BY Pádraig Timoney in Reviews | 06 JUN 98
Featured in
Issue 41

Ugo Rondinone

BY Pádraig Timoney in Reviews | 06 JUN 98

'Still Smoking' could have referred to a gun left by Rondinone, but I reckon the show's title was about cigarettes. Increasingly harried out of acceptability but still recruiting where it always has, tobacco chic has a pendular swing above bedrock smoker-ing where stylishness just isn't an issue. Rondinone's exhibition used this particular debate as correspondent to a few other notions of temporal oscillation.

The three large circular canvases in this show, labelled in German with their dates of completion, looked as if they'd been made on a potter's wheel. Band after band of colour had been applied out of spraycans - those somehow 'suspect', dead or remote colours intended for particular car makes. One tried green, black and orange. Another limited itself to a range of yellows on white, finding no naturalness in their relationships, sick to the gills with solarity. But despite their optical clash and denial, their ability to overcome and nauseate, these perfectly artificial objects hinted at some kind of proposed harmony, like the accidental beauty of half a gobstopper. Any such achievement would have to court the intolerant eye; making hypnotic and disgusting paintings into the same object, intimately pitting the conceptual against the sensory. The work could be described as endlessly interesting, because it was always changing; soliciting a fascinated stare, an unfamiliar struggle of perceptual compromise that eventually allowed one colour to dominate: the painting became a singular circle of virtual colour, not even materially represented or condoned by pigment.

A soundtrack to these confrontational paintings flickered in and out of attention - emanating from a flock of interconnected speaker-cones dotted over two walls of the space. Rondinone's singing voice, accompanied by a guitar, delved not very far into melody with an endlessly repeated mantra, observation or lullaby in English - 'every day sunshine... everyday sunshine...'. The phrase had a slightly different take depending on the emphasis that you created. This straightforward tautology tended to imbue the paintings with an astronomical character, but its seemingly feckless orchestration of the temporality of perception could also be found elsewhere in the show.

On video monitors, four short loops played. Two were immediately recognisable as scenes taken from Cronenberg's Deadringers (1988), showing the twin gynaecologists isolated from each other on screen: Jeremy Irons fully-clothed in the shower, looking up with cow eyes, and Jeremy Irons being smoothly raised, bare-chested, for the final operation. The tape was then abruptly reversed; the torso re-descended. A third loop showed a moustachioed face at ground level, repeatedly licking the cowboy boot of an unidentified other. Throughout these tapes, the abjection seemed unsustainable - the licker's imprisonment in an eternity of solitary abasement undermined by the insistent reversal-driven repetition, an impossible stasis in the face of inevitable change to come. By positing reversal as the condition of repetition, these videos showed that although temporal progression may be recorded, the demonstration of this new sequence takes place in ordinary time, and is reliant for its recognition on memory of the original as much as on the next cycle's confirmation. The sublimation of the scene's original despair and narrative fixity, which reduced movements to a perceptually-conditioned ideal, was similar to the dematerialisation of the paintings and the comforting theme of the soundtrack.

If time is an arrow, one way for the artist to affect its course might be to demonstrate how perception can be altered through time. Given the social space in which this might be attempted, I imagine that a perfect audience for Rondinone would be his identical twin, a second self with spookily similar perceptions, but enough of an individual to argue the toss of any work. But making no swaggering claim to social effectiveness in previous works, Rondinone has acted the old role of artist/clown, the charming underachiever. There's a non-worthy lightness to this exhibition, however, that seems more akin to the painted and written experiments of Brion Gysin than to the gravitational irony of Nauman (Rondinone's clown forerunner). This is a simple generosity, rare and satisfying, which plays with all it can hope for in what Gysin termed the De-ceptual art world.

Pádraig Timoney is an artist and writer who lives in Naples, Italy.