October 2014

In Conversation: Daniel Buren and Tim Marlow at BALTIC

In a previous blog post I wrote about one of the current exhibitions at BATIC, namely Catch as catch can: works in situ by Daniel Buren.

I was pleased to be able to get the opportunity to hear him speak in general about his work, and more specifically about the current exhibition at an In Conversation event at BALTIC last night.

The exhibition has been running from July to October, and although I have only been in Newcastle for a few weeks, and therefore have not witnessed more drastic changes in the artwork over the seasons, I have been able to see how viewing the work at different times during the day has an impact on the artwork.

Tim Marlow spoke about how the two different site-specific artworks relate to an audience in different light conditions.

In Summer, the light shines into the upstairs gallery from outside, and the work inside is illuminated and activated. In Autumn, when it is dark outside, the light from inside the gallery radiates and the coloured window panels of the building are illuminated, allowing an audience outside of the gallery to enjoy the work.

Buren was asked about what made him choose to use a diamond pattern for his work on the facade of the building; 20 Diamonds for the Fa├žade: work in situ. He wanted to reference the strength and structure of the mill building. As much as I like stripes, I am pleased that Buren has widened his work to include other patterns as it becomes less predictable and repetitive. I feel that the non-linear striped works often seem more playful and pleasurable.

This is certainly the case for the work Buren installed for Monumenta 2012 in Paris's Grand Palais.

In his article for the Guardian, Adrian Searle writes about Buren's work and enjoyment:

"The 2012 Monumenta site-specific commission in the vast, airy nave of Paris's Grand Palais is like being plunged into a pool of coloured light. Daniel Buren is the fifth artist to take on the annual Monumenta project in the belle epoch Grand Palais, originally built for the 1900 World Fair. It is a far more daunting site than Tate Modern's Turbine Hall. If the scale doesn't get to you, the architecture does.

A canopy of hundreds of horizontal circles, each touching the next, some larger, some smaller, some a little higher, some lower, fill the space. Each open steel O is stretched with a membrane of translucent plastic film, either in blue, yellow, orange or green. These are supported by black and white vertical posts, so many that they become a forest, half-drowned in colour and shadow.

Buren's colour choices are determined by the fact that these are the only colours the film comes in, and the order of his colours is dependent on the alphabetical order of their names. He works with the given. Even the height of the canopy is determined by the minimum ceiling heights of Paris apartments.

The building arches above, visible through and between the abutting circles, which veil the sky beyond. Being here has a submarine quality. You feel in the depths, shoaling and drifting with fellow visitors beneath the huge volume of contained light and space above. I'm like a fish down here, gulping coloured air.

Rather than "contesting" the architecture or "challenging" the viewer, to use the banal phraseology of museum types, Buren's work is at the mercy of the light from the Paris sky, the scudding clouds, the slanting sunlight as it enters the building.

At night, the space will be swept by roving spotlights, and. all the while, rotating audio speakers send sound roaming through the nave; voices in many languages counting and running through the alphabet, to the odd snatch of tinkly music. The sound is fairly unobtrusive, but I'd be happier without it.

The overall effect is quite magical, but does Buren do more than decorate the space? It is all very ambient, and very pretty (not a word I often use in a positive way) but, the longer one stays, the more the visual complications of his project multiply. The posts take on the colours of the light, which sings along their vertical edges. When the sun is out, the world is reflected upside down above us, and the circles of light projected on to the floor come into disconcertingly sharp focus.

Beneath the building's central dome, Buren has made a clearing, where little circular mirrored podiums reflect the roof and sky beyond. You can stand on these dusty mirrors and examine the pattern of blue film he's fixed to the top of the dome. You can also catch a view of your own crotch.

For some, such inadvertent pleasures may provide the main attraction. But let's not underestimate pleasure. It is at the heart of Buren's benign art. He's had dinghies with striped sails racing on Grasmere, made art from bunting and awnings, and turned buildings inside out with visual conundrums. There's logic in his method and eccentricity in his choices. That said, his practical, pragmatic approach makes other artists' aesthetic choices and decision-making appear somehow arbitrary by comparison.

Buren's art always makes me feel he truly enjoys what he does and gets a great deal from pitting himself against limits and constraints.

The architecture almost always consumes whatever is in here, whether that's exhibitions, art and trade fairs, planes or train locomotives. Last year, Anish Kapoor inserted a gobsmacking behemoth, looking much like a daunting sex toy.

But it isn't so much the building that is a challenge, as what the previous four artists have accomplished here, all of whom have been highly established male artists. The best has been Richard Serra's 2008 Promenade, a work that still lives in my head.

Next time, Monumenta has to be given to a woman. Nevertheless, Buren's project makes you very aware of the act of looking. It is not at all monumental in the way some previous projects have been. It is a work dedicated to visual and corporeal pleasure – the not-so-simple pleasure of being here. It almost had me dancing for a minute, except the song in my head was The Windmills of Your Mind, a deeply eccentric song which, I recall, was composed by a Frenchman."

Back to the in conversation event, Buren was very clear to state that to create beauty and harmony is not his main goal, but in the work for the BALTIC, he did try to balance the colours. There is a rationale behind the order of the colours on the ceiling, namely them being arranged alphabetically.

He has a definite opinion about the role of the photograph, and clearly distinguishes between the artwork and the photograph as a souvenir. His approach to photography is that his photographs are never exhibited or sold as artworks, and when photographs are used, they are framed as documentation or act as mementos or souvenirs such as postcards and posters.

The final question to him was whether he has a real desire to produce a piece of work in a specific location, and if so, where. His simple answer was no, but then went on to explain that he feels it is dangerous to develop ideas for a specific location when permission has not been granted because it places the artist in a tricky condition if they have got their hopes up so much and fought so hard to get the site, but then to be told they would need to make compromises to the work. Buren explained that if he was offered a commission and was given restrictions that he couldn't meet, then he could turn down the commission, but if he had approached the site asking for permission and which they granted, only then to be given restrictions, this would be more difficult to decline, or it would be totally devastating for the artist.

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