A constant in Christian Kliegel’s work is its site-specificity. While this tactic is a common art practice, there is something particular in the way Kliegel uses the exhibition space to form a work. Obviously the work is structurally defined by his response to the space, but the relationship seems tenuous. Often his structures feel barely stable, as if they could give way any second, and the material he uses seems to carry as much relevance as the form of the piece itself. His use of the site is more about the function of the sculpture than a preoccupation with the space. This strategy reflects a primary concern of Minimalism, which Richard Serra so aptly sums up: “after the piece is created, the space will be understood primarily as a function of the sculpture.”
This principle was clearly expressed in Gloom, Boom & Doom his solo exhibition at Access Artist-Run Centre in Vancouver. For this work he collapsed two of the gallery’s walls, leaning them on to opposing walls to create a v-shaped channel, which he filled with a massive heap of shredded paper containing investor and stock information. The “v” defined the shape of the enormous mass of paper, but the weight of the half-tonne pile also seemed to test the strength of the architecture. Kliegel’s reconfiguration of the site drew attention to the gallery architecture while resolutely directing attention back on to the sculpture. But Kliegel takes this relationship between object and site further, moving away from the sculpture as something whole, breaking down its objectness into its component parts, and as such emphasizing process and addressing a purpose that is outside its present form. The shredded pile of paper is not just material, it reflects the artist’s personal investment. Kliegel’s interest in the stock market is linked to his recent financial losses in mineral and energy stocks. His expansive use of scale in defining spatial relations between viewer, architecture and object is humbly grounded in the everyday. Kliegel’s choice of materials is literal. They literally represent his interests and routines, historically situating his daily concerns within the theoretical discourse of aesthetics.
This pointed negotiation of site, material and meaning was particularly evident in Production Postings, an on-going project that Kliegel had reworked for the Contemporary Art Gallery’s windows. He lined the gallery’s twelve street level windows with location signs used by film and television production companies to direct crew and extras to film shoots. Each production uses a cryptic code to identify itself, but the general design and style of these brightly coloured signs are formulaic and a ubiquitous part of Vancouver’s urban landscape: they are made of coroplast and vinyl, similar in dimension, with fluorescent or intensely coloured arrows for direction. By filling the windows with over three hundred signs, Kliegel created a totalizing spectacle that used the uniformity of the windows to create a whole image.
But this whole isn’t solid. Like Gloom, Boom & Doom, the architecture defined the composition of the work creating one piece, but the component parts still resonant. Each has its own coded acronyms or words. There are slight differences in material and size and irregularities caused by wear and tear. The uniqueness of each sign reflects an essential aspect in Kliegel’s process. He has collected the movie set signs since 2003, routinely detouring from his day-to-day travels to collect them– the detour thus becoming a scheduled activity in itself. The process of collecting the signs is reminiscent of the dérive, a term the Situationists used in relation to the act of walking through the city with no predetermined route. Chance is an important element of the successful dérive, but it is not without direction. Places that are usually forbidden or dismissed such as construction sites, abandoned houses, dead end streets are guiding factors. For Kliegel the signs are his guide and a reason to enter places he might not otherwise go into, following a direction that wasn’t meant for him. But unlike the romance of the dérive, which was seen as purpose enough and not undertaken as a means of gathering material to be later transformed into an art object, Kliegel had a material purpose.
Transgression is an essential aspect of the dérive, going where you shouldn’t or wouldn’t normally. For Kliegel taking the signs extended the transgression. They were still in use; in removing them he may detour someone from their intended routine, even if only slightly or briefly. Kliegel’s intention wasn’t to disrupt production: companies usually hang a redundant number of signs, literally over-articulating the point. Part of his interest was to increase the element of chance and pronounce his own comfort.
The signs are both the material and the process. In its presentation Production Postings had a formal presence that was defined by the physical parameters of the gallery and was concerned with an aesthetic informed by the grand gestures of Minimalism. In its use of material the piece abstractly represents the artist’s process with the subtle and personalized actions of the Situationists. With this work, Kleigel situates himself with a short lineage of Vancouver-based artists who deftly manage to cross form and process, using the former to represent the latter by grounding both in the everyday.