Sunday, 5 February 2017

Sebastian Gordin - "if animals didn't exist.."

My arrival at the Rosenfeld Porcini in Fitzrovia was hardly the most auspicious of occasions. I let myself in. There was nobody behind the desk. There was someone on their knees looking at a laptop and the sound of people talking somewhere in another room. There were lots of things in boxes and packaged up as if to be either unmoved or unveiled. Clearly they were readying up the next show but Sebastian Gordin's 'if animals didn't exist..' which I'd come to see hadn't finished yet!

So I took the usual A4 sheet of paper that serves as a guide and showed myself around. The press release began with a quote by German poet and philosopher Friedrich von Schiller:- "Deep meaning lies often in childish play" and the little wooden stick figures that populate Gordin's installations confirm that the artist buys into von Schiller's theory. But should we?

I don't know - and this show, coming in the wake of Gordin's mid-career retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in Buenos Aires in 2014, isn't the one to tell me. Because as a visitor all I could do was look at the work. I couldn't touch it, couldn't play with it so, if Gordin and von Schiller are right, I was unable to garner any deep meaning from it. You try telling a child they can look at their toys but they can't play with them.

I'm not saying Gordin's work is crap (it isn't) but that it doesn't succeed in living up to the billing he himself has given it. When it comes to conceptual art you surely have, at the very least, to fulfil the remit of your own concept.

Realising that any attempt to understand what he was getting at was forsaken I instead sought to appreciate the works on a purely aesthetic level and there, with the help of incredibly sympathetic lighting, the works came to life a little. As an admirer of the French film maker Jacques Tati Gordin has taken on the concept that comedy can take shape in any form of observation. Although you get that sense of childlike wonder from his work, witness 2015's inventory (below), you won't find yourself bursting out laughing. It's not that sort of comedy.

Gordin emerged in to the art scene of his native Argentina in the late eighties and was part of a group of artists who took flak for their seemingly apolitical stance. Gordin countered that the 'joy of creation' that fills his work was a necessary reaction to the extreme darkness the Argentina of his youth had been through. It's an understandable, if slightly navel-gazing, reaction to tumultuous times.

Nevertheless despite the slightly selfish, or to be fair self-preserving, streak in his ethos Gordin's end products sometimes dazzle. None less, I think, than the incredibly simple madonna of the chimney (2015, below, Gordin's titles are all in lower case). Again I have to give credit to the way the gallery was lit, in this case casting a shadow on the wall that becomes as much part of the work as the wooden chimney itself. 2016's human cannonball, made from wood and terracotta, is perhaps his most obviously childlike construction. It looks like something from a Lego pirate ship. It reminded me of happier, more carefree, times in my life and, in that, came very close to validating the words of von Schiller.

Gordin's interest in books led to him creating a series of faux magazine covers. So convincing were they I picked them up and tried to flick through them. I failed. They've no actual pages. In this he'd succeeded in achieving a very basic, though still absolutely vital, role of art. That of accurate representation.

Little insect house like buildings, frosted glass, and in the nest (ville d'avray, 2015) a tiled floor like the ones you'd expect to see in Egypt or Turkey. All of these things were most pleasing to look at. I'm not sure they'd have been improved by any deeper meaning or accessibility but I do think that if they don't have that the artist should probably not claim that they do.

I give the art 7/10 and the written justification for it 3/10. The actual justification for it can't be scored because, I believe, that no art needs to be justified. It can just be.

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