Liz Magor + Robin Collyer (1987)

“Robin Collyer” and “Liz Magor,” documenta 8, Kassel: Weber and Weidemeyer, 1987, vol. 2, pp. 50, 156.

I was asked to write texts on two of the Canadian artists appearing in Documenta 8. Texts were published in German only.

Liz Magor

Liz Magor started using her art as a means of interrogating change in the world and determining the position of an artist therein. Her sculptures were static objects of common origin that existed in the world, interacting with ordinary things and sometimes disappearing among them. If the process of change registered in Magor’s earlier work (until 1980) partly questioned how identity is maintained over time, more recent work (1980-85) concentrated as well on how individual identity is established in relation to other things and other people. And if the earlier work, i.e., those made of materials acted upon by the artist, constrained in certain ways to change their form in decay, allowed the viewer to follow the path of metaphorical rumination—traces of decay leading to thoughts on human identity and mortality, in the more recent series the artist withdrew the evidence of a process and strictly presented literal measures or equivalents. This latter work unsettled the notion of identity through the appearance of repetition and resemblance in the orders of mechanical, genetic and societal reproduction. What was at issue in this latter work was the ability of an artwork to assert its significance, its own identity, by communicating its difference from the things and activities around it. The most recent work, Regal Décor (1986) continues the issues of production, as a representation of production only, however, and without its actual process embodied in or as the form of the work, and combines these with the problems of communication of difference.

Regal Décor is composed of two elements representing two orders that rarely seem to intersect, although they really do have commerce with one another. The two elements are brought together and separated at the same time by clusters of linoleum. These are fabrications, sonotubes wrapped in whole or half-round with sheets of linoleum or wallpaper. The first structure is a full-scale imitation linoleum press that initiates the theme of production in its most literal sense, as an object of production, a machine. It is, however, a machine giving the effect of reproducing a product that is already a simulation. With the second element we are transported from a place of production to a place of consumption. Here linoleum assumes its function as flooring in a mock livingroom. While an end product it seems absolved from production. Consumption cannot be separated so easily, however, because the two operate on the level of reproduction indicated by the blown-up magazine photograph with which a full-scale papier-mâché fireplace merges.  Reproduction is the term, and process, that joins production to consumption and ensures their continuation.

The press already gave us a clue, in that it embodied both the process of production and reproduction. The magazine image in its turn serves the ideological process by assisting the reproduction of a reproduction. This is demonstrated almost seamlessly by the fireplace that projects from its own image in the photograph, and which is lent “reality” by the linoleum it sits on. The whole room is a reproduction of an image, itself embedded in a magazine, folded as if coming off a press. In fact, the rolls feed us through this installation as if we were a product; but they also lead us to read the function of production in consumption. We also notice a disruption within this living-room scene, that of another photograph collaged into one of the gilt frames. This image of a woman could be taken as representing the artist’s condition, caught in the contradiction between production and consumption. This work then attempts to distinguish and assert the difference of the artwork from the places where it might be confused. The work as a whole thus questions the practice of art and addresses the conditions within which it would be viewed and its identity mistaken.

Robin Collyer

Since the early 1970s Robin Collyer’s sculpture has maintained a certain form of construction and juxtaposition of materials while it has adapted itself in a critical manner to a changing cultural logic. The latter has articulated the relation between object and system; and Collyer has pursued the logic of this interaction through work where objects, images and language intersect indifferent combinations.

The adaptation of construction and materials to the investigation and presentation of systems has partly been achieved through various strategies of reference. Recent work could be said to play on the typology of forms found in the industrial and urban landscape. But they are not a simple record or simulation. These sculptures are configurations of unaltered industrial materials, existing standards combined and constructed to make certain referential associations. This may encompass ensembles of materials or single, fabricated objects of monumental scale. The latter, dysfunctional objects have a kinship and some referential tie to certain of Collyer’s photographs.  These photographs also seem to compose an “inventory,” but now of vernacular forms and structures. Thus, The Zulu (European Version), 1985, and Wonder Mini Storage, 1985, although elegantlyconstructed, have a put-together character that reminds us, beyond the immediate associations of their appearance, of a type of handy-man adaptations that we find in oddly transformed vehicles or storage sheds, the “subjects” of some of thesephotographs. The photograph, however, is not the assurance of the mimetic correctness of the sculpture or aptitude of the artist, that is, of the sculpture’s resemblance to its “model” in the real world. The work’s similitude is constructed, and in that construction something else takes place. Because it is constructed from standard elements, it begins to compose a system, that takes it beyond the relay of its reference to similar objects in the world. The reference it now makes is to a landscape and environment that has been transposed into a sign system. Meaning is displaced, transported as if a vehicle in space along different channels of communication. As the photographs show the sometimes brutal juxtapositions brought about by cultural and technological change, so the sculpture registers a cultural transformation from the order of material production to that of a sign system, from an economy of production to one of consumption. The evacuation of substance is one result of these non-functional, signifying objects. We should not read this process as a passive consumption; it is just as much an active transformation. Collyer’s constructions compose one system and dismantle another. Construction may take the form of a simple display of these elements. But by using existent materials that now make reference to a sign system, the ensembles must, therefore, also compose a system of meaning themselves beyond their references.  The procedure is analogous, although more intentional and critical, to the creation of systems of value through vernacular constructions which have a tendency to undermine the original values or source of materials. Collyer’s constructions then are signs of a material culture.   They bring together a material culture and a sign system, each of which is a double figure: a positive construction and a criticalanalysis.  

These are the English texts for what was published in German only: “Robin Collyer” and “Liz Magor,” documenta 8, Kassel: Weber and Weidemeyer, 1987, vol. 2, pp. 50, 156.