The symbology of idealism; windows, balloons and Warhol
Corey McCorkle is best described not as an object-maker (although he does produce meticulously crafted things) but as a spatial interventionist. For a 2005 solo exhibition at the Kunsthalle Bern he was given a degree of licence almost impossible to imagine at an American museum (which perhaps explains why he has exhibited so much more widely in Europe): he shattered 19th-century skylights, filled a gallery with helium balloons and cut a perfect circle in the original hardwood floor. McCorkle turned the resulting disk 23 degrees, to match the pitch of the earth on the solstice, an intervention so discreet that the viewer might have missed it. The work operated on an almost imperceptible formal level, with the shifted floorboards causing a vaguely disturbed sense of location even if the viewer didn’t understand the meaning behind it.
This split between a craftsman’s attention to detail and a Conceptual framework that overreaches its physical incarnation defines much of McCorkle’s work. It connects more specifically to the individual Utopian or countercultural movements that serve as reference points for much of McCorkle’s work: movements such as the Findhorn garden community of Moray, Scotland; the 19th-century Oneida Christian Perfectionists, located in Oneida, New York; or Auroville, a self-described ‘ideal township devoted to an experiment in human unity’ located in southern India near Pondicherry. These groups share a preoccupation with systems taken to breaking point – consider, for instance, Auroville’s website, which is both minutely referenced and cross-referenced, and so overwhelmingly circuitous as to be impossible to navigate or comprehend.
It is these groups’ obsessive symbology rather than their particular beliefs – which are only secondarily comprehended – that McCorkle’s craftsmanship brings to the fore. In his first exhibition at New York’s maccarone gallery in 2003 he created a three-floor homage to Findhorn that served as a kind of presentation of the phenomenon of presentation itself. The ground floor consisted of a series of makeshift walls papered with large-scale colour photographs of Findhorn’s gardens that McCorkle describes as looking like film posters for the obscure 1979 documentary The Secret Life of Plants. (Not incidentally, the artist has spent the past few years hunting down this vanished New Age film and, with Peter Coffin, recently arranged a rare screening at the New York Horticultural Society.) The second floor contained a single wall-tracing of the wing-like glass motif that graces Findhorn’s entry gates, while the top floor featured a Japanese-style rose window that filtered daylight through small sections of bamboo held together by the sheer pressure of the expanding reed. Both cases, in short, offered portals to other ghostly absences: McCorkle’s heartbreakingly beautiful ‘stained-glass window’ provided a close-up view of the urban grit of Canal Street; his line drawing executed freehand from an image on his computer offered a ghostly version of the original emblem, itself a mere representation of Findhorn’s lofty ideals.
McCorkle has described his Findhorn drawing as tattoo-like, and indeed its open form cleaved to the gallery wall as though its very existence dependent on this particular place and context. Much of his work – such as a cut through a brick wall from 2003 entitled Office Baroque (for Matta Clark) – directly recalls the kind of institutional interventions practised by artists such as Gordon Matta-Clark and others in the 1970s. But McCorkle embraces a less aggressive model of site-specificity: one that aims not to destroy or undo but simply to acknowledge what it means to be situated in space.
How does one give form to transcendence? How does one shape immateriality? These questions are poignantly explored in the helium balloon installation Solar Wind Setting (2005) at the Kunsthalle Bern. For this piece McCorkle tracked down a German scientist involved in a little-known project to develop a foil to collect the sun’s rays in outer space. The artist requisitioned remnants of the original material used on the Apollo missions to the moon and constructed balloons made to the exact specifications of Andy Warhol’s famous 1966 installation Silver Clouds (the year the foil was invented). McCorkle’s installation filled a room with balloons that rose and fell with the sun’s entering rays, as well as a video of a single balloon that the artist set free over central Bern. If the video visualizes the hopeful act of materializing something evanescent, the mundane Warholian balloons were a gentle reminder of the impossibility of this gesture.
Film is a growing component of McCorkle’s production, not least because of its presumed transparency. Recent films include: Preah (2005), a portrait of a reportedly mystical white cow in Cambodia; Tower of Shadows (2006), a vision of Le Corbusier’s famous unfinished monument in Chandigarh, filmed from dawn till dusk on the shortest day of the year; and Bestiaire (2007), a slide-show-like view of a defunct zoo outside Istanbul. In each case McCorkle adopts a neutral approach, employing static close-up shots (and in the case of Tower of Shadows a single take) that divest the camera of subjective personality while simultaneously highlighting its function as framing device. (In fact, McCorkle modelled Bestiare’s shots on views by the 18th-century fantasy landscape painter Nicholas Robert.) It would seem that for McCorkle meaning exists outside our efforts to harness it, just as this application to meaning is all we can ever claim to have.
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