Before I visited Grayson Revoir’s exhibition ‘The Funnel’, I listened to his radio show The Tunnel on Berlin Community Radio. In its pilot episode, an abrupt clearing of the throat and idle shuffling commence the first hour of Revoir’s cover-to-cover recitation of The Tunnel (1995) – author William H. Gass’s 672-page novel about a US academic, who, struggling to complete an introduction to his magnum opus about Nazi Germany, digs a tunnel beneath his study. Throughout the reading, performed weekly on-air over the past two years, Revoir stumbles over the absurd alliteration and arcane diction of Gass’s book, written in labyrinthine prose and containing images and typographic play that render its contents impossible to convey via audio. In one moment, a string of ‘rrr…’s gets caught in his throat and I find my attention stuck to the faltering mechanics of Revoir’s windpipe. Unlike the sanitized audio of a podcast, there is no mistaking the trace of material in this recording: the spoken word reveals itself as regimented noise. The body itself becomes an acoustic structure.
A similar jerk back to the physical motivates Revoir’s exhibition at Frankfurt am Main two years after the release of the BCR pilot. In ‘The Funnel’, Revoir sets out to ‘transpose’ Gass’s book into a social space. On one level, the book’s manifestation in Frankfurt am Main is literal: Revoir photocopied each page of the 1996 Dalkey Archive Press edition of The Tunnel and upholstered them onto the surfaces of a table and bench, functioning as furniture in the exhibition space. Beyond these several hundred pages, the transposition takes a more abstracted form. A sound system Revoir built in 2014 as equipment for Berlin’s New Theater and recently re-installed, as a sculpture, for his installation Wedding Season has Begun at Schinkel Pavillon (2016), emits an isolated techno drone, drawn out over an 18-minute loop. The fragmentary soundtrack echoes something in Gass’s kaleidoscopic prose style, but dwelling on such considerations at this show seems almost like missing the point. After all, how exactly should one extrapolate a difficult text that relatively few have read, or its hermetic, hole-burrowing narrator?
‘The Funnel’ was built to accommodate the social space of an exhibition, for which viewers were invited to ash in the namesake ‘funnel’ at the centre of the space. The bench and table furnish the room, while serving as pedestals to a 3D printed sculpture. The sculpture is a meticulously unkempt architectural model of M. C. Escher-like staircases snaking up and around the mouth of a funnel – the only literal funnel in the show. As an object, the sculpture is the presumed focal point of the installation. As furniture working in tandem with the bench and table, it functions as an ashtray.
When dealing in the heady issues at stake in the dialectic between content and form, the ineffable and the guttural, Revoir devises objects that foreground a passive critical engagement. What might sound like a polemical gesture of ashing on a sculpture actually comes off as quite subdued in person. Maybe what I find so intriguing about Revoir’s exhibition is that it proffers the brand of promiscuous complexity found in Gass’s meta-fiction; it flirts with a room full of uniting logics, but never goes so far as to be seduced by any one. In the end, there is always an excess of material. ‘The Funnel’, like a cigarette habit, offers an entry point, but hardly an exit. A sculpture, then, is annotated by its disregard, partially buried under the ever accumulating excess of a network’s smoking habit. Once absorbed into the exhibition-event’s unwieldy calculus, the work is ‘ceased’, by Gass’s estimation, ‘in a silence which had silence for its fanfare’.