Morag Keil

Computer 3
2016
Oil on canvas
40.5 × 50.5 × 2 cm (15 ½" × 19 ⅞" × ¾") 

That's Why We Work to Make Life Better
2016
Pen on paper
59.4 × 84 cm (23 ⅜" × 33 ⅛")
Unique

Installation view: Home, Luma Westbau 2016

Installation view: Punks Not Dead It's Different, Project Native Informant @ Frieze London 2015

Punks Not Dead It's Different
2015
Cabinet, oxidized copper water-based paint, varnish
57 × 76 × 46.5 cm (22 ½" × 29 ⅞" × 18 ¼")
Unique

Installation view: LOOKS, ICA London 2015

Installation view: L.I.B.E.R.T.Y. Project Native Informant 2014

Installation view: L.I.B.E.R.T.Y. Project Native Informant 2014

Installation View: Potpourri CUBITT 2014

Installation view: Issues of our times Castillio/Corrales 2013

Installation view: Door Between Either And Or Part 1 Kunstverein München 2013

Installation view: Version Control Arnofini 2013

Palais de Token (Grey Portrait)
2013
Acrylic on canvas
65 × 54 cm (25 ⅝" × 21 ¼")
Unique

Installation view: Civil War Outpost Gallery 2012

Installation view: Moarg Kiel Palais de Tokyo 2011

Installation view:  Virginia Ham Neuer Aachener Kunstverein 2011

Installation view: Group Show Wilkinson Gallery 2010

CV

Morag Keil

Solo Exhibitions:

2017 passive aggressive 2, Real Fine Arts, New York City
2016 A Solo Show, New Bretagne Belle Air, Essen
2016 passive aggressive, Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin
2015 Telephone, with Ed Lehan and Georgie Nettell, Jenny’s, Los Angeles
2014 Would you eat your friends?, Real Fine Arts, New York City
2013 Neue Alte Brueke, Frankfurt
2011 Focal Point Gallery, Southend
2010 Group Show, Wilkinson Gallery, London
2010 Out of Your Head, Embassy Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland
2009 Bohemia/Nirvana, Caribic residency, Frankfurt

Group Exhibition:

2017 Istanbul Biennial
2017 Raven Row, London
2017 universe, Life Sport, Berlin
2017 The Painting Show, Limerick City Gallery of Art, Limerick
2016 The Highs of Everyday Life, with Georgie Nettell, Reena Spaulings Gallery, New York City
2016 with Georgie Nettell, Jupiter Woods, Vienna
2016 DIE MARMORY SHOW III „Guilty Pleasures“, Deborah Schamoni, Munich
2016 Stüttgart, with Georgie Nettell, Francesca Pia, Zurich
2016 FLUXESFEVERFUTURESFICTION, with Georgie Nettell, Azkuna Zentroa, Bilbao
2016 The Painting Show, Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius
2015 Rum, Sodomy and the Lash, Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin
2015 Mirror Effect, The Box, Los Angeles
2015 There’s No Space in Space, Life Gallery at SPACE, London
2015 Does Not Equal, W139, Amsterdam
2014 Issues, with Castillo/Corrales at Artist Space, New York City
2013 Saviour murir, Sandy Brown, Berlin
2013 Issues of our times, Castillio/Corrales, Paris
2013 Door Between Either And Or Part 1, Kunstverein München
2013 Version Control, Arnofini, UK
2013 HMV, Foxy Productions, New York City
2013 Great Offers, CEO, Malmo
2011 Garbage World, with Nicolas Ceccaldi, Mark and Kyoko, Berlin
2010 The Smart Frrridge, Chilly Forecast for Internet Fridge, Kunstverein Medienturm, Graz
2010 84 Paintings (with Manuela Gernedel and Fiona Mackay), Wilkinson Gallery, London
2010 Everything Must Go, with Manuela Gernedel, , Limazulu, London
2010 21st century event, with Manuela Gernedel, Chisenhale Gallery, London
2010 ourtv, (one night event with Manuela Gernedel), Moot, Nottingham
2010 ourtv, (with Manuela Gernedel), SWG3, Glasgow
2010 ourtv, (with Manuela Gernedel), Lothringer 13, Munich
2010 At Five to Ten by the Old Bridge, My Sweetheart, with Nicolas Ceccaldi, Adam Chodzko, Simon Denny, Carmen Gheorghe, Dan Rees and Mandla Reuter, Neue Alte Bruke, Frankfurt
2010 Local - Meat is my Veg, with Arthur Brick, Simon Denny, Mauricio Gillen, Johnny Rioofrack, Mark Von Schlegell, Fredrik Værslev & Anne Britt Værslev, Caribic Residency, Hamburg
2010 84 Paintings, with Manuela Gernedel and Fiona Mackay, Wiels Project Space, Brussels
2010 Concrete Gallery, Concrete Gallery with Nicolas Ceccaldi, Manuela Gernedel, Fiona Mackay and Anna McCarthy, Wilkinson Gallery, London
2008 ( *){+}, with Alex Dordoy and Neil Clements, Grimm Fine Art, Amsterdam 41
2008 Tage / Die Kirchner show, Kornhäuschen, Aschaffenburg
2008 Exhibition, with Anja Sopic, Pow Gallery, Hamburg
2007 Gallery Exchange, with Wolfgang Breuer, Dave Carbonerovski, Adam Chodzko, Simon Fujiwara, Mandla Reuter, and Tris Vonna-Michell, Neue Alte Brucke, Germany
2007 SlimVolume, Poster Publication, organised and curated by Andrew Hunt
2007 Finn Collective, Saw Mill, Glasgow
2007 Killed the Painting Star (Video), Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow

Awards and Grants:

2010 FIAC Lafayette Prize
2008/09 Dewar Art Award
2007/08 Scottish Arts Council Development Grant

PRESS / REVIEWS

1 Jul 2016

GNE MKE :: DOMESTIC BATTLEGROUNDS

MORAG KEIL AND GEORGIE NETTELL IN CONVERSATION WITH FREDI FISCHLI & NIELS OLSEN

Can a critical discourse flourish within the interest for the domestic? What is the connection between home ownership and the normative values of nuclear families? Where is fascism in everyday life?

FREDI FISCHLI & NIELS OLSEN “Home”—the domestic—plays a signi cant role in both your work. How come? The artists of the modernist avant garde had a concept of an artist who leaves the home to march on the battlegrounds of culture. The challenge was to change the world, not domesticate it.

GEORGIE NETTELL I don’t think the battlegrounds of culture are removed from the domestic.

You can’t change the world without changing people’s value systems, which are socially formed in the home/family unit.

MORAG KEIL This concept seems totally sexist and redundant. It doesn’t take into account who could leave the home, and who couldn’t or that the home may be the place that forms your thinking or oppresses it. And to even speak of things in terms of battleground is super macho and ridiculous. I don’t think it’s possible to separate things into what happens at home versus the rest of the world; they are intertwined.

FF&NO In your collaborative video, The Fascism of Everyday Life (2016), you distort the genre of the home story. You document your home and the circumstances of how you live and compare it with the real estate website Zoopla, where you encounter the already high— and rising—value of your rented property. You expose the value that lies behind the shared at. Would you say your work is more a critique of overpriced real estate or of a certain representation in today’s culture and economy of “living”?

GN It’s both; the rising cost of housing is a big issue. However, the lm is making a comparison between our real-life living situ- ations and the aspirational agenda of the mainstream media. The ideology of home ownership is very connected to normative values around the nuclear family and property rights, so it’s trying to mock the conservatism embedded in these kinds of lifestyle images. But the film also touches on the mundane negotiations of living in shared houses—who does the washing up or takes the bin out can easily turn into a power game.

FF&NF How do you think media like Zoopla promote normative ideas of nuclear family living? Would you say there’s a hidden ide- ology inscribed in the market that unconsciously produces desire, which eventually forms this conservative model of domesticity?

MK The media Georgie was referring to before is more the adverts that we sliced up to make the title sequence; for example, the Natwest mortgage advert which shows a sped up timeline of a nuclear family being built—first getting a mortgage and a house, then having kids, but all via their relationship with the bank. This ideology is very clear. But yes, Zoopla has a power because it is the main source of this collated information on property prices, so the fact that it exists is in some sense manipulative, because it frames how we access and think about this data—or in fact, that it is data rather than homes.

FF&NO Georgie, in your work, you document the living rooms of the parents of your artist-friends. In a personal way, they expose the often bourgeois backgrounds many protagonists in the art world share. Is it a de-mysti cation of contemporary art production? Or is it more about making a certain demographic and cultural context in the art world visible?

GN I suppose it’s about making visible that the majority of art- ists and art workers have been groomed for life in the art world by the social and cultural contexts they are raised in, even when they feel they have rejected them. I’m always interested to meet people ’s parents or see pictures of people ’s family homes and I do scan them for class signifiers, which is very English and also aggressive. It’s important that the images are presented anonymously to make it a bit less bitchy, although there is less variation between the living rooms than you might expect, suggesting artists/curators/gallerists backgrounds are quite consistent.

FF&NO If you compare these homes of your friends’ parents to the way they react to their social conditions, or as you say “reject” them, how would you see their way of living? Is there an equally consistent way of living in shared houses, concerned with “mun- dane negotiations?” Or do you see any new challenging models of the domestic you would like to promote in contrast to the consistent homes of our parents? Do you have an idea of what a current state of the domestic would be like?

GN I wouldn’t promote any particular model of living. People often have a pretty miserable time living in self-consciously political house shares, for example. I said people may feel like they have rejected their backgrounds, when actually they probably reject less than they think they do. That rejection might not reach much further than aesthetics, or not at all; it varies from person to person.

FF&NO Morag, your recent PayPal drawings strike us as icons of the contemporary way of neoliberal living. The drawings, which mimic PayPal advertisements, announce freedom through simplified financial transactions. This promise is oddly, sorely tried by being transformed in hand made pencil drawings.

MK Yes, well, the drawings are exact copies of the PayPal advert series called “People Rule,” which uses a cute, kooky pen drawing—sort of Etsy-style creativity—to convince people that using PayPal will free them from emotional problems and equates paying with friendship, along with pulling in issues of the environment, but always putting humans at the center of all the concerns it raises. The ads just seemed like a perfect example of a neoliberal web utopia—where movement of money was the most important issue— but then used this very cute drawing style to make it all seem very low key, rather than corporate and aggressive. I wanted to do exact copies of them; to turn them back into art but also make an apathetic gesture of just copying the dominant voice and only being able to mimic the falsely humanized voice of this corporation.

FF&NO Both of your works have a certain sense of passive-aggression, something “bittersweet” about them. Georgie’s paintings seem, at first sight, to recall digital post-abstraction works—we think of works by Jacqueline Humphries or Wade Guyton—but they also feel like domesticated versions of these so-called avant garde pieces... And by this, they evoke a certain flatness, a seemingly “harmless” character that still triggers a “bitter” feeling. Morag’s work—partly because of its rough craft—is often characterized by a tension that provokes some kind of aggression. An example is the work you showed at Life Gallery, the shelf with cereal packages (re- minding of a classic Pop motif that are covered with a graffiti-like typography saying “Liar.” This distorts the romantic and homey image of cereal packages, reminiscent of cozy kitchens.

GN The “Punk’s Not Dead, It’s Different” series are screenprint reproductions of a Hermann Nitsch splatter painting. The screen image is made from a low resolution jpeg found online. They are certainly meant to flatten or desaturate his macho gesture and the scale, plus printing onto pre-dyed cottons that come in a range of bourgeois colours, does domesticate it. However, I would not consider these works bitter in their failure to achieve avant-garde status but more making a joke of the hierarchy of domestic vs. avant-garde.

MK I don’t really see it as passive-aggressive. I don’t really know how it’s not just aggressive; I don’t see where the passive comes into it. But yes, with the cereal packets it was very simple just anti-gesture against these everyday icons of consumption; the laziness of it is also some kind of rejection of the expectation that quality and time are higher up in some kind of imagined hierarchy of value and sometimes you don’t have any time.

FF&NO What is your personal relationship to the place where you live, in the sense of how it affects your practice? Is it a place of personal affection or are you emotionally detached from it? Is it a vehicle of personal value?

GN Do you mean my house or London? I’m not really personally attached to my actual house as it’s so temporary but I am very attached to the people that make up my social group and would find it very hard to leave London because of them.

MK I have lived in different houses in London and I don’t really think any have affected my practice directly; it’s more that it totally affects your mood and life structure, like the difference between living as a lodger as opposed to living in a huge shared flat or a studio. I feel a certain level of affection for my house, just out of familiarity.

FF&NO Georgie, in your exhibitions, there’s often a deconstruction of given conditions of space going on. In your show at Project Native Informant, you removed walls and created openness towards the gallery’s back office. How should this strategy be understood? As a reference to institutional critique methods?

GN The show as a whole was about the way industry likes a safe bet. It was the second show I’d done in a commercial gallery and I was asked to do it because of the first. Obviously, this is normal but there are plenty of other artists working in London who could have shown. In some ways, the fact that I’d just done a show should have meant it was someone else’s go. The show consisted of some abstract paintings and the removal of the gallery’s stud walls to reveal the office. I used the same screens to make three batches of paintings in different colour schemes.

The first batch were shown at an art fair, the second in a group show, and then this third batch in the Project Native Informant show. So, in this context, removing the gallery walls was more about repeating a gesture than what it was about in the 1970’s or whenever else it’s been done.

FF&NO Morag, you have a very distinct way of drawing and painting. Is this practice informed by painting itself and embedding itself in this discourse or is it just a natural tool for narration that you apply?

MK I don’t know what is distinctive about it, but yes, I did paint before I started working other ways. I don’t do it so often now, or if I do, it’s just because it’s the easiest way to execute the idea.

FF&NO We’re curious to ask you about your modes of production— basically how you work. Do you have a practice where you continually produce or do you produce for specific contexts and commissions?

GN Just for specific contexts. Sometimes I think it would be nice to make work for no particular reason, or make your own reason, but it never quite happens.

MK I don’t have a permanent studio at the moment so this changed the way I work. I used to go there and do stuff regularly but when I got rid of the studio, it became more about specific context.

FF&NO A question we think is always interesting to ask: what audience are you addressing with your work? Some artists claim that first they always think of other artworks as the primary audience. Other artists really do the work to address an intimate audience, meaning their close circle, who have a critical discourse.

GN I suppose it’s my close circle. I can’t really imagine how anyone else would receive it.

MK Yes, I guess the same, though I don’t know; I feel like depending on the work, this can change.

FF&NO What are your most important references and sources? Are you really devoted to looking at certain protagonists of contemporary art or in art history? Or are you much more inspired by issues and things from totally different elds?

GN I don’t feel like I look at any particular artists. It’s more general.

MK It totally depends. I guess in some ways, it’s just things in life.


2 Sep 2014

MKE :: Can you live in art?


2 Dec 2010

MKE :: With a Little Help From My Friends


2 Mar 2014

MKE :: FutureGreat 2014, selected by Martin Herbert

Visitors to Morag Keil’s show Potpourri at London’s Cubitt Gallery last year encountered an Internet-based setup leagues away from the technocratic boosterism that’s reshaped our society over the last decade. An unglamorous black Dell PC sat on an office workstation, streaming the Scottish artist’s eponymous seven-minute 2013 film (the website’s URL on a stack of cheap business cards). Here, as footage alternated between a man and a woman pottering around their flats and paparazzi-style footage of zooming motorcycles, a collaged soundtrack was recited by multiple speakers, including message-board comments, N-Dubz’s Tulisa commenting on feeling victimised after her sex tape was leaked, someone lauding Marilyn Manson and a woman talking about how selling images to (presumably adult) websites necessitates sexualising yourself in conventional ways in search of likes – “it’s a trap. The choice is just whether or not you want to make money” – and how, dismayingly, it’s not the industry’s mechanics that are demonised but the girls themselves.

Keil’s work has repeatedly addressed the illusory freedoms of laptop-enabled self-employment and online life in general, whether you’re a knowledge worker, a celebrity or a Heat reader. Existence under these terms as well as in the wider, capitalism-driven world is an ongoing tussle enacted on multiple fronts – gendered, biopolitical, commercial – suggests a work like Civil War (2012), an audio installation (again using ugly PC speakers, suspended from the ceiling) mixing Peckham street noise, adverts for amusement parks and audio tracks from Tekken 6 (‘…the digital cartoonified noise of a man beating a woman would be a competitive game, entertainment,’ Keil said in an interview with Alex Waters). A hallmark of Keil’s installations, meanwhile, is forlorn shop mannequins, shorthand for a stymied sales pitch.

Relentless definition from outside has been Keil’s wheelhouse since she began, several years ago, making ‘self portrait’ paintings based on found jpegs: the very process of painting presented as performative identification. The astringent pleasure of her rough-edged art has been its steady expansion of this focus, updating of identity politicking, navigating of our movement online while maintaining corporeality and refusal to believe in artworld exceptionalism. In Reality Bites (2013), for example, as the interviewer’s voice is chopped and screwed, and video footage gets caught in short redundant loops, artists talk about housing issues, the unglamorous fill-in work they do, how the latter is affected by oldfashioned gender roles and how art itself can become a business. Even if Keil didn’t sustain a wrong-footing approach to a medium that itself militates against such a fate for herself, her gadfly temperament would still be evident in her art’s rigorous antievangelism for what the modern world loves most: consumption, the bright digital abyss and the chimera, under these conditions, of You 2.0.

This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of ArtReview


20 Sep 2014

MKE :: Life Is Better Everywhere Recreation Takes You.

Morag Keil @ Project Native Informant reviewed

Ten minutes walk from Project Native Informant’s converted garage project space in Mayfair is luxury department store Liberty. Opened in 1875 by Arthur Lasenby Liberty, over the past 140 years it has become a global household name, selling high-end homeware and fashion brands alongside its own-brand products. It has a history of working with notable designers like William Morris and Archibald Knox, and has been an important site for the advancement of design in the UK. The Liberty building on Great Marlborough Street is itself an iconic location – built in the 1920s in a Tudor revival style it’s an instantly recognisable building, and a London shopping landmark. It’s not cheap, though. Sitting somewhere between couture and high-end high street, it caters to a particular strata of the rich.

In L.I.B.E.R.T.Y. Morag Keil has transposed the mock Tudor facade of the department store into the gallery. Each wall is decorated with strips of black half-timbering – appropriately treated, carefully cut and professionally attached. It’s a slightly disorientating experience, the framing exists as a relief whilst shifting the reading of the entire space with its specificity. We’re suddenly enclosed within a form that suggests an exterior – the facade of Liberty is wherever you look. We are trapped outside, inside, with no way to access what’s behind the walls.

In the corner of the gallery are two Windsor chairs painted with copper paint and splashed green with oxidation. Arranged like in a waiting room they hold copies of the exhibition text – an interview with Keil by Harry Burke. Titled Can you live in art? it’s conducted in a 20-questions format, like an unedited magazine lifestyle interview, informal but professional. They discuss Keil’s recent work, as well as her approaches and ideas on the art world and the state of contemporary living. One answer is conspicuous in its absence, there’s simply blank space in response to, “Do you have a social art practice or a formal art practice?”

The ideas sold about freedom in contemporary living constitute a deceptive ideology: ostensibly defined as the increase in flexibility, our lives mainly manifest as precarious and alienated, despite how much money we might accumulate. Keil shows us Liberty as a site where the galvanisation of this ideology is exceptionally evident. It’s a brand that flourishes largely because of suggestions of its own historic importance. It deals in adornments, designs and fashion – the materials and objects that furnish our lives and act as signs that distinguish our relative level of success under capitalism. The precarity of contemporary living means we will never fully achieve the freedom that owning an item from Liberty might suggest we have. In Keil’s L.I.B.E.R.T.Y. we are allowed to step in, to be immersed in the signs of heritage, but never allowed real access.

Jack Bon atractivoquenobello 10/09/2014


2 Jun 2010

MKE :: Fiona Mackay, Morag Keil and Manuela Gernedel: 84 Paintings

For a while now I’ve been interested in the idea of painting as a project, that is, in the idea that an individual art object, such as a painting, cannot ultimately be regarded as an end in itself—that the fundamental unit of ‘work’ that as viewers, as critics, as art lovers we seek to know, judge, and interpret is one of which the individual painting is typically just a segment. ‘Project’ is the name I give to this larger unit. When I go to an exhibition by Gerhard Richter, for instance, and start to wonder what it means that he juxtaposes abstract paintings with representational ones derived from photographs, I am wondering what his underlying project is—even wondering whether it is right to think of him as having a single project. And that means that, as remarkable as any one of Richter’s works is likely to be, and as much as I like to think I would admire any one of them were I to have come across it knowing nothing at all about Richter, it seems inevitable to me that I look at any of his paintings, knowing about the other ones, very differently than if I just knew the one painting in isolation. In general, I understand his representational paintings very differently because I know about the abstract ones, and vice versa.

It’s not necessarily the multiplicity of an artist’s output that puts the emphasis on a sense that one has to look to an underlying project to fully appreciate it. The consistency or uniformity of an artist’s oeuvre has the same effect. Consider Agnes Martin, a painter whose work notoriously developed only very slowly, and whose paintings tend to look very similar to one another, so that to look at her work involves noticing subtle distinctions between one and another. Again in this case, it is not simply the individual painting that carries the point, but the relationship between paintings. The similarity among her works carries as much meaning as the disparity among the works does in Richter’s case.

As such examples show, the notion of a project in this sense tends to become very close to those of ‘author’ or ‘artist’—not that they become synonymous but that we tend to assume that there is a one-to-one relationship involved, that for every artist there is a project and for every project there is an artist. To a great extent this is the case because most art production is oriented toward the individual artist, but it need not necessarily be so. Collective and collaborative efforts can be understood in terms of projects as well. Gilbert and George have a project that has been unfolding for some 40 years now; the Boyle Family continues the project initiated by its founder, Mark Boyle, even following his death. Such examples suggest that a certain temporal continuity is necessary if an artistic project is to be constituted, or at least if a public is to be able to perceive its contours. A recent London exhibition, 84 Paintings at Wilkinson Gallery (20 March–16 May) raised some interesting questions about the idea of an artistic project precisely by the highly delimited nature of the collaboration involved in it. The work was done at Wiels in Brussels in late 2009, not in the first instance with the idea of an exhibition in mind. Fiona Mackay was on a residency at Wiels at the time; since its project space was available for residents’ use, presumably for exhibitions. Although for her own reasons Mackay was not keen on making an exhibition at the time, she invited Morag Keil and Manuela Gernedel (the three had all been students together at the Glasgow School of Art) to join her using the project space as a site of production, as what might be called a workshop rather than, exactly, a studio. Mackay proposed that they each make two paintings a day for two weeks (2–16 November), thus 84 paintings in all. The nominal identity of the project space as an exhibition venue was maintained by stipulating the work in progress could be viewed upon request. According to the three artists, the requests were rather few. But what one would have seen there, it can be safely imagined (and I can only imagine: photographs of the ‘workshop’ exist but, curiously, Mackay declined to show them to me) would have looked nothing like an exhibition.

What I saw when I walked through the door at Wilkinson didn’t look entirely like an exhibition either. One might have thought it was an installation in progress, or to be more precise, not even in progress, but in preparation. Only the fact that the scene was all too tidy for that ruled out the possibility. The 84 small paintings were displayed neatly at floor level, leaning against the gallery wall, as if the decision as to where to hang them had yet to be made. There was no overlapping, and a consistent distance of about 6.5 cm was maintained between each painting and the next, whereby they filled the entirety of the bottom of the room’s wall space. The presentation had a feeling of informality, while at the same time it appeared quite carefully considered.

The overall impression was of an infectious ebullience—an energy that was effervescent but not strident. A range of style and mood was evident in these paintings that included both abstract and representational works but not to the extent that they could not coexist; they differ among themselves without contradicting each other. Almost all of them shared a loose, quick, spontaneous facture that never threatened to heat up to the extent of affecting the hectic intensity of neo-expressionism (by which term I intend not only the style that was popular in the 1980s but also the variant that began to crop up again in the last decade, in the work of artists like Tal R or Armen Eloyan) but neither still did ever chill out so far that one could ever have confused it with the demotivated slackerism cultivated by Michael Krebber and his followers. Although the paintings did not necessarily look like the work of one artist, the whole group somehow had the consistency of a single work. At least at first, one tended to take the room in as a whole, focussing now and again on individual panels almost the way one might from time to time focus on a particular brushstroke in looking at a single painting. I think the placement of the panels, so much lower than one is used to looking at them added to this deindividuation; the unexpected, somewhat uncomfortable angle of vision was not the head-on, face-to-face way we are used to encountering individuals (and the individual artwork is arguably a stand-in for an individual person); it encouraged a perception of them as parts of a single phenomenon.

Still, knowing that this was the work of three different artists, and even though I was not familiar with any of their previous work, I could not resist the parlour game of connoisseurship: trying to pick out similarities and differences from painting to painting so that I could begin to hypothesise, not which of the three artists had made them, but anyway which paintings were made by the same artist. Tracing recurrent imagery was the first thing that occurred to me, but that didn’t give me any information I felt confidence in—after all, it’s the easiest and most obvious thing to copy. Looking for stylistic tics didn’t help either. Nineteenth-century connoisseurs like Giovanni Morelli claimed to distinguish one master from another by identifying characteristic, distinctive shorthand ways of handling nearly unnoticeable minor details; because no one gave much thought to how to depict, say, an earlobe, each painter would have one characteristic and more or less unconscious way of adumbrating it. But such methods are of little use in contemporary painting, for its subjects (and nonsubjects) are so farflung that there is no comparable set of recurrent elements to examine in this way. I soon gave up on my effort to distinguish the three hands at work in these 84 paintings. But my curiosity about their individual authorship had not been in vain. It had drawn me to look more closely at the individual paintings despite my initial sense that the installation should be taken in as a whole.

And yet the individual paintings kept referring me back to the ensemble. Not because of repeated motifs or forms, though there are plenty of those to create little subsets within the group, but because of the fact that no motif or form was given special emphasis. Yes, certain things somehow fascinated me more than others – the musical G-clefs in a couple of the paintings, say, or a geometricised clock face that reminded me of Philip Guston, or certain nameless atmospheric effects of wet-into-wet brushwork; finally, none of those things amounted to anything that promised any sort of key to the project as a whole, just some subjective preference or projection of my own. Or, I could pick out certain paintings as better than others, more fully achieved—and strangely enough this seemed a slightly less arbitrary undertaking. Even still, I couldn’t say that the grouping as a whole would have been stronger without its weaker members. They all contributed something to the totality. At the same time, I could easily have imagined many of them, perhaps the majority, being separated out from the group and exhibited as individual paintings. The paintings gained something from being seen as part of the project as a whole; but most of them would have gained something different—an individuality I’d have thought was more important but which I now realise is also more familiar—by being exhibited as self-contained, autonomous works.

Somehow, then, these 84 paintings by three young painters I’d never heard of before were telling me something about this idea of the project that I’ve been brooding over for so long. They’d put that idea under a microscope. And like any true artwork, what they were telling me was something I could not exactly put into words—something about the dialectic between the individual object and the overarching project, between the isolated moment and the flow. Looking for words, I did what art critics always do—I went to the artists. Well, I told you that the notion of a project tends to become very close to that of the artist. And it was enlightening to hear their reflections, and to note their differences of opinion about the project they’d shared as well as what they were in accord on. I want to end with some of their words, and just as the paintings are not assigned to any one of them, the same will be true of their words as I quote them:

‘Immediately I thought, great, it’ll be good to be together working again. Only later did I realise it might be difficult.’

‘There weren’t any rules on what a painting was or when it was finished – but it had to be finished in the day.’

‘The rule became a subject of discussion – but it wasn’t broken.’

‘The day ends when you go to sleep.’

‘It was interesting to see what would come of this kind of energy where you might almost burn yourself out.’

‘We discussed whether you lose style or enhance it.’

‘If you picked imagery, it somehow had not to matter – it was just painting’

‘I started out by making paintings about the other two; it felt like you couldn’t really bring something into that space from outside but had to work with what was in front of you.’

‘We knew each other so well that if a painting wasn’t going well you couldn’t just leave it that way because the other two would know you weren’t following through on your commitment.’

‘We are still quite secretive, precious over our identities. ‘I’m still borrowing from them now; the door isn’t closed on that.’

‘I felt like I was more passive to the experience than I should have been.’

‘It reaffirmed the difficulty of painting or difficulty of justifying it.’

‘I’m still not sure what I think of painting nor sure I ever need to know.’

‘You do something that works, then realise you can’t do that again.’

‘In the end I found that the pace of production doesn’t mean anything, the quantity doesn’t mean anything. The intensity was nice but I wouldn’t want to carry on under such conditions.’

‘The way I painted didn’t change but my attitude to the project did.’

‘These are not paintings that should be seen as an exhibition but also not as remnants of a performance. ‘By the end I was finally prepared for it.’

‘I guess now it’s a piece rather than a project, which is strange.’

Barry Schwabsky MAP Magazine June 2010