Daniele Balice and Alexander Hertling inaugurated the 2008 programme of their new space – in the pocket-handkerchief-sized space they time-share with Metronome press, the Castillo/Corrales gallery and the Parisian curatorial agency Work Method – with new work by the Dutch artist Falke Pisano. Language, in the form of written texts, live lectures and recorded readings, is at the heart of Pisano’s practice, which to a great extent mediates on the conditions of possibility for, and the existence of, what she alternately calls ‘concrete objects’, ‘abstract concrete objects’ and ‘abstract sculpture’.
Like any number of artists today, Pisano fixates on the legacies of modernism, and on modernist abstraction in particular. With an entomologist’s exactitude, she dissects forms and ideas, formalizes theoretical propositions, and theorizes formal propositions, using linguistic strategies indebted to Conceptual art. Here, Pisano turns her attention to the supremely modernist site of a veritable soap-opera: Eileen Gray’s Villa E–1027, which the designer built with Jean Badovici in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin on the French Côte d’Azur between 1926–29. Obsessed by Gray’s seaside home, in 1938 Le Corbusier ‘vandalized’ it with a series of interior murals he painted without her permission, then published photographs of the murals in an architecture magazine, edited by Badovici, without mentioning Gray as architect. To add insult to injury, he built his own beach house on a plot overlooking her villa. (Le Corbusier died in 1965, after a swim off the coast not far from the two buildings.) Many years later, a murder took place in Villa E–1027, and the building sat in ruin without hope of restoration until 2000.
Unfortunately, nothing as juicy as this back-story is narrated through Pisano’s exhibition. However, in Not Titled Yet (all works 2008), a sculpture composed of obliquely stacked rows of white wood squares that occupy the gallery’s entire front window, Pisano pays homage to Gray’s original elegant lacquered Block Screen (1922). One outward-facing panel is mirrored to reflect goings-on in the street. Nearby L’objet complet (the undeniable success of operations), an angular black paper sculpture comprised of two geometric elements made from folded and glued maquettes, hangs awkwardly, edging close to the screen/sculpture in the window. The evident hand-made quality of this ‘complete object’ is almost touching. Unlike with the former work, here one gets a sense of the demonstrable effort it has taken for this idea to reach its formalization.
Another sculpture, Object and Disintegration (The Object of Three), built from stacked rows of larger white wood panels, onto which three videos are projected, sits in the centre of the gallery. On one panel the animated geometry of Pisano’s black maquettes twists and turns on the flat white surface; a second shows the artist’s hands holding typed documents, which are reflected in the mirror she sits in front of; while the third displays a black screen printed with white text, inevitably recalling Joseph Kosuth’s forays into the construction of meaning through language and myriad other conceptual/textual experiments. Depending on one’s position, the view of the geometric ensemble and the shades of white/grey/black shifting in the light can be striking.
Each video is accompanied by an audio component relayed via headphones. The artist reads three different texts in a quasi-hypnotic, didactic monotone that is so serious one can only hope she is being ironic. All the texts speak to the potential disintegration of an object during the encounter between it and three subjects Pisano calls ‘engaging spectator’, ‘constructing artist/contextualizing observer’ and ‘creative subject’. Amongst other things, she wonders: ‘How to create in language a space that provides the necessary conditions for an object to exist? How to set the coordinates of the place and the form of the object? And how to enable the possibility for a transformation of a constructed body from a coherent unit into a collection of separate qualities that depend on the engagement of the spectator rather than their original relation towards each other?’
As I listened to her analytical/phenomenological/vaguely psychological discourse, I noticed I was gently tapping my head against the wall I was leaning on, which is never a good sign. Friedrich Nietzsche said: ‘The more abstract the truth you want to teach, the more thoroughly you must seduce the senses to accept it.’ Artists enamoured with theory just might want to consider that.
Pisano reminds us that the conceptualist tradition of relating objects to language is alive and well in three black and white photographs, inscribed with legends, entitled Conceptual Reconstruction Concerning Form: The Object. The photographs depict books open for display, a desk and maquettes of abandoned projects. The legends are more or less descriptive and expand on ‘The Feeling of Form’, ‘The Experience of Form’ and ‘The Comprehension of Form’, but after listening to the videos I couldn’t deal with any more words. There’s a saying that too much talking can kill a relationship. Guess what? It applies to relationships with art works too.