I Love the (Haunted) ’70s

December 25, 2008

So I said I would post about my love for the ’70s in art and that’ll take up several posts but specifically, here, I wanted to talk about some projects and artists whose work of that decade point forward to FGT and offer a ground for queer abstraction.

First up is Alice Aycock.  I cannot get enough of her ’70s work; I think it’s vastly underrecognized; I think a lot of what came up in the ’90s owes her a bigger debt than people would like to admit.

What’s unique about her ’70s work is its questionable ontological status, and it’s questionable utilitarian status.  The work is not really sculpture, nor is it a model, nor is it architecture; it floats in the middle and suggests (and thwarts) the possibilites of all three.   A lot of the work from this decade seems custom-built to exactly fill the room it exists in, pushing the lines of how art occupies a space vs. how it becomes the space you inhabit.

Two good examples are these projects:


The Machine That Makes The World


Project: Studies for a Town

Both are almost human scale and haunted by the possibilities of access; you can climb the stairs in Studies for a Town but not really; you need to do the actual climbing mentally.  And I imagine getting lost inside the turns and cogs of The Machine That Makes the World, another work at near-human scale that invites the idea of but prevents the actuality of access.

These works are haunted by the human body, and that’s one of the things that makes me love them; there’s more phsyicality about the body brought up here than in a lot of body art of the same era.  Stairs and ladders are features of Aycock’s work of this period, and that suggestion of the artwork/project functions as a study for getting somewhere where and when it’s not possible to get anywhere, not really.   And that somewhere is never named, which leaves it open for a kind of queering that I think could work in abstraction: work in which you move or are moved somewhere but stay where you are.  Note also there’s the same discomfort here as in the Burton chairs; the sense of things being not quite right.  And you can see echoes of this in two of my favorite artists, FGT and Cady Noland, who in turn have heavily influenced many of my peers whether they realize it or not.

The big question here is whether work has to be sculptural in order to invoke the body; I’m leaning toward thinking it does.   What this means for me as a photographer is to maybe come down hard on the photograph as object; this also puts me in mind of Noland, who would print on (sometimes hole-filled) sheets of aluminum and lean them against the wall, suggesting something (usually violence) left unfinished.

There’s got to be a way, though, to marry the gender politics of pattern and decoration with the haunting of this stuff, though; soon I’ll have some sketches for my likely project, a Glory Row.

In the meantime, though, a bonus haunting ’70s phsyical intervention image: the classic Gordon Matta Clark’s Splitting.



5 Responses to “I Love the (Haunted) ’70s”

  1. AdamFeldmeth Says:

    Michael Fried aside, I think these works, and certainly the photos of them, maintain a suggestion of the phantom limb. I gain no access into these structures in the physical sense (as you have pointed out) and so I am left to associate with the work/scenario in front of me: (1)These look like stairs; (2)Stairs are for walking; (3)I can’t walk up these; (4)I will, through recall of climbing stairs, access this work. The photos aid the restriction of physical entry. In the case of these documents of the Aycock works, the archive of the work retains the negotiations of the actual encounter.

  2. Will Says:

    It’s interesting that you like that tension so much, and thanks for
    describing it so well. Without articulating it, I’d feel exactly
    that sense of “not quite right” about it, and feel that I wanted
    to explore those environments/objects, but the fact that I couldn’t
    would leave me uncomfortable and sad, kind of rejected by objects.
    That’s just a reflection of my personality and worldview, and it’s
    why I love installation art pieces so much, the physical ones where
    you’re invited to play with things and explore environments. It
    feeds both my love of new and colorful worlds and my need to
    feel welcomed.

    It makes me think of how much viewer psychology influences
    interpretation of art, how “reading” the piece is a constructive act.

  3. There’s a book I have (still packed away from when I moved out of my Broad studio). It’s called Stud: The Architectures of Masculinity:
    One essay talks about the architecture of bathhouses and how cruising areas are set up like mazes. Part of the object of the architecture is to (dis)orient the cruiser.

    I think this parallels the visually but not physically accessible forms of Aycock. Like a night at Slammer where there’s so much prime meat trolling the hallways, but one still goes home hungry.

    On your point about sculpture invoking the body. For me, anything from furniture size to installation and beyond (land art?) necessarily invokes the body. Like a John Coplans photograph: no matter how abstract he makes it, the body is always right there out front.

  4. Nicholas Says:

    To summarily respond:

    1) There are different ways of invoking the body, one of which involves actual physical motility; that’s the kind I’m most interested in because often the visual arts emphasize spectation over participation.

    2) That participation can even be internal, mentally (and doesn’t cost a thing) which is why I like it.

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