For one reason or another I have had to put words to paper in preparation of my next exhibition. They namely concern the title of the exhibition: [space holder]. It is a title that aspires to benefit a discussion on space as an art object that is fraught, from the outset, for a few reasons.
The minimalist Donald Judd, for whom space is made by thought, named two: space is invisible and without history.
The first is obvious enough. If visual art is not visible, how can we discuss it, how can we – in terms of Facebook and its increasing grip on status — ‘Like’ it? This inability is symptomatic of a hurdle hard to clear. The second, a lack of history, is a hurdle already jumped. Donald Judd’s art, since 1962, marks the beginning of this history; albeit a history generally ignored – especially in Australia.
The third reason is more difficult. Space, as an art object, is an oxymoron. An early lesson in drawing, for instance, involves differentiation between positive space (an object – solid and material) and negative space (the space surrounding an object – non-solid and non-material). A space-object makes nonsense of this distinction. How, then, can we make sense of art as a space-object?
This is where the title ‘space holder’ helps.
Upon hearing it, a scenario of being in queue somewhere is hopefully not far from mind. Especially when, say, in a supermarket queue we realise we have forgotten something we need to fetch and turn to the person behind to ask if they wouldn’t mind holding our space in line.
In this simple act a social contract is made between oneself and a stranger who vows to hold one’s claim. The held space is a whole space complete with limits not defined by walls, but by another’s recognition that it is ours.
In this way the space is corroborated (by a stranger), is intersubjective (an arrangement between two people), and is social (not a figment of one’s imagination in the form of a private thought space, but actual in the form of a public social space). This is the space of a sculptuation.
Yet how does the space in queue transpire as a space-object in art? Based on corroboration, such a space differentiates itself from being immaterial (a nothing) to being material (a something). A ‘thing’ of shared understanding is objective, not subjective. In being objective, verifiable and whole, solidity is engendered – unlike space per se. Space, therefore, has somehow to be activated to become solid like an object. But, again, how?
When we turn to a stranger in a queue, we are in fact turning to ourselves in this other position. For if we are not prepared to hold this same claim for a stranger in a reverse scenario, we cannot ask it for ourselves.
The viewer of a sculptuation similarly traverses opposing positions. By doing so, they activate that space to make it an art object. This is not how space is activated in Donald Judd’s art, but it is how it is activated in mine. The space in both, however, empowers through a basis in recognition. (1)As the philosopher Hegel tells us, ‘Pure self-recognition in absolute otherness, this Aether as such, is the ground and soil of Science or knowledge in general. The beginning of philosophy presupposes or requires that consciousness should dwell in this element. But this element itself achieves its own perfection and transparency only through the movement of its becoming. It is pure spirituality as the universal that has the form of simple immediacy.’: G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A.V. Miller, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1977, p. 14
If nevertheless this sounds dubious and I sound an impetuous upstart insisting upon a new understanding designed to serve my interests only and best ignored — then ask yourself this. Next time you are in a supermarket, there is a long queue of which you are near the front and you realise you have forgotten one vital thing you need to fetch, will you stand your ground and insist this new understanding in art is unwarranted, or will you turn to the stranger behind and ask if they wouldn’t mind holding your space in line?