Let's get serious

How contemporary artists are shaking off the superficial - with art that poses new intellectual challenges

By Mike Brennan

Falke Pisano

Falke Pisano, detail

Born in 1978, young Dutch artist Falke Pisano is interested in the ways in which the very existence(s) of objects can be construed, drawing parallels between her practice and the ancient alchemical belief that base materials could be altered through rearrangement of their essential properties.

Such a position, of course, involves hefty conceptual wrangling, but at the heart of Pisano's practice lie three fundamental interrogations: how language can create a space that provides the necessary conditions for an object to exist; how the parameters of this space and form of the object it contains can be defined; and, finally, how to enable the transformation of a body into separate qualities that depend on the engagement of the spectator to reassemble them.

If none of that seems especially helpful, the 2006 work A Sculpture Turning into a Conversation (2006) provides a good example of Pisano's performative construction of objects.

Spoken-word and simultaneous video projections attempt to 'recreate' a sculpture through carefully evoked verbal cues and images of notes and diagrams (in fact, the title of the piece could also be reversed: 'Turning a Conversation into a Sculpture').

In terms of production, Pisano's output divides into three areas, each of which roughly equates to her core concerns.

'Concrete objects' are the physically tangible objects with which, for example, she creates her fluid installations.

'Abstract concrete objects' refers to a stringent analysis of tangible bodies in order to formulate blueprints for posited objects (these 'conceptual sketches' take the form of texts, diagrammatic drawings, audio recordings or lecture-performances).

Finally, 'abstract sculptures', evoked via her 'sketches', exist purely as a logical entity in the minds of participants.

Falke Pisano, contemporary art now

While Pisano's practice takes some digesting, essentially it serves as an investigation into the extreme edges of both abstract and conceptual art.

Rather than critiquing the old in search of the new, Pisano suggests a radically different approach to critical thought.


Benoît Maire

emerging art trends: Benoit Maire, detail

Young French artist Benoît Maire studied both art and philosophy before eventually deciding to concentrate on the former. Nevertheless, philosophy remains fundamental to his practice - as titles of works such as Reading Medhi Belhaj Kacem reading Alain Badiou reading Jacques Lacan reading Aristotle reading the sky (2007) make perfectly clear.

Maire's principal interests lie in perception, consciousness and the nature of reality.

A 2006 video The Spider Web documents a discussion between Maire and the influential US art critic and professor of philosophy, Arthur Danto. Its starting point, Maire explains, is "... a visual reading that I had done of (Danto's) work. I read, I made a display to represent my reading, and then the discussion took place."

This display is never actually seen by the viewer; instead, the projected image remains blank, leaving audiences to piece together a notion of what is being discussed.

As the conversation progresses, it becomes apparent that what Danto sees is an arrangement of objects including a mirror, a clock, a book on Wittgenstein and a reproduction of a painting featuring a spider's web and sundial.

As viewers are forced to imaginatively reconfigure the items, certain attributes suggested by the objects themselves - reflection; shadow; language games; reproduction - echo our own unravelling of the 'Spider Web', paralleled by Danto's quest to tease meaning from the tableau.

Speaking of this work, Maire has stated: "I believe it interrogated the existence of intentionality without object, and the reading of philosophy as something that could engender visual arrangements - which raises the question of the relationship between the written word and the image. Is it possible to turn a thought into an image? I just wanted to ask the question".

Benoit Maire

Curiosity regarding aesthetic realities is a predominant aspect of Maire's work. Objet de singe (2007) consists of two black stones positioned in front of a mirror-film-covered form, and another pebble behind it. Their combined reflections create a fourth, ghostly stone; an illusion yet also a reality.

Le Matin, another work from 2007, provides a more accessible approach to configuring perception. A funnel fixed outside the gallery space is fitted with plastic tubing that runs indoors. Rainwater and dirt drip from the tubing onto a piece of card to create a drawing of the outer world.

Although deceptively straightforward in execution, this piece can be seen as a metaphor for the phenomenological investigation of consciousness; the meeting point of external and internal realities.


Becky Beasley

Becky Beasley, wood work

Rapidly emerging British artist Becky Beasley creates photographs and sculptural objects loaded with enigmatic significance.

Texts, both literary and of her own production, often provide starting points from which the associations propelling her work are teased; Beasley has alluded to her objects as 'fictions', and their carefully crafted structures are prompted by an interplay of reference, repetition and narrative thread highly reminiscent of textual dynamics.

Generally made of solid wood or veneer and coupled with glass, Beasley's objects frequently take the form of receptacles or shelves, their (apparent) emptiness perhaps symbolic of the elusive, semi-concealed narratives they represent.

A recent show, German Soup, provides good insight into Beasley's working methods.

The exhibition title refers to Der Theatermacher, a play by Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard.

Generally translated as 'The Histrionic', 'Der Theatermacher' also reads literally as 'the creator of theatre', an apt, though not immediately obvious, description of Beasley's own practice.

In the play, one of the characters agonises over a seemingly simple choice between two soups. Beasley depicts these soups in two black and white photographs that act as a kind of prologue to further works as well as indicating a certain sympathy with the dilemma: soup may be 'just' soup, but its many variations provide almost endless nuance.

Becky Beasley, art now

Curtains, three large photographic works (left), reprise the idea of theatrical performance as well as the functions of revelation and concealment intrinsic to the curtain.

The prints are again in black and white, but tinted through the use of coloured acrylic glass, an optical fusion of realities that Beasley increasingly uses for her photographs.

In addition, Curtains deftly introduces two further protagonists.

Each of the works is titled with part of a quote on the nature of performance by the classical pianist, Glenn Gould, a figure with whom the musically trained Bernhard was fascinated.

If the images are hung in sequence, the quote is completed; moreover, the collective dimensions of the framed photographs are based on measurements taken from Beasley's own father.

This paternal presence is further consolidated in Brocken I-VIII, a series of wall-mounted wood works.

Based on the arm measurements of Beasley's father, incorporated brass hinges allude to human joints as well as the idea of unifying two separate objects or concepts.

As in the Curtains series, the title of each piece is again taken from a single anecdote, this time a recollection of a meeting with Bernhard taken from an essay on his work.

A further, larger, sculptural piece refers directly to Gould.

Glen Herbert Gold, titled after the (erroneous) official name recorded at the musician's death, consists of screens of black American walnut and green acrylic glass. The dimensions are based on those of an upright piano and, like the wall works, the components are hinged together - although the analogy here is with a piano lid as well as, perhaps, human fingers.

Interplay and associative connection are fundamental to Beasley's practice, with individual works linked into a complex performative unity.

Part of a group, yet also independent, her pieces take on the role of actors in an intricately scripted drama, their ensemble playing combined with fascinating solo performance.


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