A word, as sign or sound, can trigger whole chains of associations. And it is with this associative potential of individual words that Stephanie Taylor works in her exhibition entitled Piston Toggle. Her approach is remarkably simple: Piston Toggle is a rhyme on the name of her gallerist, Christian Nagel. Pistons and toggles are mechanical parts found in oil derricks. Such derricks are widespread in Texas. So Taylor invented the character of a janitor who sets off for Texas in search of liquid gold. This narrative then gives rise to her installation: the janitor’s worn-out hat is displayed on top of a box – a musical box playing a song specially composed by the artist (Piston Toggle with hat, 2013).
In Texas – the associations continue – people like to hunt pheasants. So Taylor cast pheasants in coloured wax, displaying them on a buffalo hide spread on the floor – another stereotypical item of Texan interior décor. This was accompanied by a tree made of painted papier-mâché which, thanks to another rhyme (piston = ‘pissed on’), has traces of urine on its trunk (In the shape of Fir and squash, gray … 2013. And of course Texas is the land of oil and cows – so puddles of oil appear in prints and on the floor, as well as a canister cast in bronze. On the wall, alongside a picture of a pig, hung a wonderfully colourful photograph of a cow (Show Sow & Calf, 2009). And finally, on the back wall, there were six screen prints on stitched fabric, the lyrics and instructions for a song (Untitled, 2013). They are hung in a crooked, wonky row. From ‘wonky’ it’s not far to the ‘donkey’ painted on the wall in black. One could continue endlessly in this vein, relating pictures to the sound of words, pursuing the artist’s associative processes with the help of the notes spread out on a table in the show. Taylor is clearly interested in absurdity and humour, and in using an approach to language, sounds and pictures that shun logical rules in order to launch a critique of the often image-hostile stiffness and severity of dominant art discourse.
For the opening, Taylor had her song performed in the middle of the installation by a five-strong choir. With its focus on individual words, sometimes just individual letters, this concentrated, rigorous performance recalled Gregorian chant. For those who experienced this together with the installation it was a reminder of that tightest of binds: words equally sound and sign, with endless associations.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell