Entitled 'Slow Graffiti', this recent exhibition by Ugo Rondinone was like a beautifully indeterminate oxymoron. Graffiti, after all, is a fast and furtive art form, yet the mood of serenity created by a life-size sculpture of a sleeping clown was disturbed only by the sound of a looped dialogue coming from a free-standing mural mosaic of mirrors nearby. Barely audible, the tape - a 22-line Beckett-like dialogue between a man and a woman - added to the sense of uncertainty created by the fragmentary reflections: in a fruitless exchange the couple's thwarted desires ping-ponged back and forth in frustration - a situation Beckett described as 'ill seen', and 'ill said'. The looped conversation leads nowhere: 'What do you want?' 'What do I want?' 'Yes, what do you want?' 'I don't want anything.' 'Really?' 'Yes, really.' 'Why?' 'Why not ... ' The last line, with the woman commanding the man to 'get lost', is symptomatic of so many misunderstandings created by a lack of articulation; an awareness of the want that is wanting.
The blue-faced Clown (2001) wears matching furry blue knickerbockers, designed to expose the whole of his portly belly. Otherwise naked and with an odd garland of long, straight brown hair around his neck, he sleeps sitting up, oblivious to the silver glitter scattered around his corpulent figure. It is as if he has been visited by a fairy godmother who has cast a spell - sending the overworked clown off to sleep - and has unwittingly left her magic dust behind. But there is also a feeling that he might wake up at any moment, making him an unnerving, slightly scary figure who may grab our legs while we are looking in the other direction.
It's difficult to know what to make of this scene. The relation between the dialogue, the mirror wall and the clown is obscure. Like the Bermuda Triangle, 'Slow Graffiti' is a place where the atmosphere of uncertainty creates a realm of expectation, a place where mystic truths ache to be revealed, where the artist yearns to be considered as more than just a goofy entertainer.
The video So Much Water so Close to Home (1998), displayed on three wall-mounted monitors in the back room of the gallery, put Rondinone's new work into perspective. Loops of repeated actions depict 'in-between' states: in one a woman sways between sleep and wakefulness; in another a door opens and closes while a woman hesitates outside a room, uncertain whether to enter; in a third a man walks along a wall. The soundtrack repeats the words 'Everyday Sunshine'. Slow and hypnotic, the song sticks in your mind, a catchy tune that speeds up then returns to a slow, melancholy tempo.
The idea of repetition and the exhaustion it induces is also a theme of Rondinone's earlier installations. His early sleeping self-portrait sculptures resemble the somnolent clowns; in each of them it is as if the artist couldn't help nodding off in the middle of installing a show. In Heyday (1995) he slumps against the wall of a gallery in which he has fitted a wooden floor and shop window. In Guided by Voices (1998) he sleeps standing up, his head propped against the shiny black wall installed in the corner of a white-cube gallery space. And in Bonjour Tristesse (1997) he basks in the UFO-like light radiating from behind loudspeakers in a white fence. With sleep comes a pause between one activity and the next, a hiatus between forms, between installation and everything that has preceded it.