That Pakistan-born, Berlin-based artist Ceal Floyer’s art is both unusually liminal and hugely seductive was evident in this mid-career survey. Each work demonstrated a deft tactility of thought and was installed with finesse. As one moved throughout the exhibition spaces situated over four floors of DHC/ART, and in two large spaces in a satellite gallery nearby, the tiniest and most unprepossessing environmental appurtenances came under close and furtive inspection: a light switch, a grocery list, the projection of an Apple Macintosh ‘trash can’ on a lower wall. From the hijacking of such seemingly humble objects, Floyer proceeds to release imprisoned and unforeseen meanings; hers is a tiny terrorism of the built world, but one in which revelatory explosions blossom inside us without the hurt.
For instance, Light Switch (1992–9) – a signature work – is but the apparition of a light switch projected in scale from a 35mm slide on the wall plane, at around the same height as a real light switch. The presence of the projector clues us in immediately. In Double Act (2006), we are reminded of David Lynch’s velvet-curtained room that featured in the Twin Peaks television series (1990–1). But here the projection of red curtain and stage retain an eerie and unalterable stillness. Of course, one’s instinct is to step onto the proscenium. But no photographs are allowed. Somewhere between a rueful smile and a startled sense of wonder, the viewer has to accept the rule of absence.
The exhibition also provided a salutary opportunity to see a reconfiguration of Things, first shown at the KW Institute for Contemporary Arts, Berlin, in 2009. Thirty austere white plinths with embedded speakers sequentially broadcast the word ‘things’ from 30 different pop songs. The irony here was razor-sharp: the repetition of the word ‘things’ pointed to its opposite: ‘non-things’.
Floyer calls her work self-reflexive and it is, in a way. But it is also, and in spite of its liminality, profoundly interactive. And as she devotedly directs the viewer with the subtlest manouevrings towards absence: the absence of a light switch, the absence of a subject, the absence of ‘things’ – she is really igniting a sense of presence and present tense revelation. She is a consummate poet of the unseen. Her readymades and their simulacra – the light switch, say, and the projection of a switch – reveal something about the unreality of the world, the abstraction behind the representation and vice-versa. If she champions Marcel Duchamp, she also champions Agnes Martin, so liminal and reductive are her constructive strategies.
Floyer practices a rigorous conceptualism that nevertheless segues with the world of everyday life in startling ways. Her work is like a finger pointing towards absence, offering magico-circumstantial experiences and small explosive revelations that continue to touch us long after we have left the exhibition halls. If Floyer eschews hoopla in favour of slow learning, it is perhaps because she sees the ‘gaze’ as synonymous with experience itself. She sheds welcome light on the phenomenology of everyday life, and rather than making us self-conscious, she really makes us hyperconscious of the making of meaning, and the fact that we, her viewers, are not only fully and consciously complicit in that interior facture but in the process, well, as Tom Petty once wrote and sang: ‘Glad to be here, happy to be alive.’