Ceal Floyer’s art practice has developed out of a playful approach to the tenets of minimalist sculpture. Using familiar objects and common figures of speech, she upends conventional meanings, creating works that are both elegant and absurd. Her small gestures, reductive reasoning and literalist approach to materials yield works that exploit the sometimes surprising outcomes of a perfectly logical process. This exhibition included new works created especially for the CAG.
Imitation, repetition, and ready-made phrases are the methods by which humans learn speech. Much of everyday communication between people is taken up by clichés, catch phrases, scripted remarks with predictable effects. A similar rule applies in the material world, where a range of ubiquitous objects fulfills a spectrum of predetermined functions. We hardly give this a second thought. Ceal Floyer negotiates this world of ordinary things and makes us think again.
A rubber-stamp with the word “draft”, a commonplace office device meant to identify an unfinished document: when applied to the bottom edge of a door it creates a double inversion, like a wrong-way round rebus where, instead of a picture used to invoke a word, the word becomes an image of the thing referred to. This is much the same way that language is supposed to work, except in this case the result is intensely concrete. In upper case italic and repeated across the entire bottom edge of the door, the word mimics the forward rush of air through the gap above the floor, literally taking the place of the thing that it describes, giving visual form to the sensation of it and occupying its physical place in the gap under the door. This is a slight gesture, a punning reference to the small gaps between words and the objects they designate. But that small gap also ventilates the distance between objects and our apprehension of them. In this gap, Floyer finds the distance between everyday expectations and the experience of art.
If what you see is only ever what you see, Floyer’s work reminds you to pay attention. There is nothing obscure or deceptive in her work, no glamour or sleight-of-hand. Rather, the pleasure of “aha” inhabits the simplest of logics. Watercolour achieves this evanescent moment by occupying the mundane descriptive qualities of language. On a video monitor we see a white screen. This turns blue, then green, then red, the alterations of colour corresponding to the chromatic make-up of video technology. But like an aural mnemonic, the subtle “plink, plink” of the soundtrack gently coaches the realization that what we are watching is a close up of a glass of water with a brush being cleaned. The change of colour is accomplished by adding consecutive brushloads of primary pigment to the glass of water. The work, in fact, is exactly what it is called: water plus colour – watercolour. Title, material, and process converge into a single self-referential gesture, a reductive definition that nevertheless escapes the expected. As simply beautiful as the image is on the screen, as pleasing as a cool, pure colour field painting, Watercolour is dumb, elegant, like an agoraphobic party girl – all dressed up and declining to join the crowd.
Because of its reductive character, its tendency to foreground process, and its focus on language, Floyer’s work could seem to be derived from the formal and abstract principles of minimal and conceptual art, but this conjecture is easily dismantled in a work like Trash. Trash both undermines the minimalist privilege accorded to the embodied spectator in the space of the work and, contrary to the administrative and bureaucratic procedures of conceptualism, reverses cause and effect. Trash is a silent projection of a still image of a trash bin adopted from the OSX operating system for Mac. It was positioned in the lower right corner of an existing wall and scaled to the size of an actual waste bin. The projector sat on the floor in front of the wall. As an installation the existence of Trash was governed by the physical space it inhabited, while as a projection it redefined the space of the gallery as two-dimensional cyberspace. Thus as sculpture, the work both restates the minimalist emphasis on the corporeal space of the gallery and revokes it with the “screen” – the pictorial space implied by the projection. The object of reflection – the computer icon – becomes a prop for its own referent in the real world, just part of the staging, the mise-en-scene, of the over-compensated corporeality of the gallery itself. Trash conferred privilege not on the artist or the medium but on the act of projection, an act of imagination and poise.
Floyer uses the spectator’s natural impulse to project themselves into the work again in Stereo. Structured around the dichotomy inherent in having a point of view, the work is comprised of a cd, player and two speakers. The speakers were positioned in the gallery so that the sound from each has its own space, intersecting in the middle. From one speaker was heard the sound of applause; from the other, many voices booing. Alternately repeating at seemingly random intervals, the sounds conveyed the basic irrationality of an audience. This is a primal condition, for without opposing points of view there would be only mono, no “point” of view at all but a continuous undifferentiated field. A favorite pun: without geometry life would be pointless. All that’s missing in the structure of the work is the performance that the recorded fans are responding to. In its place, in the vectored path of the sound, is the spectator of the work. Once again the spectator is invited to project themselves into the space of the work, to perform for themselves – through memory, anticipation or other associative routes to the stereotyped soundtrack – an imaginative act that structures their experience of the work. Whether one decides to cheer or boo, the spectator is simultaneously audience and performer, in the spotlight, in a quandary between action and entertainment.
Floyer’s dead-pan puns, her reductive reasoning and candid reversals serve to situate each work independently in a sort of transitional state where the ordinary things of the world escape their familiar roles. Expectations are upended and alternate logics are entertained. All the paths of perception are equally available and the experience of her work becomes mobile, questioning, constantly slipping into another guise. There is nothing contingent in this work, no information is given that is external to it, and yet it implies a range of logical relations where imaginative possibilities have unpredictable outcomes. – Christina Ritchie