BY Tom Morton in Reviews | 03 JAN 14
Featured in
Issue 160

Philomene Pirecki

BY Tom Morton in Reviews | 03 JAN 14

Philomene Pirecki, Grey Painting: Text Version 51, 2013, acrylic paint on canvas, 40 × 30 cm

For all their methodological complexity, Philomene Pirecki’s paintings, photographs and installations all turn on two simple, inescapable facts. One is that the art work always exists in a particular time and space, and this has an impact on it. The second is that while the art work might be documented or even reproduced in, say, a photographic image, any such documentation or reproduction will also have its own coordinates, and that these too will give it shape, and tone. From this everyday observance (and one cannot really make a more everyday observance than everything having a when and a where), Pirecki forges subtle, affecting chains of thought that link together the timecode of the exhibition, the stability and mobility of objects and images, the contingency of experience and of its recollection, and the fugitive stuff of possession and loss.

The first room of Pirecki’s show at Supplement was dominated by the installation White Wall, artist’s studio (11:22, 11:22, fluorescent light, 6-8-13) (2013). To make this piece, she first photographed the pale paintwork of her workspace, and fed the image files through a digital printer. Next, she took her sheaf of printouts to a DIY store, where the staff attempted to replicate their various shades in pots of bespoke household paint. Back in the studio, she covered patches of the wall with test samples of these pigments, next to which she tacked up the printouts from which they were derived. Pirecki then photographed the resulting tonal juxtapositions, and made them into posters. These she displayed at Supplement, over-painting them here and there with licks of the custom emulsions, which she also applied to the surrounding gallery walls. The result was as essay in chromatic infidelity, in which the white of Pirecki’s studio became, through the various efforts at reproduction in play, at once ashen, beige and gunmetal grey. But if this was a betrayal, it wasn’t so much of an object, as of a fleeting set of circumstances. As the work’s title suggests, colour is contingent on the season, on the hour, on prevailing light conditions. Had Pirecki snapped her atelier with its fluorescent strips switched off, or in winter sunlight, or used a different camera or ink cartridge or paint mixing service, then White Wall, artist’s studio … would have taken on a correspondingly different form. In the controlled conditions of the gallery space, the installation seemed stable enough, but perhaps that too was an illusion. All exhibitions, after all, are remade with each new visitor. Even return visitors return as new selves.

White Wall, artist’s studio … – and its similarly devised pendant installation, White Wall, Supplement Gallery (13:40, 13:25, daylight 7-9-13) (2013) – provided the physical and conceptual support for other works. Pirecki’s ‘Image Persistence’ series is composed of photographs of her computer screen, on which she has displayed JPEGs of paintings she has made that no longer belong to her. Polluted by screen-glare, and sometimes by what might be the artist’s own reflection, these shots are overlaid with translucent photographic prints that bear images of iridescent bubbles or slushy, melting ice, as though to underscore the mutability of all seen things, and all ways of seeing. The art work’s temporal existence, spatial location and boundedness to the object was also explored in Reflecting White (3rd Generation) (2013), a single image of what appears to be pallid plasterwork that is re-photographed in-situ every time it is put on display, marking it with it with its own exhibition history. Here, the resulting palimpsest of contingencies (principal among them the shadows and colours that leak from proximate works) gave the image an ectoplasmic pearlescence, as though heralding some ghostly apparition. Perhaps we’ll glimpse it next time around.

Pirecki is best known for her canvases in which the words ‘Grey’ and ‘Gray’ are arranged into monograms, and painted wet-into-wet in a palette that, while sometimes bright, always threatens to combine into the colour of an overcast sky. Although serially numbered, these works do not describe a linear progression towards the monochrome – at Supplement, the earlier Grey Painting: Text Version 35 (2011) was an essay in dank greens and bitumous blacks, while the later Grey Painting: Text Version 51 (2013), resembled an angular, only slightly grubby rainbow, beaming across a blindingly white ground. Name, in Pirecki’s paintings – in her looping temporal schema – is not always destiny, or at least not yet.

Tom Morton is a writer, curator and contributing editor of frieze, based in Rochester, UK.