Materiality

“When I began meditating on the concept of the beauty of matter, I was immediately struck by the neglect of the material cause in aesthetic philosophy. […] Only after studying forms and attributing each to its proper matter will it be possible to visualize a complete doctrine on human imagination. Then one can appreciate the fact that an image is a plant – which needs earth and sky, substance and form.”

Gaston Bachelard, Imagination and Matter, 1942

Through the appropriation of fake or ‘bogus’ décor pieces, TBBBG aims to envelop the audience with the materiality of its discursive framework. Both ‘made of’ and containing simulated or manipulated versions of nature, the exhibition embodies our ever rising strive to contain, preserve and reinvent the natural realm.

The choice of creating a ‘plasticized’ version of a botanical garden was driven by the desire to complement and emphasize the highly sensorial quality of the works exhibited. Other than the presence of plastic itself in the décor of the artificial botanical garden, all the other objects in the exhibition are defined by a hybrid mix of material identities, which include the digital and photographic, the quasi-organic and alchemical, and the everyday and mundane. Still, the element of plastic appears useful as the symbolic counterpart to the simulating tendencies of each object.

Defined by Roland Barthes in 1962 as “an evolution in the myth of ‘imitation’ materials”[1], plastic has since then been widely recognized as the simulating material par excellence. Anticipating the current situation of nature/artifice ambiguity, Barthes was already identifying new practices and materials that will contribute in perverting “the age-old function of nature.”[2] Barthes’ own statements about plastic then become useful to understand each materiality stored within the exhibition, where “an artificial Matter, more bountiful than all the natural deposits, is about to replace [nature], and to determine the very invention of forms.”[3]

It could then be said that TBBBG is an exhibition that functions via its materiality, particularly when considering that “with materiality, the experience of the viewer is essential, providing completion of art through bodily perception.”[4] This condition is particularly vital when considering the interrelationship between the physical attributes of the gallery space and the exhibited artworks. The aesthetic experience of the visitors is, in fact, strictly bound to an ontological co-dependence between the material presence of the immersive installation and that of the artistic objects, whose reception would be unavoidably altered by their placement in a more conventional white cube space.

But what kind of objects are these? How can we equate a digitally-generated print of a natural environment (Giovanni Castell) with a porcelain sculpture of a turf (Katie Spragg)? As first addressed in Jean-Francois Lyotard’s Paris exhibition ‘Les Immatériaux’ (1985), the recent development of computer technologies has significantly “changed perceptions about the materiality of things.”[5] Still, the perceived immateriality of new technologies takes a highly tangible form both in Castell’s large-scale prints of digitally grown ecosystems and in Creagh’s virtually enhanced compositions of organic elements. Rather than just being perceived through the thickness of the frame or the translucency of the photographic paper, the presence of the works is celebrated by their role within their surrounding environment.

The quasi-unnerving aspect of materializing a botanical garden within the walls of a commercial gallery transforms the space into an all-encompassing phenomenological experience. In this situation, the objectual quality of each artwork is exalted precisely by its association with the surrounding simulated environment and its multi-sensorial impact upon the visitors.

 

Notes

[1] Roland Barthes, ‘Plastic // 1957’, in Materiality: Documents of Contemporary Art, (London, UK: Whitechapel Gallery Ventures Ltd, 2015), pp.173-174.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Christina Murdoch Mills, ‘Materiality as the Basis for the Aesthetic Experience in Contemporary Art’, (Montana, USA: University of Montana Press, 2009), p.5

[5] Monika Wagner, ‘Material // 2001’, in Materiality: Documents of Contemporary Art, (London, UK: Whitechapel Gallery Ventures Ltd, 2015), pp.26-30, (p.26)

 

CMV