For their collaborative installation A Dark Switch Yawning, Neptune Skeletons Thronging, Black Bucket Prolonging, World Turtle Longing, Sink Plug Wronging (2017), Geoffrey Farmer and Gareth Moore have assembled various objects and sculptures in a shallow, walled pool of water, which occupies the majority of the gallery. Some sit, partially emerged; others float. With the objects dimly lit by low-hanging lanterns and the walls and floors of the space painted a deep blue, it is permanently night. This darkness amplifies the space’s single discernable sound: the constant dripping of fountains into the pool.
Submerged in the water are whale ear bones, which are plentiful in the fossil record and trace cetacean existence from sea to land and back to sea once more. More contemporary objects include a shard of a dinner plate, a wizened houseplant and a take-away cup of coffee, attached, leaf-like, to the limb of a tree. Trousers made of fish leather, seemingly beset by rigor mortis, stretch atop a chair, while a Styrofoam imitation of a concrete slab floats adrift. Absence coexists with presence in the head of a taxidermy duck, peering from behind a totem-like pole, as well as in a pile of 600 Thai coins, emptied from the stomach of a sea turtle that swallowed them but didn’t survive the surgery. A separate turtle appears in the form of a bronze sculpture, a reference to an anecdote in Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time (1988), wherein a lady refutes the structure of the universe by claiming that the world sits on the back of a giant tortoise. Beneath that, she says, is an endless stack – ‘turtles all the way down!’.
Together, these found and conceived objects form a cosmos so pointedly arcane and hysterical that it can be nothing short of biographically-informed. As with Farmer’s earlier works, such as Leaves of Grass (2012), for which he plucked and juxtaposed photographs from 50 years’ worth of Life magazines, this installation proposes a decontextualized reordering of history that merges past and present into something new. Works drawn from previous installations – such as Into the Water (In His Leather Breeches) (2008-12), Moore’s abovementioned chair and fish leather construction – underline the cyclical and generative nature of both artists’ practices. Thus, to enter the imaginary site proposed by the installation is to accept the authors’ own minds as an organizing frame – one informed by the specifics of their experiential biographies.
Funny, then, that the installation relies little on personal history. (The most intimate narrative comes in the form of a cannon, which was gifted to Farmer by his uncle and subsequently converted into a sculpture.) In fact, the ethos of Farmer and Moore’s sprawling assemblage might be to include everything, because anything can become source material. The underlying subject matter, whether a commentary on religion or humankind’s exploitation of nature, is secondary. Because the gallery is so dimly lit, viewers assume a position similar to that of the artists as passive, detached observers – one that is further abetted by the shrine-like atmosphere of the pond, which encourages a certain indifference and the acceptance of all things. But to be able to choose and exclude seems to be a fundamental prerequisite to being an artist, and therein lies the necessary illusion of assuming any worldview, the terror of attempting to make meaning at the macro scale. In the pool, Hawking’s tortoise, holding up the world, sits next to the giant plug referenced in the installation’s title: Sink Plug Wronging. The world as we know it may end at any time.
Main image: Geoffrey Farmer and Gareth Moore, A Dark Switch Yawning, Neptune Skeletons Thronging, Black Bucket Prolonging, World Turtle Longing, Sink Plug Wronging, installation view at Salzburger Kunstverein, Austria, 2017. Courtesy: Salzburger Kunstverein