By Jessica Schouela
The notion of compression is one that offers both material and immaterial connotations: one might consider the term applied to physical matter, or to data collected and archived in files. On October 1, in the context of the University of Edinburgh’s 2015-2016 History of Art research seminars, Ed Krčma reflected on his recent exhibition Compression, held at Limerick’s Ormston House this past summer. For Krčma, the concept of compression is both fruitful and expansive, and while he claims it has been fleshed out more deeply within the discourse of poetry, he has found it to be useful in an analysis of contemporary artworks that engage both with the histories of Modernist Abstraction as well as with the Duchampian ready-made.
His talk opened with the image of Tom Hackney’s “Constellation No. 2”, a concrete wall sculpture that takes the form of an 8x8 grid of squares, each one with a diagonal line bifurcating its form. The sculptural relief, appropriating a minimalist aesthetic, participates too in the ready-made. Referencing Duchamp explicitly, the triangles within the square grid make up planes angled at different degrees that have been set and extrapolated automatically from data retrieved from chess games played by Duchamp himself. In this way, Hackney’s relief embodies compression in two ways: (1) by way of the concrete casting technique that constitutes his process (the data retrieved and applied from the chess games) and (2), through his formal choice to partake in a minimalist, abstract tradition.
Krčma connected Hackney’s use of the grid as a form of abstraction to those produced by Piet Mondrian and referred to by Rosalind Krauss. In her study of grids, Krauss outlines their assertion of Modernism both spatially and temporally in their rejection of the natural as well as in their belonging, by way of their prosaic presence, to the art of Modernity. And while Krauss acknowledges the longer pictorial history of the grid within art practices, such as in the use of perspective, she differentiates the two instances as the earlier application is motivated by the representation of the natural world, and the later by a denial of it[i]. Thus, if perspectival grids sought to obtain nature and Modernist grids made by Mondrian or Agnes Martin worked to relinquish their work from nature or the real, Hackney’s grid seems to me to endure a dual compression. “Constellation No. 2” in one case compresses the natural through its employment of abstraction and thus resists a pictorial representation, and in the other case, it compresses the data of Duchamp’s chess games so that the abstract pattern is automated and produces a ready-made composition.
While Hackney’s relief may be most emblematic of the two forms of compression addressed by Krčma, what is perhaps more interesting are the interactions between the different art objects featured in the exhibition and how these subtle interactions work to establish a more comprehensive conversation on the idea of pressing things together. In discussing his curatorial decisions, Krčma identified two key themes of the exhibition: domesticity (exemplified by Angela Fulcher’s “Curtain Tie Backs”) and the elements (represented in one instance by Caoimhe Kilfeather’s “Inky Canopy”).
These taxonomic distinctions brought to mind Jane Bennett’s book Vibrant Matter in which she defines “assemblages” as the congregation of agential objects that detach themselves from typical organizational strategies[ii]. It is undeniable that the act of curating is one of organization and classification and, as addressed in one question posed by an audience member, a method for research. However, the objects included in Krčma’s exhibition function within the larger system of the show, relating to and inquiring into one another, perhaps even compressing the temptation to distinguish qualifications such as abstraction, the ready-made, the concrete or conceptual, the domestic and the elemental as solo working entities.
[i] Krauss, Rosalind. “Grids”. October Vol. 9 (Summer, 1979): pp. 52.
[ii] Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham: Duke University
Press, 2010: pp. 13.
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