BY Andrew Hunt in Reviews | 10 OCT 04
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Issue 86

Pavel Büchler

BY Andrew Hunt in Reviews | 10 OCT 04

Pavel Büchler’s forays into book works, the limits of language and the nature of appropriation and erasure have resulted in an increasingly elaborate form of literary practice. His interest in renewing visual art’s old ‘links’ to language is curious; and at first sight, with an ad hoc salon hang of appropriated paintings covering one side of the gallery and a number of framed works on paper positioned opposite, this solo exhibition at Program somehow evoked – with the help of a large number of Büchler’s publications positioned on a shelf – dusty archives and library displays. The duality of the work, mostly through the impasto of the paintings, also succeeded in conjuring a nasty sensuality redolent of 1950s abstraction. Luckily, scratching the surface revealed a host of hidden references.

Away in the corner of the room, The Life and Times (2004) comprised a number of objects held on a small oval table. There was a tiny vice that gripped a page from Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1760), a 60-watt light bulb, which was connected to a huge oversized black cable snaking back to a socket by the door, and a magnifying glass positioned between the bulb and the book page. A final line before a gap on the page read, ‘Whilst a man is free – cried the Corporal, giving a flourish with his stick thus –’. The break on the page served as a screen, onto which sporadic flickers from the bulb’s filament were projected via the magnifying glass. Reading as tiny linear bolts of lightning, these enlarged flashes became a visual representation of the action delivered by the character in the text. Büchler offered a strange tribute here: Sterne’s original page contains a graphic device that delivers the same lyrical routine in the form of a meandering black line. Although this has been removed and replaced by the immaterial flash, the replacement gesture speaks in the same way as Sterne’s original; it’s a wry comment on the limits of language. The subsequent line – ‘A thousand of my father’s most subtle syllogisms could not have said more for celibacy’ – confirms this, the visual form of the Corporal’s articulate gesture faithfully subverting the surrounding text.

Büchler’s work also seems intent on questioning the very status of the book as artwork, and it’s clear that his research on this has developed over a long period; his 1996 essay ‘Books as Books’ appears instrumental in its production. Quoting Ulises Carrión’s The New Art of Making Books (1975), he speaks of the importance of the physicality or the real space of books, in terms of an ‘autonomous space-time sequence’, where gaps and breaks identify for Büchler a borderline between the physical and spiritual worlds. This stress on the relationship between the materiality of books, and the spatial rather than the linear quality of text and image, lead him to cite as his ultimate ‘book as a book’ – preceding by two centuries, as he points out, the recent golden age of artists’ books – Sterne’s stream of consciousness classic.

Looking around, the exhibition started to reveal other references. The strange black cable looping on the gallery floor became another of the Corporal’s concise and infinitely imbued flourishes, while Büchler’s Diary (2001), a small irregular page containing a dark square made entirely of blue and black biro marks, enacted another homage. Written over for a year with the artist’s diary entries, 15 lines from it merge to form irregular horizontal embossed blisters. Mirroring an entry in the first volume of Tristram Shandy, where two black pages appear immediately after the death of the character Yorick, Diary suggests a similar ineffable content, which cannot be ‘read’ in a conventional sense. Both Sterne’s book and Büchler’s compressed journal hint at an unintelligible overload of information and the failed task of each narrator to complete his tale. Famously Tristram Shandy realizes his own task is hopeless – it takes the narrator more time to tell the story than to live his life. Paradoxically, through its opaque physicality Diary also presents a joyful tribute to the book’s meandering narrative and its celebration of the endless possibilities of fiction.

The other works in the exhibition played with more overt forms of appropriation. ‘Modern Paintings’ (1997–2004) presented the aforementioned abstracts, reclaimed from flea markets, auctions, friends and students. Reinvested with new life through priming, stripping, a cycle in a washing machine and the reapplication of paint, they form a homogeneous series whose previous lives are only hinted at. Somehow, though, through the slight physicality that connected each work, the exhibition disrupted the conventions of various visual languages parallel with the verbal language of storytelling. Just like the graphic tics in Sterne’s novel – through a flash or moment of lyrical epiphany – Büchler’s project says much more than a thousand ‘subtle syllogisms’ ever could.