Steven Claydon, “Analogues, Methods, Monsters, Machines” at Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève
In a solo show that features a massive number of new pieces, one of the few works from the past that Steven Claydon has chosen to recontextualize at Geneva’s Centre d’Art Contemporain is his PVC Memory Curtain (Grey Matter) from 2013. Set off by the dramatic lighting that predominates in the first part of the exhibition (located on the third floor of the museum), Memory Curtain acts as a sort of theatrical flat. It divides the space and serves as a visual backdrop for a first group of sculptures, also made in 2013–14. But above all, reinforced by a title that alludes to the brain’s capacity to store memories, it serves as a membrane separating this cluster of works from the next one, which is instead made up of new sculptures.
On the floor above, the division of the exhibition space also employs what looks like a system of partitions: Claydon has covered almost all the walls, except the outermost ones, in black rubber sheeting that completely hides the masonry.
In the new works presented in the show, the artist has sifted through themes and figures from ancient history (hanging up Seneca with a cruelty worthy of Bruce Nauman), from the sci-fi theories of Swiss author Erich von Daniken, from the visual culture of the city of Geneva… Due in part to the hovering aura of the nearby CERN, the world’s largest particle physics lab, the idea of matter reduced to a corpuscule is very present. Specifically, Claydon addresses the technological and symbolic possibility of dematerializing gold.
The exhibition concludes, with an intense and somewhat contemplative mood, in a chapel that has the bust ITALIC Inverse Magnate at its center. This sculpture, one of Claydon’s classic barbarians, is the upside-down head of William Morris, and seems composed of two parts made from different metals, one over the other (actually it’s a single, chemically plated resin). Morris was a socialist and sublime weaver who preached the value of the handmade from the barricades of the Arts & Crafts movement. It is only here that we discover that the black cladding on the walls, even in the adjoining spaces, is magnetized. In this chapel, a multitude of shiny pennies are clinging to it like pins or stars in a coppery firmament, coins whose intrinsic value fluctuated until it came to exceed—for a period now over—its economic one, due to the value of the metals that form it.
In 2007, at the Camden Arts Centre in London, Claydon curated the exhibition “Strange Events Permit Themselves the Luxury of Occurring”. In an attack on “taxonomies of display”, the artist put together a show that refused to mirror hierarchical conceptions of different cultural spheres, shuffling the deck with regard to the historical sequence and economic value of what was on view.The display itself undertook to create and convey a new classification of objects and artworks in the show. “Strange Events” is considered a touchstone in the phenomenon of artist-curated shows, probably because Claydon worked on it as a curator, reflecting on the meaning and value, in the contemporary art world, of choosing to interpret objects through free association, that is, with a multitude of possible associations as an antidote to judgment-based interpretation. It goes without saying that this method has deep affinities with the one Claydon puts into practice as an artist. His work as a curator or co-curator, as well as an outstanding expert on display culture in panel discussions and such dedicated to curatorial themes, is ongoing and significant. For instance, at the beginning of 2015 he co-curated the exhibition “The Noing Uv It” with Martin Clark at the Bergen Kunsthalle, which already included some of the key themes found here in Geneva, like the interest in quantum physics.
The magnetic walls at the CAC seem to perfectly represent a system of thought bent on ignoring pre-established categories: they are a pseudo-architectural presence that haunts the space, due to a physical phenomenon that creates a force of attraction.This is a potential attraction, not visually manifested: it could even shift things around, but certainly not with the aim of establishing a taxonomy. The visitor does not know it is there, yet the space between the works feels so dense… it seems palpable. At the end of the viewer’s path through the exhibition, in the William Morris chapel, the coins are stuck to the black sheet in positions that do not seem pre-determined, or meaningful. Anyone can move them.The coins stick to the sheet despite themselves, acritically, due to a physical force. The magnetic sheeting, which in other spaces is purely an element of display, like a color of paint chosen for the walls, with the addition of the coins takes on the status of a work, titled Force Field. Like Memory Curtain (Grey Matter) at the beginning of the show, which is a piece that shapes the exhibition space and marks the continuity and difference between new and old works, Force Field is a display/work that reveals the intangible density within which Claydon has placed his pieces at the CAC.
The show is titled “Analogues, Methods, Monsters, Machines”, a juxtaposition that rejects the semantic difference between the four words. The position and order mean what they mean. Perhaps in parataxis Claydon finds a new antidote to taxonomy.
An artist’s book will be published by Mousse Publishing on the occasion of this exhibition.
at Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève
until 22 November 2015
Steven Claydon, “Analogues, Methods, Monsters, Machines” installation views at Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève, 2015
Courtesy: the artist and Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève. Photo: Annik Wetter