Marie Cool Fabio Balducci at La Verrière, Bruxelles
POETRY AS SABOTAGE
“There are two approaches to the work of Marie Cool and Fabio Balducci: one is ethereal, the other terrestrial. One is vertical, the other horizontal. A fictional approach, and a functional approach. This cesura between two planes, one transcendent, the other immanent, defines the two perspectives that coexist peacefully in their oeuvre. The first approach is the most obvious and immediate for any viewer encountering their minimal but precise actions, the product of their acute consciousness of the exhibition space. Running around a plastic bag that floats on the air stirred by the movement, scattering salt on sheets of white paper, cutting a loaf of sugar in half with the flat of the hand, using a finger to make a long strip of Scotch tape vibrate in space, holding two sheets of A4 paper pressed vertically between the palms of the hands. There is, I think, a childlike, infantile aspect to their graceful, undemonstrative practice – as silent and undemonstrative as the artists themselves on the subject of the meaning of their work. Infantile in the sense of ‘pre-lingustic’1, in its quiet discovery of the physical conditions of the work’s environment (space, time, light, gravity), through direct experience and experiment. And yet there is a ‘misunderstood’ (or ‘mis-heard’) quality to this mute, ethereal work. Because behind the silence, we detect a whisper of adulthood and the world of work: the informed, intentional rather than intuitive aspect of the work, its cultural as opposed to its spiritual aspect. This side of their work knows that gestures are never insignificant, but finds itself caught up unwittingly in the history of forms, ideas and societies, so that the duo’s production and reception alike owe much to the superimposition of facts and affects. It is this, more critical aspect of their work, couched in their precise choice of materials that breaks through its initially apparent, formal surface.
MEASURE FOR MEASURE
First, there is the space of the table – or more precisely, the desk – a constant feature in Cool Balducci’s work, as a support for performances, but also as a sculptural object. Often, Marie Cool or performers recruited specially for the work sit at the desk to make forms using cotton thread, sheets of paper, crayons and Scotch tape. Sometimes, the desk will be moved in response to the shifting projections of sunlight on the floor. As a flat expanse or plane, the desk represents a space for making rather than showing. Neither market stall nor workbench, the standardised furniture selected by Cool Balducci for their exhibitions embodies their quintessentially tertiary economic vision. In so doing, it evokes a disconcerting sense of the unreality of work, embodied in the materials used (the sheets of A4 paper, the roll of Scotch tape, the plastic ruler), interchangeable from one activity to another. This critique of the norms of the administrative economy is a clue to the political issues explored in their work: the office accessories stand for the archetype of the professional environment, they are the invisible substitutes for the merchandise that has vanished from the visible economy. We understand that this tertiary paraphernalia, chosen quite deliberately by the artists, constitutes not merely the raw material of their work, but also its subject matter.
More precisely, Cool Balducci’s reductive, constrained forms explore the abstract concept of measurement, which itself addresses the imprint of the coercive norm. The delimitation of space is a recurrent motif, as seen in the abrupt frontier between dark and light (expressed in the gap between two sheets of paper), the shifting frontier of pencils on a tabletop, the frontier marked by a length of Scotch tape that divides a space in two or encloses an expanse of water poured onto a table. But this conditioning is sometimes more implicit still: the possibility of movement is enabled or limited by air, gravity or Biafine cream on a perfomer’s hands. In this way, industrially-conditioned objects are reconditioned by a material and physical order that functions as a measure (in the sense of ‘measuring oneself against’) of these mechanical laws. Nonetheless – and this is where the poetry breaks the surface – each work is also an unproductive act of measurement, an act of evaluation against a non-existent norm, or against the contingent norm of the present moment. In short, a ‘measure for measure’.
DRAWINGS WITHOUT DESIGN
The precision of Cool Balducci’s work may be re-evaluated in light of these ‘vanitas actions’. The beauty of certain gestures does not detract from their repetitiveness, their automatism, the sometimes absurd conditioning that they imply. In this context, Cool Balducci’s work emerges as an exploration of the misuse of materials, rather than their transformation or manipulation. It’s this that keeps it equidistant from sculpture and performance alike. Here, too, is where its connection with a particular sense of anarchism 2, more practical than ideological, emerges. The challenge to work as a constructive entity in its own right is expressed as an act of sabotage from within, rather than as an attack from without. In other words, a re-appropriation of the interior, individualised, assimilated and dispersed at the core of the activity. This repurposing is poetic in the sense that it is not discursive, but operates through imagery, subtraction and ellipsis. In so doing, its insistent quality bores into the interior of the everyday, splits it open, tears apart the fabric of time and space, and breaks into new territories of sensitivity and consciousness. This subtractive practice echoes Cool Balducci’s positioning in the artistic landscape. Since their beginnings in 1995, they have issued regular refusals to document, exhibit, sell or discuss their work, springing from an instinctive, gut dislike of any appurtenance to normality or ‘the system’. This avoidance is never overt, never explicitly stated. Rather, it is reminiscent of the famous catchphrase of the eponymous hero of Herman Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener: a story of Wall Street, the office worker who ‘would prefer not to’, and sows disorder by abstention.3 This refusal to put a name to their practice, or to inscribe it within a clearly-defined corpus, this way of subverting their practical means (videos that are neither films, nor documentaries; mediatised, repeatable, transferable actions that challenge the historic roots of performance or body art) signal a rejection of the assignation of their work to one artistic category or another. Furthermore, the relative nature of these positions signals a refusal even to become locked into a protocol of refusal and refutation. Hence, the acts of sabotage in Cool Balducci’s work are backed by a kind of deliberately paradoxical self-sabotage on the part of the artists, determined to accept and pay the price of their own sedition.
Their approach engages deeply with the history of art and the contemporary artistic scene, though its intention surpasses both. Each action is an autonomous work, but its insertion into the exhibition space is invariably the object of profound reflection on the part of both artists, on the issues inherent in its presentation. Their seemingly minor inflections of form in response to context are what generates their work’s very particular impact, from one exhibition to the next. To borrow a term from ballistics: even at an oblique angle, their aim strikes at the very heart of art.
As will be apparent, this ‘oblique angle’ is what prompted me to invite Marie Cool Fabio Balducci to take part in the current ‘Ballistic Poetry’ season at La Verrière. Because their work has a unique way of attaining poetry through the precision and rigour of its repetitive actions. Because the outcomes of their sensitive experiments are endlessly reframed in the critical discourse. Because they have forged a programme based on chance, a creative stance based on accident, a system that is never fixed. The inclusion of a body of work that shuns categorisation or definition may seem paradoxical in a season of exhibitions on a closely specified theme; nonetheless, and with the artists’ consent, I readily assume ‘curatorship’ of the present show, in a precise sense of the term that, momentarily, subverts the essence and import of their approach. We raise the question of the bursting of the fragile bubble of ‘non-intention’ that Cool Balducci have gradually established, but this dispossession is also one way of exploiting their work’s resonance with the world of art, and I thank them for the confidence they have shown in me.
At the time of writing, these choices are not wholly fixed, but I know that the finished exhibition will be nourished by the considerations expressed here, evoking a series of actions that are both indecipherable and reflect the silent conditioning of the world of work. Through objects and videos, and a rarely seen body of work on paper, the exhibition presents an ensemble of ‘actions’ conceived as signifiers of a particular presence, but also as a way to break out and journey to the more unsettling boundaries of our perception.’
at La Verrière, Bruxelles
until 7 July 2018