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Making the mundane marvellous

an overview of unmonumental art: continued

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Gedi Sibony - contemporary artists

In similar vein to Washburn and Dahlem, New York artist Gedi Sibony utilizes salvaged or construction materials such as cardboard, hollowcore doors, plywood, plastic sheeting and carpet.

Yet unlike these artists, his presence in the work is far less obvious, and it's only through careful observation that Sibony's delicate interventions reveal themselves.

Apparently fortuitous details such as the curiously compelling rearrangement of a cardboard box or sparse application of tape are, in fact, highly considered, the product of close attention to formal compositional qualities.

Yet the real force of these subtle impositions derives from their hugely ambiguous nature. After all, it's only half-hidden gestures which convert the materials themselves - essentially trash - into art. And beyond the gallery space, the fact is they'd almost certainly go unnoticed.

Gedi Sibony
All images © Gedi Sibony

In Sibony's art, basic components are given such predominance that the work is revelatory in the very strictest sense, only fully accessible through an act of recognition by the viewer.


UK artist Damien Roach similarly makes use of contexts so subtle that, again, it's initially unclear if his works are actually art objects at all.

contemporary art - Damien Roach

Roach's starting point is the idea that the commonplace is generally considered devoid of revelatory potential, an assumption which he sets out to overturn.

As in Sibony's work, a moment of insight on the part of the viewer is central to such an undertaking, and to achieve this Roach deliberately creates art that is entirely mundane in appearance, only revealing itself through careful contemplation.

River, Trees, Cloud, Sky (left) is essentially just a pile of paperback books, but by standing back and examining the arrangement the landscape suggested by the title emerges in the colors on the spines.

In similar vein, the apparently random scrapes and scratches on item of salvaged furniture are made to cohere into a discernible image, a favorite strategy of Roach's.

contemporary art - Damien Roach
Images © Damien Roach

Mobil (above) appears nothing more than a haphazard arrangement of items on a shelf, but seen from a particular angle, the objects align to spell out the word 'Mobil'.

Not only is a particular viewpoint quite literally needed to make sense of the work, a state of stillness - of immobility - is also required to achieve it. Move abruptly, change position or fail to concentrate and the artwork is essentially lost.


contemporary art - Susan Collis

The alchemy that transforms base materials into something exquisite is applied almost in reverse by UK artist Susan Collis.

An installation of Collis' work initially seems a no-show: a gallery space or studio emptied of its art.

Brooms and stepladders lurk in corners, screws in the wall mark the presence of works removed or yet to be hung.

Careful study of these objects, however, reveals the subterfuge. The screws are made of solid gold, the rawlplugs rendered in turquoise. Even the paint splashes on the broom and ladder consist of painstaking inlays of mother-of-pearl and precious stones.

It's an act of trompe l'oeil that coerces the viewer, yet again, into focusing attention on the apparently everyday, but Collis' strategy moves further still with a literal interpretation of the notion that the ordinary is, in fact, precious.

The paradox becomes even more interesting when compared to the constructions of Sibony or Roach, because while these artists are largely dependent on the gallery space to give their work context and financial value, Collis' use of coveted materials creates pieces with a monetary worth besides that ascribed to their status as art.

Despite this, overwhelming similarities in the practice of all three artists clearly outweigh any discrepancies. All hide or embed meaning within the unassuming form of the everyday; and all require a viewer's close attention to make these magical discoveries.


Epilogue: salvaging the art of observation

A re-assessment of the ordinary lies at the heart of all the work discussed; a generous and unassuming gesture which re-interprets key modernist notions such as the ready-made, minimalism, arte povera.

With it, however, comes an increasing demand for careful consideration, and what better way to promote this than by asking us to contemplate what we most often overlook?

In the recent trend for art with the everyday at its core, the best of it assumes a particular responsibility. Unafraid to require exacting standards, it appears to recognize that as we progress through the 21st century, the ability to simply pay attention may well become one of the rarest, most throwaway resources of all.

Mike Brennan

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