BY Neal Brown in Reviews | 11 NOV 96
Featured in
Issue 31

Claude Closky

BY Neal Brown in Reviews | 11 NOV 96

The show begins with the artist in the role of a Sisyphus who's cracked the system - at least to his own satisfaction - having rolled his ridiculously oversize boulders up a very steep hill. There they remain tidily, instead of rolling downwards: a proud, unnecessary collection spectacularly defying gravity. Thus the artist salvages meaningless sense from his obsessive compulsive disorder.

The artist's labours take the form of books, a wall text piece, videos and a video projection. Closky makes collections of collections to which are systematically introduced a tautological discourse, the unnecessary invention of sensible problems and the subsequent offering of absurd solutions. They are part of an honourably clever-dick tradition of works - at which the French excel - that has included Georges Perec's novel that makes no use of the letter 'E' (the film of which it's unlikely you'll be hearing about).

Closky's more militantly useless works are books, whose titles are self explanatory. As if made under an EEC artists' directive, these works are, in their deferential respect to their own perfect and self-contained rule system, cleverly amusing if slightly sterile. They include The First One Thousand Numbers Classified in Alphabetical Order (1989) and 365 Days of 1991 Classified by Size (1992). However, by Singles (1995), which lists chronologically, by advertiser's age, a very large number of lonely hearts ads, the work has become more untidily emotive and interesting. The ads are run together so closely that there begins a process of stimulation, and then breakdown, of our compassion, as we weary of the listings' commodification of sexual desire. This is quite fun, if you like that sort of thing.

This technique of breakdown by systematic over-accumulation is used successfully in the later video works. Here the artist points out our own Sisyphean tendencies. In a sort of media botany study, Closky painstakingly gathers his specimens from the field. In 200 Mouths to Feed (1994) he brings together images from some 200 TV advertisements, briefly edited at precisely the fleeting, but important, point where the model introduces into his or her dilated mouth the branded product being sold - chocolate, yoghurt or other food products. Again, this is fun, especially when the exhortation to be agreeably satisfied is seen to become increasingly implausible, in relation to such a ludicrous onslaught of feigned pleasure. Consumption, in both the literal and figurative sense, is shown as beyond meaningful gratification. Condemned to push our shopping trolleys up the hill of desire, we watch helplessly as they are kicked back down and we are told to start again.

Closky has the inexhaustible ability to identify, or manufacture and then supply for us, examples of our constant receipt of unrequited trauma or bogus catharsis. It seems our needs and desires, on closer examination, are identifiable as obscurely merited punishments. On this basis, Closky shows videos of remorselessly repeated explosions edited from films (Brrraoumn, 1995) or a TV model condemned endlessly to fail to complete a toss of her hair. (Les Pruneaux d'Agen, 1994). Similarly, the text piece 1000 Things to Do (1995-6) is a collection of lifestyle consumer exhortations from magazines, which are cumulatively contradictory. Ironically, these commands on the wall come to look more like wallpaper than the concurrent exhibition of artists' wallpaper.

While the show is intelligently enjoyable, the obsessive perfection of Closky's earlier, useless systems can prompt an embarrassing pettiness in the viewer towards the relative imperfections in the presen-tation of the later works. It is also unfortunate for Closky, given that we are in his world, that his work becomes vulnerable to an analysis of his own making. Although pleased to have been in his world, we may also be pleased to leave it, having quite quickly learned his lesson and applied it to Closky's own work. But it is a measure of the artist's considerable success that we may so quickly become wary of his commands about commands and his propositions about propositions.

Neal Brown is an artist and writer based in London, UK.