by David Trigg

by David Barrett

Some Notes for Ayling & Conroy
by Mark Hutchinson

by Jasna Jaksic

Text by Aaron Juneau

by Joanne Lee

by Laura Mousavi

by Bianca Winter

by Johnny Sharp





An Artwork for Everybody and Nobody

"Picturing things, taking a view, is what makes us human; art is making sense and giving shape to that sense. It is like the religious search for God. We are well aware that making sense and picturing are artificial, like illusion; but we can never give them up."

– Gerhard Richter [1]

So what are we looking at? It's a pertinent question, particularly when confronted with an artwork by Ayling & Conroy. It's asked in their film Not Looking at the Hunter's Gun, 2009, which presents a rambling, discursive tour of the artists' collective mind. At the heart of Ayling and Conroy's practice lies an ongoing investigation into the contexts in which artworks are created, encountered and received. They explore the dichotomy between the first hand, physical experiencing of artworks (in galleries or elsewhere), and the wider, second hand experiencing of artworks via the myriad networks of dissemination, such as documentation, discussion and other forms of mediation. Central to their enquiry is the question of where exactly the experience of art takes place, and perhaps more to the point, what precisely is that experience? Is it something that happens solely in the gallery, or can it occur while flicking through an exhibition catalogue of artworks we've never even seen? Could it lie in the reading of an essay like this one or can it be found in the artists' own writings and pronouncements? Focussing on these ideas and more, Not Looking at the Hunter's Gun is a multi-layered, open-ended artwork that asks a lot of questions yet provides very few determinate answers.

Shot on location in the Derbyshire Dales, the visually generous, silent film comprises three lingering shots of glorious bucolic scenery; clouds drift slowly by above rolling hills while sheep and horses graze in the lush, green fields below. Accompanying these tranquil images are a stream of disjointed, tantalising subtitles, ranging from factual statements and quotes, to Ayling and Conroy's own questions and musings – the kind of thing we might expect to find while flipping through the artists' notebooks. Past artworks, works in progress, glimpses into their thinking and the range of seemingly unrelated enquiries currently orbiting their practice are all referenced by the fleeting texts. As the work unfolds, the deliberately tenuous theme loosely tying these disparate elements together is revealed to be the somewhat broad notion of 'landscape'. But, despite the film's rural aesthetic, this is no meditation on the picturesque; rather, the idyllic imagery provides a ruminative space in which viewers can ponder the texts and attempt to make sense of them as they come and go like the passing clouds.

It is worth remembering, that, like so much of Britain's countryside, the heavily managed Derbyshire landscape is a largely human construct. The characteristic views featured in Not Looking at the Hunter's Gun are the result of centuries of agricultural activity: areas where woodlands once stood have now been cleared, fields have been marked out with hedgerows and farmsteads have been built all over the area. What initially appears to be quite natural is actually very unnatural terrain – a fact that is often overlooked by most, if discerned at all. This notion of an indiscernible construct is echoed by some of Ayling and Conroy's previous artworks referenced in the film. One such work is an investigation into divergent printed reproductions of Jeff Wall’s A Sudden Gust of Wind after Hokusai, 1993 – an artwork that the artists have never actually seen in the flesh but only know from reproduction. Wall's photographs are extremely involved affairs; he usually spends months planning a single image, carefully considering every element – not to mention the arduous hours of post-production, particularly with his photomontages. Like Ayling and Conroy, his work is often brimming with multiple layers of meaning and filled with the kind of esoteric references that academics love to unravel. The original lightbox-mounted, cibachrome version of A Sudden Gust... is a highly complex, digitally composited landscape, constructed from over one hundred separate photographs. The picture features four figures in a nondescript landscape at the edge of a city who have been caught off guard by a powerful gust of wind; two clutch onto their hats as another's is swept away, along with a scattered portfolio of fluttering papers, which soar into the sky. As Ayling and Conroy inform us, Wall's image drew inspiration from a woodblock print by the nineteenth century Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai. Taken from his popular series 36 Views of Mount Fuji, 1830-33, the print Ejiri in the Suruga Province, shows a similar scene: set against a backdrop of Mount Fuji, several Japanese characters stand on a snaking marshland path, battling against the strong wind as a stream of tissues that had been concealed in a woman's kimono fly skyward as they are caught by the gust. Like Wall's photomontage, Hokusai's landscapes are themselves constructs, composed using a range of secondary sources and his own imagination. Although Ayling and Conroy are very familiar with Hokusai's work, they have never actually seen any of his prints outside of reproduction either.

In a previous exhibition Ayling and Conroy highlighted the issue of experiencing artworks in reproduction by presenting three books featuring the same image of Wall's photomontage. Due to the paper, the ink, and the age of the books, each of the reproductions were astonishingly divergent from one another. So then, the question remains: what are we looking at? Reproductions are obviously different from the original artworks from which they derive, but they do still manage to communicate something of the original, even if they lack what Walter Benjamin described as its “aura”, that is “its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.” [2] We are told that it took Wall five months to digitally graft his montage together from its constituent parts. However, this is not immediately obvious from looking at the large, lightbox-mounted work itself, and even less so if, like Ayling and Conroy, all you have to go on are printed reproductions in books, just a few centimetres in size. But isn't that exactly how the majority of art is experienced?

Today's pervasive proliferation of reproductions, copies and second hand experiences was presaged by Ludwig Feuerbach, who, in the preface to The Essence of Christianity (1843), lamented that his era “prefers the image to the thing, the copy to the original, the representation to the reality, appearance to being.” However, Feuerbach's complaint is not necessarily shared by Ayling and Conroy who, throughout their fractured and open-ended projects, question to what extent artworks can be known, understood or experienced apart from first hand encounters. They ask us to gauge the role of mediation in the creation, diffusion and consumption of cultural production and challenge us to cogitate upon the legitimacy of alternative ways of experiencing artworks.

Hokusai's obsession with Mount Fuji can be understood in light of the mountain's sacred status amongst the Japanese people. A place of pilgrimage, Mount Fuji is traditionally thought to hold the source of immortality at its peak, and is today still highly revered by Shintoists. In fact, most of the world's religions attribute spiritual significance to certain mountains; some, such as Mount Olympus in Greek mythology, were believed to be holy themselves, while others relate to specific events, such as Mount Sinai in Egypt where it is believed God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. In some instances the sacred mountains are wholly mythical, such as the Peak of Hara in Zoroastrianism. In China's Sichuan Province, Mount Emei (literally translated as Towering Eyebrow Mountain) is venerated as one of the Four Sacred Mountains of Buddhism. Drawing pilgrims and tourists from around the world, the mountain offers superb scenery, ancient monasteries and numerous Buddhist shrines.

Not far from Mount Emei lies the city of Chongqing, which, as we learn from Ayling and Conroy's subtitles, is home to thirty five million people. With half a million more people relocating there each year, Chongqing is one of the fastest growing urban centres in the world. Another subtitle makes an oblique reference to the artists' proposal for a site specific artwork in the region – a sign to be placed in the hinterland landscape outside of Chongqing, possibly on a piece of undeveloped pastoral land. The intention is that the sign, or marker, will stand there until, eventually, the burgeoning city expands to reach it – or so they hope. The work could manifest itself in a number of different ways; it may be a neon sign, a wooden post or, perhaps more realistically, a tree, a field or another area of land designated by the artists. Mount Emei itself may also prove to be a suitable marker, which, considering the phenomenal rate of Chongqing's current development, may one day find itself as part of the megalopolis. Of course, there's also the possibility that the work will never be made, remaining simply as an idea. Perhaps ideas are sometimes all that is needed. As with most land art, the majority of us would never experience a project like this in situ, rather it would be mediated via documentation, word of mouth and written accounts (such as this one).

So how important is it that the work actually exists? Ayling & Conroy are asking more questions: is anything more required than ideas? Can an artwork successfully exist in the imagination alone? Take for example Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty, 1970, which has been a major inspiration for the artists. It is one of the world's most famous earthwork's and yet the majority of us are only familiar with it through reproductions. Often submerged beneath the Great Salt Lake near Rozel Point in Utah, it will no doubt one day dissolve entirely, leaving only photographic records and the memories of those who saw it first hand. Will it matter in the future whether or not it actually existed if the primary means of accessing it then will be the same as today? One reason why so few people actually visit Spiral Jetty is that it is very hard to reach. But even though no road leads to its isolated location, there are those who treat the artwork like a sacred site, making annual pilgrimages to the jetty, enduring the arduous, potholed trek needed to reach it.

For those frequent visitors, the Jetty elicits an almost religious response, similar to that experienced by visitors to the world's sacred mountains and other such sites. However, for Gerhard Richter, who is also referenced in Not Looking at the Hunter's Gun, such responses are an anathema. As a materialist atheist, he certainly doesn't believe that mountains are sacred. In fact the very idea of nature, or at least beauty in nature, is in his eyes merely a human construct: “We make our own nature”, he has said, “because we always see it in the way that suits us culturally. When we look on mountains as beautiful, although they're nothing but stupid and obstructive rock piles; or see that silly weed out there as a beautiful shrub, gently waving in the breeze: these are just our own projections, which go far beyond any practical, utilitarian values.” [3] But nature has been a recurring theme for Richter, who has often painted landscapes and seascapes alongside his characteristic abstractions. However, even though his bucolic landscape paintings such as Meadowland, 1985, and Barn, 1984, are beautiful images, they are certainly not intended as meditations on the sublime. Richter makes his belief clear that such romantic notions about nature exist only in the viewer's mind: "My landscapes are not only beautiful or nostalgic, with a Romantic or classical suggestion of lost Paradises, but above all 'untruthful'; and by 'untruthful' I mean the glorifying way we look at Nature – Nature, which in all its forms is always against us, because it knows no meaning, no pity, no sympathy, because it knows nothing and is absolutely mindless, the total antithesis of ourselves, absolutely inhuman. Every beauty that we see in landscape – every enchanting colour effect, or tranquil scene, or powerful atmosphere ... is our projection; and we can switch it off at a moments notice, to reveal only the appalling horror and ugliness." [4] In contrast to the Romantic painting tradition, Richter's landscapes are devoid of any spiritual underpinning and yet, even though they represent a hollow, depressive view of a God-less world, they still contain a beauty which seems at odds with the artist's notion of nature.

Like the casual viewer of Richter's landscapes, Ayling & Conroy thought they had the artist sussed; that is until they stumbled across a newspaper interview which blew their preconceptions out of the water: "Art should be serious, not a joke. I don't like to laugh about art", he declared. Though he is not know for levity, until that moment the artists had always perceived a degree of humour in his artworks, but this revelation caused them to question the validity of their subjective reading. In response they created I, Gerhard, 2009, a project in which Richter's artworks and writings are studied closely for a year in an attempt to better understand his practice. But how much study does it take to adequately comprehend an artist's oeuvre? Artists' writings and pronouncements may help us gain a deeper appreciation of their work, but they can also foster narrower readings. As Ayling & Conroy ask: “is there any value in additional viewpoints, if our ideas differ from the actual meaning?”

The apparent wildcard of Not Looking at the Hunter's Gun is Friedrich Nietzsche. Although seemingly out of place next to the other subjects covered in the film, it is the philosopher's relationship to landscape that fascinates Ayling & Conroy and the common thread linking him to the artists' other concerns. Nietzsche often found inspiration while walking in nature and place was extremely important to him. He particularly loved the area of Sils-Maria in the Swiss canton of Graubünden, which is characterised by its stunning snow-capped mountain peaks, rushing waterfalls, alpine meadows and fir-lined lakes. In the summer of 1881 Nietzsche was walking through the woods by Lake Silvaplana, a region whose valley floor lies at an altitude of 6000 feet. Beside the lake looms the majestic Mount Julier, which rises another 5000 feet above the valley floor and whose pyramidal shape echoes the towering rock that confronted Nietzsche below on the lake's shore, slightly overhanging the water's edge. Nietzsche's encounter with this rock was a profound experience, which, at that moment, helped him to crystallize his understanding of the concept of eternal recurrence – the ancient idea that the universe is incessantly recurring, infinitely replicating itself from eternity past to eternity future – which was the central theme of his celebrated philosophical novel 'Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and Nobody'. In the story, Zarathustra, who became enlightened after spending ten years on a mountain top, realises that God is dead and ventures back to civilisation to share his discovery. As an atheist, Nietzsche's novel was partly an attempt to make sense of life after his outright rejection of the Judeo-Christian worldview. Zarathustra teaches that it is imperative for man to evolve into the Übermensch (a kind of superhuman who has reached the highest form of being to which a human can attain), which, in Nietzsche's view, would replace the need for belief in God. Described by Nietzsche himself as "the deepest ever written", 'Thus Spoke Zarathustra' is notoriously difficult to fathom. The interpretation of the dense, esoteric novel has been debated for many years – a fact reflected by the book's subtitle, which alludes to the highly personal nature of the novel and the myriad of subjective readings Nietzsche anticipated: anyone is free to read the book, but who besides the author can truly understand it?

But how many of us have actually read Nietzsche? Ayling & Conroy certainly haven't – a fact they readily admit toward the end of the film, thus deliberately undermining the authority of their transitory statements about his book earlier on. Placing question marks over certain assertions immediately raises doubts about others: are there really thirty five million people living in Chongqing? Did Jeff Wall actually spend five months grafting together his photomontage? With this deliberate undermining, Ayling & Conroy allude to Nietzsche's concept of perspectivism: that all ideation is relative, thus there is no such thing as absolute truth. This notion is a central tenet of Postmodern thought, but doesn't the very statement “there is no truth” represent a truth claim itself? Although this belief in relativism is widely held among Postmoderns, it falls foul to what philosopher Maurice Mandelbaum has termed the 'self-excepting fallacy', the notion that such statements are applied to all except themselves. Ayling and Conroy claim that “a multitude of viewpoints, represents the subject in a greater context”, but as their faulty ideas about Richter have revealed, multiple viewpoints are of no use if they do not correspond with reality – with the way things actually are. In Nietzsche's novel, the protagonist Zarathustra describes aphorisms as 'mountain peaks' or 'summits', suggesting that vast amounts of underlying thoughts and ideas need to be sifted through before they can be adequately understood. The same is true of Not Looking at the Hunter's Gun – but how many of us will sift?

David Trigg

[1] Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Ed., Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting, Thames and Hudson, London 1995, pp12-13
[2] Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, 1936:
[3] Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Ed., op.cit. p270
[4] Ibid. p124
[5] See: Maurice Mandelbaum, "Some Instances of the Self-Excepting Fallacy," Philosophy, History and the Sciences: Selected Critical Essays, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore 1984

Ayling and Conroy: If not now, then when?

Text accompanies Part II of the exhibition, ‘Responses: three approaches to one space’, Spike Island, Bristol.

by David Barrett

Institutional Endorsement

The central artwork in this exhibition is the only work that has a name. It is also the only piece that is not physically present in any way; it takes the form of an apparently simple action, and is best explained by its descriptive title, Sponsor the ICA.

If you visit the Institute of Contemporary Art in London, or view the ‘Individual Giving: ICA Investors’ section of its website, you will see a list of five Premier Investors, each of whom has given between £2,000 and £5,000 for the privilege of holding that position. In the middle of this list is the name Ayling & Conroy.

In May, the artists approached the fundraising staff at the ICA and became Premier Investors, putting the £2,000 donation on a credit card. They then took on additional jobs – working in a bar, for example – to meet the monthly payments over the coming year.

For this investment, the artists received the following benefits:

- Acknowledgement as an ICA Investor in the ICA foyer

- Invitations to meetings and lunches with the ICA’s artistic director, ICA council members and curators to discuss specific areas of interest and expertise

- Two curator-led tours of London galleries

- Two curator-led tours of artist’s studios

- Invitation to two ICA suppers throughout the year with council members, curators and artists

- 20% discount on hire of ICA Nash and Brandon Rooms

- All standard ICA Investor benefits, such as invitations to quarterly Investor’s Breakfasts and private views, etc.

So while this may initially appear to be a very basic artwork, consisting of the simple act of sponsoring the ICA – a straightforward financial gesture – it also opens up the possibility of a year-long series of activities: meetings, studio and gallery tours, private-view parties, networking opportunities, etc. The work exists at a bizarre junction of performance, professional development, and relational aesthetics.

The title, being the only title that any of the works have, is important; it is a clue to the artists’ intentions. The work is not called Sponsoring the ICA, which would imply that the work is a record of the artists’ experiences while producing the artwork, but Sponsor the ICA. It is an instruction, a directive: Sponsor the ICA. The artists insist that we should all do it.

Some might interpret this work as being part of a tradition of Institutional Critique, revealing the structures behind the institutions, and following in the footsteps of artists such as Hans Haacke, Michael Asher, and – more recently – Carey Young. How much thought have we given to the ICA’s fundraising activities before now? Not too much, in all probability. Did we know, for example, that for a couple of grand you can attend ‘meetings and lunches with the ICA’s artistic director, ICA council members and curators to discuss specific areas of interest and expertise’? Is this mode of sponsorship therefore a platform for lobbyists, pushing certain artists they collect or represent? What motivates the other investors to sponsor the ICA? Is there potential for commercial benefits in being an ICA investor? What drives the former gallerist Charles Asprey (another Premier Investor), for example, or current gallerist Maureen Paley (a ‘mere’ Investor) to contribute to the ICA in this way? Sponsor the ICA certainly raises such questions, but this is not its primary focus.

For Ayling & Conroy, Sponsor the ICA highlights a method for making work within a given system: appropriating the ICA’s existing fundraising mechanisms. While this technique allows the artists to make a new, institution-specific artwork, it also opens up all kinds of new networking possibilities for these young artists. And what’s more, beyond that, it also allows the artists to promote an institution that they are fond of and whose activities they support (literally, now). So it is a positive artwork, consisting of a positive action, like planting a tree – a cultural tree. Perhaps this could be considered as a mini, institutional equivalent of Joseph Beuys’ grand-gesture artwork, 7,000 Oaks (another self-descriptive artwork, involving planting that number of trees as part of Documenta).

Instead of the term Institutional Critique, we ought to be looking for its opposite – ‘Institutional Endorsement’, perhaps? It is an unusual position for artists to find themselves in – at least in such an explicit manner. Is the artwork simply an attempt to play the system? If galleries are going to be used by gallerists, collectors, etc, then why shouldn’t artists use them for their own benefit as well, making all public galleries into artist-run spaces? If self-interested philanthropy is such a good thing, then why don’t we all do it? This is a mind-twistingly complex artwork: critical, cynical, and positive, all at once.

Where is the Artwork?

There is a tension throughout Ayling & Conroy’s practice between the direct, physical experiencing of an artwork, and the cognitive, intellectual experiencing of an artwork. On the one hand there is the phenomenological understanding of a work of art, one that rests upon the viewer being physically confronted by an artwork, and requiring the viewer to use his or her senses (which are not just mechanical tools, but cognitive and interpretive systems in themselves) in order to fully appreciate the artwork.

On the other hand there exists an extreme conceptual mode of practice where the artwork itself could take a number of forms, or never be realized, or even have no form at all, and exists as an idea or set of ideas. In truth there is a scale between these two artificial poles, and all artworks combine some degree of each position. But there is still a discussion to be had, a problematizing of these simplistic positions, and it is within this dialectic that Ayling & Conroy’s work is to be understood.

While one strand of their practice focuses on artworks that are intended to provide some kind of experiential thrill, the other strand is about the mediation of that experience. This text, which was commissioned by the artists as part of this exhibition, is part of that mediating, interpretive process. Where – they ask – do we experience artworks? Is the confrontation with the artwork the ‘place’ of art, is that where art ‘happens’? Or is it in the contextualizing, the ruminating that takes place when our eyes are not necessarily on the artwork itself? Is it in the foyer of the ICA rather than in its galleries? Or is it in the consumption of mass-reproduced images, when we’re flicking through art magazines or books, seeing a range of art that we will rarely get to stand directly in front of?

Jeff Wall

Jeff Wall is famously fastidious about the production of his artworks. He usually spends many months preparing for the staging of a single photograph, and then usually a fair bit of time in post-production too. Even the most casual-seeming image of Wall’s has been given deep consideration, with every element chosen for very specific reasons. Because of this, his works are dense with interleaved layers of meaning, although sometimes these can be opaque to viewers who do not have access to a great deal of contextual material (and the reason why Wall is often required to spell out many of his intentions and references in essays, talks and interviews).

Reproductions of a particular artwork by Wall, A Sudden Gust of Wind (After Hokusai), 1993, form the central components in an Ayling & Conroy sculpture. Wall’s photograph was inspired by a work by the celebrated 19th-century Japanese artist, Katsushika Hokusai, and in particular his print, Ejiri in the Suruga Province, also sometimes known as A Sudden Gust of Wind. This is number ten in Hokusai’s renowned ukiyo-e woodblock print series, ‘36 Views of Mount Fuji’, which he produced between 1826 and 1833 (the most famous of which is the much-copied image, The Great Wave). Ayling & Conroy are also intrigued by this series because it was so obviously a venture in commercial reproduction for Hokusai, using a process that inevitably introduced variations between prints of the same image, due to small variations in the inking procedure. It is interesting to note that the series sold so well that Hokusai added a further ten images, so the series actually features 46 prints, ten more than its official title. Back by popular demand, you might say.

Jeff Wall’s photographs are usually presented as huge lightboxes, and are produced in small, limited editions. They are very expensive and require a lot of space to exhibit. Unless you live in one of the few major cities that put on exhibitions of high-end international contemporary art, you may not have actually seen a Jeff Wall artwork – not in the standing-in-front-of-it phenomenological sense.

You are most likely to know his work, if at all, through reproductions a few centimetres in size, printed using a halftoned CMYK lithographic process, and not presented backlit on a lightbox. The three reproductions that Ayling & Conroy present are from different books, and each has a different colour cast with the same artwork shown as having different hues. After all of Wall’s careful pre- and post-production, with every element chosen for specific reasons, we’re left with this degraded, variable experience, and this is precisely how most people consume most art. Ayling & Conroy again ask us to consider the following question: where is the experience of art? Or, perhaps more fundamentally, what is the experience?

Viral Sculpture

Curio Island is a curious sculpture indeed, existing in different versions whenever it is shown in a new location. One guiding principle for the artwork remains the same, however, and that is the idea that it is made to be photographed. Each version of Curio Island is constructed in order to be photogenic – like a supermodel sculpture – so that it is more likely to be reproduced in art magazines, websites, etc. It is a viral sculpture, mutating for each exhibition, but ultimately intending only to propagate itself through the popular media.

Curio Island is best understood as a replicator. And in this respect, it has been successful. The second version of the sculpture was reproduced in a Chinese art magazine, the evidence of which is present in this exhibition. (In fact, this magazine page is now the artwork, not the sculpture itself, which has been dismantled.) It is also notable that this image was chosen to illustrate this set of three exhibitions on Spike Island’s website, even though the artwork reproduced is not actually in the show.

The work highlights an idea that is common in the world of commercial art, but which is rarely found in the realm of fine art: the concept of producing an artwork for reproduction only. If you have ever seen an original commercial illustration, you will know that there are often poorly filled areas of retouching, which the illustrator knows will not be visible in reproduction. The reproduction technique is therefore used as a shortcut, where poor finish is glossed over. In the world of fine art, however, the reproduction process is usually looked down upon precisely because it loses vital information, such as finish, texture, and scale. (The difference between a Jeff Wall exhibition and a Jeff Wall postcard, for instance.)

Yet there are artists who have benefited from this process. One example might be Edward Hopper, whose lonesome, dehumanized scenes of 1950s American life have built up a huge fan base through reproductions in books, postcards, and posters. The paintings themselves are rarely seen outside of the US. And with good reason, some might argue; Hopper’s brushwork and handling of paint is amateurish verging on clumsy. When reduced in scale and flattened in reproduction, the scenes and characters are iconic and powerful. But as paintings they are awkward in all the wrong ways.

It’s a charge that Ayling & Conroy would happily admit to, in a sculptural sense, for Curio Island. Because the sculpture is constructed to be photographed from one particular angle, it has a definite front and back, so when you venture round it, the vivid colours and dramatic composition fall away. The artwork has not been considered ‘in the round’, but in the form of a small reproduction that looks good when displayed with the vivid glow of a webpage on a computer screen.

Round and Round

Another example of ‘the work that wasn’t there’ is to be found playing on a video monitor. This work consists of manipulated documentation of the sixth version of Curio Island, which was constructed in a large, round gallery in Croatia. Again, the sculpture itself was not the finished artwork, and actually went through stages where different elements were added and removed.

Taking on the idea of a big-top circus (which the circular gallery hinted at), the artists constructed a theme park-esque structure, with giant roller-coaster marble-runs that used basketballs instead of marbles. The cartoonish face of a large backdrop and use of basketballs might bring to mind the celebratory brashness of Jeff Koons, but the sense of slick control that marks Koons’ work is riotously disrupted by Ayling & Conroy in their choice of documentation technique. To film the work, they chose to ride round and round the space on a bicycle with a hand-held video camera. They filmed on several different occasions while the work was going through significant changes, and also happily included various people who were in the space at the time. On top of this, they added a four-way mirroring effect to the film, which left the finished artwork with a crazy, kaleidoscopic feel – a mesmerizing vibrancy that the actual sculpture could not hope to match.

4 Real

The second group of works grab the viewer more directly. They include traditional paintings to be enjoyed with aesthetic connoisseurship (clouds and mountains), paintings that literally and directly implicate the viewer in their narratives (Axl Rose organizing your party, how you have upset Hans by missing his meeting), and a calendar product that you can buy. These works are the straightmen of the show; they are to be experienced rather than discussed, and they are the necessary counterpoints to the displaced-experience works that make up the other half of the exhibition.

Including this second set of works in the show produces a disorientating experience for viewers, asking us to switch between radically different modes of understanding as we consider the various pieces. How do we appreciate artworks, the exhibition seems to ask. Do we ‘enjoy’ a ‘nice’ painting of a cloud? Do we purchase a calendar as a product – is financial transaction our method of signalling approval and appreciation? Or do we nod sagely to ourselves as we contemplate the way different printers have reinterpreted Jeff Wall’s artwork?
And so Ayling & Conroy lead us into their hall of mirrors and leave us with more questions than answers. Many of the artworks are dummies, red herrings – Stepford artworks. And for all the brash vibrancy, accusatory paintings, and psychedelic effects, we’ll most likely tell our friends about the artworks we encountered in the show which weren’t even there. These artworks are the self-replicating memes that will make their viral way through the various art world circles: ‘Do you know about the artists that sponsored the ICA with a credit card?’ The neat ideas are endlessly passed on, until eventually someone describes the same artwork back to you. Is that the experience of art? If not now, is that when?

David Barrett is Associate Editor of Art Monthly

Popular Affront: Some Notes for Ayling & Conroy
by Mark Hutchinson
At the beginning, when two artists start to work collaboratively, they must make decisions about what it is that they are going to do together. A single artist does not have this sense of a beginning and can, therefore, evade the conscious formulation of a working practice. All artist must decide, in one way or another, what kind of artist to be; the difference for a collaboration is that this process is both sudden and conversational. Collaborations have a definite beginning and at the beginning deciding what kind of artists to be is an urgent pre-requisite of doing anything. So the artists involved must talk about not only what they are going to do but also what they are going to be. In collaborations the conversation is literal and explicit: decisions have to be made rather than assumed. Thus collaboration is marked by the move from the statement ‘This is what I do,’ to the question ‘What shall we do?’

When the British Art Show came to town, the town in question being Nottingham, Ayling & Conroy found themselves, literally, on the periphery of Sideshow, itself an event metaphorically on the periphery of the British Art Show. The location of their show, Fight for Sore Eyes, on the edge of town reflected their position within art’s dominant institutions. However, Ayling & Conroy chose not to engage in some kind of institutional critique and not to produce some self-reflexive analysis of their own position as artists. Such an approach is a well worn attempt to get noticed by the types of institution apparently being critiqued. Instead, Ayling & Conroy chose a completely different way to respond to their role as artists: not as agents determined by institutional structures but rather as makers of things to be looked at. They decided to try to make something popular, spectacular and entertaining enough to attract visitors and make their trip to the periphery worthwhile.
For Ayling & Conroy, one way of imagining themselves as a collaboration, of finding something compelling to do, was to imagine an audience and to imagine trying to give the audience what it might want.

What is it for an artist to try to be popular? What is to be popular: the artist; the artist’s work; the career; the movement? And with whom is this popularity going to rest? It is, perhaps, worth remembering that the idea of ‘the populace’ was originally a derogatory term that lumped together all those who were not the educated and wealthy. In other words, its generality is based upon the negativity of exclusion rather than any positive characteristics of those lumped together. The poor all seem the same to the wealthy. Thus, to be on the side of the populace, and against exclusivity and privilege, should be to draw distinctions and differences within the populace. This is to say that any radical attempt to be popular should treat the populace as fractured and multiple. Given this complexity, what kind of constituencies are imaginable for art? Or, we could even ask, what aspect or aspects of a particular person does the artist imagine appealing to? It is often said that some particular policy will be popular with a particular group: for example, that increased child-care provision will be popular amongst parents. But, in this case, a parent is never just a parent; she may also be a worker; a violinist; a political activist; etc. In this respect, to be popular is not an abstract, universal quality: to be popular is to be popular with a particular group of persons under a particular description.

What Ayling & Conroy did, for Fight for Sore Eyes, was to install a birdwatching hide in the gallery. The exhibition was viewed through the slots which would normally accommodate a birder’s binoculars. The serious birder is always hoping to see something new, a species which he (it is nearly always he) has not seen before. Thus, the hide, for the birder, is not a place of relaxation nor a place for a receptive gaze that records or takes in what might be seen. On the contrary, the hide is a place of anticipation and excitement; a place for a passionate, partial, differentiating gaze. It is an unlikely place from which to view art, which does not, on the whole, have the tendency to fly away if someone gets too close. So, for Ayling & Conroy, the attempt to be popular first of all necessitated an interruption of the normal ways in which we come to look at art.
The hide is called a hide because it is intended to hide the viewer from the birds; here it functions to hide the art from the visitor. This obfuscation, of course, increases the desire to see what is hidden. It is a simple and effective way of reinvesting looking with passion: of showing that looking is always impatient and interested.

It is not, necessarily, easy to be popular: to be popular by aiming to be popular. Just think of David Brent in The Office. Brent is socially paralysed, he is unpopular, precisely because of his attempts to be popular. It is only in the last episode, when he has given up trying to be popular and, in place of his erstwhile relentless cheerfulness, engages in a litany of complaints, that he finds redemption and gets the girl. What he had failed to understand was precisely the paradoxical social code that insists that in order to be popular one must appear not to care about being popular.
Debates about a putative “dumbing down” in culture usually fail to distinguish between attempts to be popular that are a success and those that fail. ITV1 has an established record of failing to be popular, whilst pursuing nothing else but popularity. Hollywood sequels usually follow the pattern of diminishing returns. And in politics it is not the popular policies, such as being ‘tough’ on immigration and on crime, that win elections. In these, failed, attempts at popularity, the popular is the simple repetition of something that appears to be popular already. It is, perhaps, surprising to entertain the contrary idea that popularity might involve originality rather than repetition.

Historically, in cultural debate, ‘the popular’ was formulated as something lacking in serious qualities. ‘Popular Fiction’ is still defined in opposition to ‘serious’ or ‘literary’ literature (it is unconnected to how popular a book, in fact, is). Here, the label of “popular” is a means of excluding some books from a particular type of attention deemed appropriate for some other books. However, Cultural Studies, over the last 40 or 50 years, has attacked this exclusion. It has set out to analyse popular culture with the same seriousness and attention that had previously be lavished on so-called high art. In seeking to redeem the popular, Cultural Studies applies the categories and standards formerly reserved for high art. For example, it has been shown that watchers of popular television are, contrary to stereotypes, in many ways actively engaged, self-aware and critical. Thus television watching is re-appraised in terms of the values of high culture experience. What Cultural Studies does not do, is challenge the categories, standards and hierarchies of cultural analysis. The underlying structure which values certain types of experience, and not others, remains intact.

It is precisely a certain kind of seriousness that Ayling & Conroy eschew in their pursuit of the popular and entertaining. Their installations are immersive, d.i.y. environments: they use chipboard walls, bright colours, loud music and dramatic lighting. They are, typically, full of such things as: crazy accumulations of toy cars; artificial plants; inflatable beach toys; kitsch statues; and the plastic balls used in children’s ball pits. They are distracting and overloaded. If taken as a set of positive characteristics, it could seem as though their attempt to be popular took the form of a kind of assault upon the visitor. It is, perhaps, better to describe these installations in terms of what they are not: they are not places to be still, quiet, disinterested, receptive and relaxed. In this light, the assault is not so much upon the visitor as upon the received ways in which art is encountered. The idea of the popular is one way to try to gain some critical purchase on the idea of the cultured.
Thus, for Ayling & Conroy popularism is not a pursuit in its own right. The claim they make to be attempting a kind of popularism, as well as the specific tactics they use in relation to that claim, are both forged out of a negative relationship to the established procedures and protocols of art. If one looks at established patterns of consumption, what people really, really want is pornography and junk food rather than toy cars and kitsch paintings. The fact that Ayling & Conroy are operating in relation to the framework of art can be seen in other series of works. In one, they doctor postcards of old paintings with signifiers of low-cultural pleasures: adding an ice-cream van to a military parade; or adding extensive body tattoos to a female nude. Another piece of work, One Careful Owner, proclaims itself to be ‘a minimalist sculpture with damaged corner.’ Here it is the world of damaged corners that collides with the world of minimalist sculptures.

For the series of works collectively called Curio Island, Ayling & Conroy re-assemble elements of their installations to be displayed as kinds of sculptures. This remaking presents them with a particular difficulty: for the sculptures, as opposed to the installations, the spatial relationship between artwork and visitor is reversed. In the installations, the visitor is immersed within, and moves through, the chaos of appropriated, pleasurable things. With the sculptures, these things become isolated: they are framed and contained by the context of the gallery. Here, the visitor moves round the work, rather than the other way round. The problem for the sculptures is how to avoid being objects of contemplation: something that can be surrounded and taken in. It is a problem that was overcome with the bird-watcher’s hide, which mediated and displaced the expectations of the visitor.

In the series 36 Views of Mr Mountain, Ayling and Conroy engineer another monstrous collision: a collision between Katasushika Hokusai and Bob Ross. Hokusai is the well known, 18th century, Japanese painter and print maker; Ross is the less well known, 20th century, American painter, who made a career out of publishing step-by-step guides to painting kitsch landscapes and seascapes. The odd sounding ‘Mr mountain’ in the title is a literal translation of Fuji San, the Japanese name for Mount Fuji, where ‘San’ is the equivalent of either Mr. or Mrs. in Japanese. Both this series and the original consist of 46 rather than 36 paintings, after Hokusai added ten to the original series, to meet popular demand. Ayling and Conroy have taken these 46 images of Mount Fuji by Hokusai and painted them using the techniques of Ross.
However, the point of this work is not so much the outcome, the qualities of the paintings, as the pursuit of the process. It is a common complaint of artist who work collaboratively that others are always trying to unpick who did what within the collaboration. This work was formed explicitly to resist such enquiries: the two artists work side by side, each on a separate painting, which is periodically swapped.

This strategy of artists mingling their labour is not original. However, in adhering to the techniques of Bob Ross, this mingled labour is subsumed under an external process. It is this double movement, of mingling and subsumption, that displaces the role of the artist within the physical process of production.
These paintings are not a mockery of amateur painting; on the contrary, they are using the resources they do as a way of escaping from the closures and absences inherent within professional art. In a very practical sense, this convoluted process gives Ayling & Conroy something to do, as artists, when any act of creativity, however ironic, marginal or contrived, goes to confirm the conventional role of the artist. That is to say, despite the demise of modernist ideas of authenticity and authorship, today’s detached, cynical and unbelieving artists are still grounded in the specific construction of the individual (a construction which, incidentally, is in no way challenged by collaborative practices). So this procedure is a way of emptying out, or making void, the position of the artist.

The problem for the artist is analogous to that of Brian, in The Life of Brian. The problem for Brian was that whatever he did or said, however ordinary or literal, was interpreted on a different register by the followers he had inadvertently acquired. His followers were only interested in signs and in interpretation and, therefore, he could not break away from nor influence their attention. That is to say, their interpretative practice could accommodate anything. When Brian tells them to “fuck off” they want to know how they should fuck off; the followers are always looking for something more, something beyond the surface appearance of things. Every interpretation is a misinterpretation and doing nothing can be interpreted just as much as doing something.

There is something disarming about the open admission of the attempt to be popular. Mark Cousins, the psychoanalyst, once remarked upon how disarming it is when someone admits to liking something because their lover does. The question of whether one likes something or not is meant to be a relationship between one’s dispositions and the properties of the thing in question. What is disarming is the realisation that one’s tastes are always mediated through a third party, that there is no unmediated relationship between subject and object. In art, the relationship between the artist and artwork is, similarly, meant to be a relationship between the artist’s dispositions and the properties of what she makes.
Of course, there is much talk in art about publics and audiences. But there is little tendency in this talk to take the idea of the public seriously. Often the idea of the public remains a general and abstract one. That is, the idea of the public, detached from any real or possible persons, can function as a kind of guarantee of what the artist does: the site of the idealised and imaginary consumption of a particular bit of art.
The apparent inversion of this position, which finds a particular, concrete group for which (and often with whom) to make art, in fact, duplicates the mistake. That is, the real persons with whom the artist works, may well have real properties but these real persons and their properties do not impinge upon the practice of the artist, however much they inform particular works. That is, the reality of real persons can be a fetish which underlies a continuing construction of the public as general and abstract.
In talk about art, the idea of the public is often a front; the real belief, behind this front, is the belief in Art: a belief in the value and power of Art.
Ayling & Conroy’s express wish to try to give the public what they want can be interpreted on two levels. At a literal level, this could be read as an attempt to double-guess the preferences and expectations of those likely to see their work. But they do not engage with any particular persons. So, at a second level, this direct identification with the desires of the public, with popular demands, is a way to escape, rather than confirm, the debilitating belief in Art.

It is an established part of the function of public galleries to run educational programmes of some kind. Artists are, sometimes, obliged to run workshops or give talks in conjunction with exhibiting work. In such circumstances, art and education are kept in their distinct, discrete places. That is, the education is ancillary to the art: it preserves and reinforces the place of art as a place apart.
The City Gallery regularly displays children’s paintings concurrently with, but separate from, contemporary art exhibitions. Ayling & Conroy chose, as artists, to take over the exhibition of children’s paintings scheduled to run alongside their exhibition. They instigated a themed competition amongst local children, inviting responses to the title Half a Mountain of Lard; chose the winners; and curated the chosen work. Two observations are needed here. Firstly, the artist-curator is a common character on the contemporary art scene, arising largely from pragmatic rather than critical concerns. Secondly, the appropriation of amateur or non-professional artwork is a familiar move in contemporary art. The appropriation of non-professional artworks is usually on the terms of the appropriating artist: the encounter takes place on the territory of professional art. In these circumstances, that which is not-art is not there for its particular qualities but to stand as a token of what is not art.
However, once more we should consider what Ayling & Conroy are doing from the point of view of what they are not doing, rather than a simple, positive description of what they do. And what they are not doing, in this case, is maintaining the institutional separation of the exhibitions programme and education programme of the gallery. Rather than putting the children’s work out of place, Ayling & Conroy are putting themselves out of place: becoming curators in a way unbecoming of aspirational, professional artist-curators. To take their role of curators of children’s art seriously, is to engage in processes that are routinely excluded from proper art. There is something at stake here: ways in which they could fail or be embarrassed.

Appropriation is central to what Ayling & Conroy do but it is not appropriation for the sake of appropriation. That which is appropriated is not just displayed or re-presented but rather put to work: used to displace habitual expectations vis-à-vis art. Things are used to distract attention rather than to be the objects of contemplation; all the bits contribute to the overall spectacle. We could say, in the best possible sense, that the whole is less than the parts.

Nowadays, there are innumerable artists who appropriate the everyday images and objects of mass culture. The familiar procedure of removing things from their original context and repositioning them within the structures of art, reiterates the power (which is precisely the wrong word here) of the artist to manipulate and transform things. It is a one-way relationship: the appropriated things do not exert influence over art nor the artist. This is not to condemn appropriation; it is simply to point out that appropriation is now a conventional technique for making art.
Historically, which is to say with Dada, the point of the Readymade was not its positive characteristics - what it was, or where it was from - but rather, precisely, what it was not. Duchamp said, in relation to his Readymades, that he chose objects because of his complete indifference to them. It is essential to see Dada, against its dominant interpretations, not as a nihilistic revolt against the positive attributes of art but as the attempt to negate the negations of art. That is, Dada started from the position that art itself should be conceived in terms of what was absent from it: in terms of its constraints, exclusions, divisions and so on. Thus, the task becomes to get rid of these lacks: a task which is neither simply positive nor negative. It is, rather, a revolutionary task.

The practice of Ayling & Conroy is philistine, in the specific sense theorised by Dave Beech. For Beech (or my reading of Beech), the philistine is not to be understood as a particular set of attitudes and actions. Rather, it is a structural point within aesthetic discourse: the point of exclusion and repression against which ideas of aesthetics, taste and cultivation can build themselves up. The philistine is the void at the centre of aesthetic discourse; the void of the unspeakable around which aesthetic discourse swirls. The philistine is the part of aesthetic discourse that has no place within it. And, as such, it is that which haunts aesthetic discourse: a reminder of what has been excluded and repressed in order to perpetuate the elevated and cultural. In Zizek’s terms, the philistine is the universal exception: that which is necessarily excluded from a particular order or structure but, precisely because this exclusion is the founding gesture of that particular order, is the only adequate thing that can stand for the whole of the structure as such. For example, with capitalism, the proletariat is the necessary condition of capitalism and at the same time that which has no place within it; and this is precisely why the emancipation from capitalism must come from the impoverished existence of the proletariat rather than the cultured existence of the bourgeoisie. The proletariat is the truth of capitalism; the philistine is the truth of aesthetics.
Thus, to engage with what is philistine is not to move away from aesthetics, art and culture but, on the contrary, to move to the heart of the matter.
Ayling & Conroy are philistine in their determination to talk about art in terms of popularism. Talking about art in terms of popularism is a way to avoid talking and thinking about art in other ways. The idea of giving the public what it wants is not about educating the public, nor elevating the public, nor bringing culture to the public. Rather, it is a way for Ayling & Conroy to avoid being artists: to attempt to avoid the constraints and limitations that come with the established idea of Art.

© Mark Hutchinson 2007, commissioned for 'Ayling & Conroy' at City Gallery, Leicester

Curio Island 6

Text accompanies the exhibition 'Curio Island 6' at the Croatian Association of Artists, Zagreb, Croatia

by Jasna Jaksic

The genesis for the Zagreb episode of the Curio Island Series, ‘Curio Island 6‘ by the artistic duo Ayling and Conroy started when they became fascinated with the circular form of the Mestrovic Pavilion during a visit to the Croatian Artists’ Association building in autumn 2006. The dominant, demanding cylindrical form has, on a considerable number of times, set off site-specific works aimed at additionally monumentalising or, alternately, ironising it.

Through their work together they have developed a penchant for humour, games, jokes and for beguiling the public through a number of processual projects that do not draw the line at aesthetic attractiveness. On this occasion they pose questions about the nature of artwork or, more conservatively, where the artistic work dwells.

The visitors to the space, were in a practical and classroom like way, led to feel, taste and smell the work, perhaps to chew it, certainly experience it as one would with a ride at the fair.

One of the strategies to which they often resort, consists of creating lively spatial installations that are in their form, like vast toys, the Curio Island series is a good example of this. Their sculptures are ambiences that produce, whet and also satisfy the imagination. The basis of this investigation, perhaps then, relates to the ancient art of collecting wonders and curiosities, from which, through the development of social responsibility to enlighten the public and the people, the establishment of the museum was born.
The temple of the muses, however, owes its birth, among other things, to essentially the collection of rare toys and prizes, and it does not come amiss to recall this, under the current gloomy gaze of the institutionalised arts or the coquettish winking of the market.

The openness with which Ayling & Conroy approach the context of the phenomenon of the artwork has from the start has been unpretentious, and always included a two-way communication with the public; the work grows out of a specific context, both spatial and social.

Curio Island 6 is a sculptural installation into which the visitors are invited to throw basketballs. By catching a ball, you are detached from the mere audience, and become co-players, but the further development of the rules of the game is up to your own imagination. The exhibition merely provides an inducement and the opening framework for the game and is not the final outcome for the artwork. The installation is documented with a video camera in motion – to be more precise, on a bike, and edited in such a way as to simulate a kaleidoscope. Instead of the colourful sculptural balls of the first five versions of the installation Curio Island, here the rough wooden beams of the installation virtually explode on the flat screen.
The psychedelic result of the video documentation could have only created by frenetically whirling around the work; this is one more basic game by which the senses and the centre of balance are bamboozled. The mechanics of the work are unveiled at the moment when you receive the information that the video was made with a camera fastened onto a bike. Who was riding the bicycle? The artists themselves, we believe. Or a custodian, or member of the technical staff, or a curator perhaps, who in that case would have fared better than curator Frank Abbott, who in a previous artwork ‘Pencil Performance [Shark]’ 2008 was given the task by the artists of producing the artwork by drawing a shark on the wall with a hat in the shape of a pencil.

Just as a few years ago Denis Kraskovic in the installation ‘Save the Endangered Mushroom’ turned the Bacva Gallery into a great playground. Bruce and Hannah during their two-week stay also tried out in their own play the monumental space of the Mestrovic Pavilion. This space has not only influenced the playful imaginations artists; from mosque, and mausoleum to Podravka’s soup pot, from the shrine-like monument, it makes a perfect playroom that, in exhibitions like this, peeps out.

© Jasna Jaksic 2008

In Search of the Successes of Failure

by Aaron Juneau

Art is a journey, ever changing and eternal, flowing ceaselessly alongside its temporal counterpart that is history, intermittently crossing its path and permeating its course, influencing and manipulating its appearance and ultimately determining its direction. Like meandering rivers flowing tenaciously in a concentric web, the future in all its wonder and mysticism persists in eluding its temporal precedents yet at some point will always come to model each of these times that resolve to forever chase it. Art is bound to adversity in its unknowing struggle to attain this illusive and unreachable destination that remains perpetually just beyond reach, it too however, will always make its impression upon the future that it longs to catch up to […]

We will always seek the unattainable, striving to reach the thresholds of our possibilities that remain undiscovered until explored. Like the many visible bands within the trunk of a majestic oak, each one symbolising a year past, we revolve in much the same way from a centre seeped in innocence and naivety. From this centre we mature, expanding and ever pushing outwards towards the periphery of what is known, a periphery that is always growing as knowledge and experience is gained permitting another band to be added as it does so. It is from this innate desire to retain a continual momentum that one is able to advance; to find the thresholds and to make the vital decision as to whether to traverse them or not.

Art is a journey, one in which we timidly partake in as a viewer and are exhorted to follow, or indeed to chart, in our aspiring creations as artist or maker. The artist is presented with the dilemma as to whether they might trace and reflect upon the established trajectory of their undertaken journey or to disrupt the linearity of that journey by examining the provenance of the elements constituting their cultural placement; their social and political position in the world. Some contemporary art adheres to the
pre-established (or continually establishing) chronology of historical events providing sequentially cohesive accounts in form of documentation of current political and sociological climates, thus illuminating that which might otherwise have been overlooked or misrepresented. Conversely art that figures around a destabilisation of historicity and temporal continuity, might examine the past retrospectively, envisage the future prophetically or in a relational sense, might create situations that directly affect, implicate and improve upon conditions of the present.
Perhaps though, necessarily, art denies such definitive categorisation. Maybe such a prescriptive notion of arts make-up would negate the possibility of ideological freedom and the visceral that are surely to be deemed welcome components of artistic practice today.
‘Daddy, where are we?’
‘I don’t know Charley, your guess is as good as mine, if from a slightly less informed standpoint.’
‘Stand where? Point at what Daddy?’
‘No…I meant…oh, its ok…erm, stand over there, right, next to those flowers, that’s it.’
‘They smell funny…like plastic. I don’t think they’re real you know…no, no they’re not, look, here, feel one, smell one.’
‘Its ok Charley, I’ll take your word for it. Nothing much is real these days, it’s hardly surprising. Ok what I meant was that yours is a slightly naïve…er…that is to say, one of lesser experience that’s all. er…a less educated perspective.’
‘What’s perspective?’
‘Wow Charley that’s a toughy. Well I guess it’s just the way you look at something. In terms of ocular perception it would pertain to the position from which one views something and the way that it is perceived as a result of being in that particular position…ok…that might be a little…right, lets see. You see that big mountain over there? The one with the white, snow capped top with kinda blue-grey rock below. Looks a lot like Mt Fuji actually…no it can’t be…we’re not in…anyway, you see it?’
‘Yes, I can see it, it looks really pretty.’
‘Uh huh, that’s the way it’s painted. Sometimes it takes on a rather malevolent façade, guess it just depends on the way it’s depicted. Anyway, ok, so you see it?’
‘Well from here it looks really small right?’
‘Yes, but I know it’s not.’
‘Ah, right, your getting ahead of yourself Charles. From here it looks small and you are able to view it in its entirety.’
‘Well the whole of one side of it at least.’
‘Good Charley, that’s exactly it. You can see just one side of it; one perspective…’
‘So this is our current perspective Charles, although mine probably differs from yours ever so slightly because I’m stood a couple of metres from you and I’m taller.’
‘So how do I see a different perspective Daddy?’
‘Well, in this context…’
‘Yes context…I’m not going to…in this instance Charley, you can get a new perspective from simply altering the position in which you’re standing.’
‘Like this?’
‘Well sort of, but it might take a little more than a few steps to make any significant impact on what you see and the way you see it. A few steps would hardly constitute a paradigm shift. Let me try and show you.’
‘Oh, you can stop pointing now Charley, your starting to look quite imposing stood there with your arm stretched out like that. Looks almost like a military salute.’
‘Well you told me to stand like this, I just did what you said.’
‘Well, actually that instruction was made in jest resulting from a monumental misunderstanding on your part son. That’s how this whole thing started in fact.’
‘I’m sorry that I don’t know as much as you Dad, I am only small after all.’
‘Don’t blame this on your diminutive stature Charley, it won’t work on me. I thought you were old enough to comprehend these things.’
‘Maybe age isn’t anything to do with it, maybe it’s just that I’m coming from a different standpoint, a different perspective. Who’s to say yours is the right one?’
‘Don’t get all rhetorical on me Charley, you’re well out of your depth kiddo. Now do you want me to show you this thing or not?’
‘Yes, actually I was quite interested until you started being mean.’
‘I’m not mean Charley, I’m just unsympathetic to ignorance and absurdity that’s all. Standing there with your arm out like one of the Hitler Youth, a miniature Gestapo, in my mind, which I might add is evidently far superior to yours, ticks both of those abhorred categories. In fact my dear boy I’ve found many of your actions of late gratuitous and invidious, that is to say they are both unnecessary and muster within me an ever increasing and insufferable rage and resentment.’
‘Daddy I wish you wouldn’t say such things, for in my “ignorance” you know I struggle to discern their purpose. All I am left with is an angered tone with nothing in the way of respite from such an unrelenting onslaught of disdain. Do refrain from such hurtful outbursts Daddy, they do evoke in me such a terribly melancholic demeanour.’
‘Oh shut up Charley, you don’t even know what your saying, insolent child. Just follow me…
…Right let me tell you a story, an allegory if you will. Lets see if I can’t teach you something on our journey towards teaching you something. Perhaps you might gain a little perspective on the path to learning about perspective. Let’s call it, An epistemological pursuit.’
‘Call it what you like Dad, if it makes you feel good. I’m sure it will be thoroughly informative and entertaining.’
‘Yeh? Well that’s nice Charles, I’ll make sure I include every little detail, I wouldn’t want you to miss out on anything or not live up to such high expectations…
…Ok, this is the story of a man subsumed into a world of absurdity and the surreal, similarly ruinous attributes to the one in which you appear to desire to situate yourself Charles, funny that, anyway, it is a simple tale but one that exudes meaning and profundity.’
‘One day a man was out for his morning stroll, a habitual activity that he had indulged in for many years. This walk had no particular purpose or direction yet was unequivocally clear in its knowing lack of objectivity. […] At precisely 7:30am each and every day, Thomas Andrews, that was his name, Thomas, would commence his ambulatory endeavour, leaving his semi-detached, Victorian town house where he had lived since he were a child and turning left out of the front door, would make his way gaily into town. Once in the centre of town, signified by a small square proudly sporting two large iron cannons as its focal point, Thomas would proceed, directly intersecting the square, passing between the two cannons that sat nobly yet unthreateningly in pride of place.
Two redundant hunks of metal, long forgotten symbols of long forgotten victories. Having crossed the square, Thomas, if adhering to his typified route, would turn left onto the tree lined path of Willow Park, which, if followed without distraction would lead to within fifty metres of his home. However on this occasion, for reasons unknown, Thomas experienced some sort of wild and elaborate epiphany, rendering his state of mind one of temporary irrationality.

Unaware of the consequences of the series of rash and impulsive decisions that he was about to make, Thomas turned right, away from the park, away from any sort of normality and congruity and headed back into town. Having never once deviated from his accustomed path, neither on the occasion of an early morning Dérive, nor any other time when Thomas was required to venture away from the nurturing bosom of his own home, each and every experience was one of complete revelation. Never had he seen the rows of shops containing countless wonderful curiosities, the tobacconist’s, the off licences, the sex shops and the toy shops, all so bright and inviting and all seemingly so full of possibilities. Thomas buzzed up and down the streets filled with awe, brimming with excitement, his eyes glistening like those of a child’s on Christmas morning…

…As time went on the streets became busier and louder, the people surrounding Thomas who at first appeared contented and friendly on the contrary seemed frantic, like a herd of stampeding wildebeest marching intently with hysterical, desperate eyes. Thomas started being pushed and shoved as he tried to make his way down the street, bouncing off one determined and unperturbed consumer, clutching half a dozen bulging bags and falling and stumbling into another, like a pinball, indefinitely caught between two rows of adjacent buffers. Everywhere he looked there were frenzied people with puffing red cheeks and beads of yellowish sweat dripping down their round, greasy faces. There were only very few who remained stationary in amongst the chaos, those being the old, withered men standing outside the tobacconist’s, vehemently puffing on large wooden pipes producing a thick smog which shrouded the streets, drifting with the wind in a pungent, ghostly haze.

Finally after much difficulty and in a state of utter bewilderment and disarray, Thomas found himself propped up against a lamppost panting in exhaustion having run the gauntlet of the insufferable shoppers. He was stood at the edge of the main road out of town and could hear the collective, guttural hum emanating from the dozens of rapidly passing cars; a cacophony of engine noise overlaying the incessant buzz from the crowds of bustling people in the streets behind. In his absolute dissolution, hardly able to see from the smoke and the sweat stinging his eyes, Thomas desperately sought escape from this nightmare; some way out of this terrible place. He tried to gain some composure and looking down at the pavement below he noticed, written in big, bold, white lettering, the instructions: LOOK BOTH WAYS. And so, Thomas looked up to the sky, squinting at the lurid sun, looked back down at the floor, then stepped out into the road.’

‘So what happened to him Dad? What happened to Thomas? Did he get hit? Did he die?’
‘I’ll leave that up to your imagination Charley.’
‘Well if he did, he kind of deserved it. Who on earth doesn’t look left and right when crossing the road? He must have been deranged.’
‘Well Charley, there in lies the moral to the story.’
‘Where’s the moral in that? It’s eluding me Dad; I’m failing to see it. What is it; always look both ways, the correct two ways, when crossing the road? Or simply, don’t be a complete and utter fool.’
‘No Charles, the moral is, stick to what you know best. Never venture too far off the beaten path because if you do, more often than not you’ll run into a world of trouble and who knows, you might never find your way back.’
‘Well that’s a rather reductive outlook isn’t it Dad. I’m failing to see either pertinence or profundity in that one. After all if we were never to push ourselves, if we never aspired to better ourselves, to broaden horizons, to discover the unknown, we would never advance or evolve. We would remain stuck in the same place forever, impotent and inane. On the contrary Dad, despite his inexcusable naivety, I find this Thomas’ actions quite admirable.’
‘Oh do be quiet Charley, you’re beginning to sound like a self-help tape. You and your idealistic notions. You’ll probably end up a penniless artist with nothing to show for yourself but a few romanticised ideas.’
‘Well better that than a nihilistic old git who wouldn’t know an idea if one came and bit him on the arse’
‘Right, we’re here.’
‘Wherever here is.’
‘Here is here, that’s all you need to know for the time being.’
‘And what exactly did you need to show me “here”?’
‘Well if you look across the lake there, past that old log cabin and up at the mountain you’ll notice that…oh, hold on…how strange, it looks exactly the same. The perspective hasn’t changed in the slightest.’
‘No, it hasn’t, does that mean we came all the way over here for nothing?’
‘Well…er…no, let’s see…let’s ask this man if he knows where we are…’
…Hello there, excuse me, I’m sorry to bother you, I was wandering if you could tell us where we are exactly? It’s just that we kind of stumbled upon this place accidentally and I fear we may be a little lost.’
‘Well sir, I can hardly say where you are now can I? Only you can say where you are because only you are there.’
‘Ah…ok…well geographically then. Where are we geographically?’
‘Yours is not a place of Geographical distinction my friend. It is no simple case of classification through meaningless names of meaningless places. Yours, or rather ours, is something much more vast, replete with intricacies and complexities. In short my weary traveller, our place is elsewhere.’
‘Hmm…ok…hate to be a spoilsport but you wouldn’t mind telling me how to get somewhere would you? It’s just that I’m at the end of my tether, I’m bloody starving and these displays of unmitigated ambiguity really do nothing for me, quite the contrary they actually make to exacerbate an already shite situation. So I’m awfully sorry to draw you away from your painting for two minutes but if you could give me some slight indication, preferably not in the form of a cryptic riddle, of how on earth we might find ourselves again I would be extremely grateful.’
‘Just take a right at the end of this path you’re on now and that will take you where you want to go.’
‘Sincerely, thank you so much. Come along Charley!’
‘What is it your painting there anyway Mr?’
‘It’s the scene across the lake. The cabin at the edge of the wood and the mountain in the background.’
‘But what’s wrong with the sky? It looks like something from outer space.’
‘The way I see it, is that my imagination is as close to inner space as I’m ever likely to get, an inner space that’s limitless and astounding. You make sure you never loose yours kid.’
‘Ok, I’ll try. See you Mr.’
‘See, you kid.’
‘Charley, come on won’t you, it will start getting dark soon…’
…Ok, he said if we turn right here, we will find our way again.’
‘Find our way where though Dad? We don’t know where we came from and we certainly don’t know where we’re headed.’
‘All I’m searching for at the moment Charley, is some sort of normality, something real and tangible to grasp onto in the hope that it might lead us home.’
‘I’m not sure I’d know home if I saw it anymore Dad.’
‘Well I’m not sure that I would either Charley, but we can but try.’
‘Ah, this looks promising, the trees are beginning to clear, it looks like we might be coming towards some sort of civilisation.’
‘Why don’t you ask this man if we’re heading towards a town?’
‘Yes, I will…Ah, yes, hello sir, I’m sorry to bother you but you wouldn’t perchance know if we are heading in the direction of a town?’
‘Ha ha, that’s funny, I was about to ask you if you knew whether I was heading out of such a place, you see I just can’t seem to escape.’
‘Well we seem to be in much the same predicament, I’ve not seen a sign of culture for what seems like a lifetime now.’
‘Well that sounds like bliss. How might one find such a place?’
‘We happened upon this interminable wilderness quite accidentally in fact but I can tell you that if you carry on in the direction that you are going, in that which we have just come, you won’t be disappointed.’
‘Well I can say the very same thing to you sir, thank you very much and best of luck.’
‘To you too…oh and be sure to give my regards to the man painting by the lake.’
‘Ok, I will, goodbye.’
‘There, you see Charley, just stick to your chosen path, to what you know best and you won’t go far wrong.’
‘But aren’t you both trying to get somewhere new, are you not discontented with what you’ve come to know?’
‘No Charles, you’ve missed the point again…
…We’re here, this must be it.’
‘What a strange looking place, why are those people in clown costumes?’
‘I have no idea, maybe the circus is in town.’
‘Even if it were, they wouldn’t be walking around the streets still in costume would they? Surely clowns look just like normal people when they’re not inside the circus tent performing, I mean its hardly a desirable look is it. Who would outwardly aspire to look ridiculous? And why are there so many? Surely three or four clowns is enough for any circus.’
‘Well I don’t know Charley, its not effecting you now is it. It’s a free country. People can do as they please.’
‘You say it so assuredly, as if you know what country this is and yes, perhaps it is effecting me. Who’s to say I’m not frightened by all of this. Any normal child would be wouldn’t they?’
‘Yes, I suppose they would but you’re hardly a normal child are you Charley.’
‘Well maybe not but that’s beside the point. Look this isn’t getting us anywhere Dad, lets see if we can find something to eat and drink. You go over to that water fountain over there, see the creamy coloured one, it looks like porcelain form here but I couldn’t be sure. See if there is drinking water in there, I’m going to ask that Japanese woman over there if she knows anywhere we can get something to eat.’
‘Oh, ok the one with the red and blue glowing eyes? That’s a great idea Charley, she looks really friendly.’
‘Her eyes are just especially radiant Dad, you shouldn’t be so judgmental, besides she looks like she might be selling something. Meet me over there by that big barrel.’
‘Ah, the big barrel next to the bionic bunny? Sure thing Charley, regarding I don’t get eaten by some anomaly along the way.’
‘Stop being so pessimistic Dad. You have to learn to accept things for what they are even if they are a little different. Difference isn’t always a bad thing you know, it’s what separates us from each other, it’s what establishes our individuality.’
‘Yeh, whatever you say…
…So did you find anything Charley?’
‘Well, yes but all she had was Chicken and Mushroom Pot Noodle’s and we have no means to prepare them. Did you?’
‘No there was no water in the fountain, just different coloured plastic balls.’
‘What are we going to do Daddy?’
‘I think I can see a policeman over there, come on, he must be able to help us…
‘Oh we’re terribly sorry officer, I was just wandering if you might be able to help us…erm…you see…we’re not from around here and we’re yet to become accustomed to the dynamic of the place and…’
‘Can’t you see I’m busy sir? Can’t you see there’s been a terrible accident?’
‘An accident? Where?’
‘What are you blind? There in the road.’
‘Ah, but these are just toy…erm…they’re not real cars…er…is anyone hurt? What happened?’
‘Well apparently some idiot just stepped straight out into the middle of the road, obviously neglecting to take heed of the obvious instructions, written clear as day in big, bold, white letters, to LOOK BOTH WAYS! I mean, what did he do, look up and down? Ha ha ha.’
‘Is this some sort of joke? Are you trying to wind me up?’
‘No sir, I’m deadly serious. Can’t you see that this here is a serious matter, a lot of innocent people could have been hurt, it’s no laughing matter what so ever and I would frown upon anyone who thought that it was.’
‘Right, I’ve had just about enough of this, come on Charley…
…Dad, I want to go home.’
‘I know Charley, I want to go home too. This place makes no sense, it has no meaning, no teleology. It’s full of non-sequiters, loose ends and blocked doorways.’
‘It’s like when you rub yours eyes and then stop and open them to find hundreds of tiny stars shooting into your vision from the edges. Everything is so magical in those few fleeting moments. Everything you look at, however painfully banal, is framed by a tiny display of beatific wonder; the most insignificant details and the most common things become fantastic. As magical as it is, it’s always a relief when the stars disappear.’
‘You know Charley, for once I think I know what you mean.’

Artistic practice is one of the cartographic and artists, the cartographers of modernity. The creation of art figures around the transitory nature of artists themselves; the itinerant wanderings spanning both the metaphysical and socio-political landscapes that constitute successful and relevant modes of production. As a viewer we are offered a sojourn amongst the suspended ideologies of the artist and are asked to bring our own subjectivities to this brief pause in their continuing journey, revealing parts of the map that remain unrealised and yet to be charted. In as much as contemporary arts concerns are necessarily deeply rooted in the emancipation of individuals and the overall improvement of environmental and sociological conditions, as mirrored by the aspirations of the modern political era, art also provides an essential tool for a liberation of a different sort.

Ayling and Conroy proudly fly the flag for an artistic practice that shamelessly embraces failure, flowing firmly against the teleological grain and seemingly holding arbitrariness as the prevalent critical device. Theirs is a world where disparate juxtapositions of appropriated commodities is considered harmonious when paired with the often loaded imagery of populist motifs; where a no holds barred attitude is taken to the indiscreet pilfering of other cultures or the scathing critique of our own. Failure for Ayling and Conroy is utilised as an efficient tool in the journey to success and for the plotting of a cartography that will prove as dizzying and disorientating as the one being drawn for our own hectic lives. The fundamental difference separating theirs from much of contemporary art practices lies in what we as viewers are permitted to see. Here an unmediated inclusion is testament to the premises of intuition and the scrupulous examination of the world around us that informs the work. It is often said that art is ostensibly a means to better understand the world. Paradoxically Ayling and Conroy present us with a plethora of misunderstandings; a wonderland of shortcomings and broken narratives, perhaps in the hope that we might discern a wider meaning to it all; a greater truth from a world of parody and falsification. If we are to take a bite out of this forbidden fruit, to indulge in this world of simulacra, we might find the ever evasive parallel between art and life to finally have been bridged.

© Aaron Juneau 2007

Curio Island - Review - Double Acts, Pheonix Gallery

by Joanne Lee

Ayling and Conroy - Curio Island, Phoenix Gallery, BrightonThe work is sited in an entrance foyer, with steps descending to the street outside, but the doors are locked, and the main entrance to the building is now elsewhere. The installation feels a little stranded here (by the artists’ choice, I’m sure – they have spoken of it as being truly an island away from the other exhibited works in the Double Acts show.) Phoenix Gallery used to be a commercial premises and this space retains something of its former atmosphere: it’s the sort of place one might wait for job interviews or meetings, lulled by the traffic outside or wondering where the lavatories are to be found. The work echoes (crazily) the big displays of fake plants so beloved of corporate entrances.

The title strikes me first: Curio Island. I imagine an island made up entirely of curios, a place perhaps resembling some vast and permanent car boot fair. The contemporary retail universe is full of Babylands, Kingdoms of Leather, Sofa and PC Worlds. Once, rather memorably, I encountered a Kebab World. I can’t help but conjure a land populated solely by babies, a world made entirely from sofas and a place where kebabs are the only foodstuff, and supplicants pay homage to the great sculptural idols of the Doner Kebabs that turn slowly, knowingly, ineffably… (My imaginings owe a lot to Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities with its tales of fantastical places such as Armilla, a city entirely constructed from plumbing.) It amuses me that, not five minutes walk away from the current Brighton location of Curio Island one can find Buffet Island, lapped maybe by a tide of hoisin sauce…

‘Curio’ suggests we will encounter knick-knacks, bric-a-brac and gee-gaws: things that have no function other than decoration. I like these odd words variously used to describe ornamental bits and pieces. It’s as if we have struggled to name those thingamajigs that are altogether useless except for the gathering of dust and memories. A curio suggests something that grandparents might display on shelves or inside china cabinets: we appear to have little love of curios these days. Today’s fashionably minimal homes do not wish to clutter their sleek surfaces.

In fact the items presented in Curio Island are rather too big to be your average bric-a-brac. The constituent parts of the installation certainly have something of the jumble sale or car boot fair about them but more particularly, they evoke for me one of those back rooms in garden centres where you find a peculiar juxtaposition of old stock that failed to sell and is now marked down in the hope of attracting a buyer. I think it’s the combination of ornamental sculptures with a rustic barrel, fake pink flowers and green-brown rushes; it’s the white fountain and the coir hanging basket liners and their improbable conjunction with an inflatable parrot and multicoloured plastic balls. There’s a terrible melancholy in such places, where dusty items languish unloved and unwanted, a melancholy echoed for me in ‘curio’ itself, a word redolent of Victorian houses, and of the past itself. This melancholy oozes through the installation too, as it sits at a distance from the other works in the exhibition. The afternoon sun struggles through grimy windows and there is silence but for the muted growl of traffic outside.

As I wander around, the work slides in and out of focus. What at a distance I took to be a rather lumpy wall painting resolves itself as a plastic inflatable parrot, which has been carefully filleted in half and stuck to the wall to form a ready-made painting. Upon closer inspection, the small elegant nude to the side of the installation has had tattoos adhered to her alabaster body. It’s rather playful – it recalls the naughty urge to draw moustaches on posters of pretty girls - however there’s something quite obscene, not to say violent about the thick chrome pole onto which she’s jammed: it makes me squirm uncomfortably. On top of the assemblage there’s a bucolic sculpture of a couple, surmounted by the fronds of plastic rushes all out of scale with them (the rushes, relatively speaking, are as big as trees!) The lovers are perched on top of a bit of wall, but the romantic scene appears to have been painted magnolia, that dullest of domestic colours. Curio Island oscillates and echoes, provoking competing, contrasting images... And I can’t help but feel that the collaborative double act has a lot to do with the complexity of my response.

Etymologically speaking ‘curio’ is a shortened form of ‘curiosity’. Items were once described as curious, or curiosities if they were ingeniously or elaborately worked (or if, as natural objects, they appeared to have been fashioned in this way.) Natural and artificial curiosities were displayed side by side in Renaissance Kunst and Wunderkammern (the so-called ‘cabinets of curiosity’ that have been proposed as the forerunners of museums and galleries.) Curiosities were something considered novel, rare or bizarre, and curiosity came to name any excess or superfluity in an artefact beyond its proper function. Theologians of the time warned against the power of the curious artefact with its power to distract, and of the desire of the ‘curiosus’ to make his/her own interpretations, without recourse to the proper guidance of the priesthood. In our own times it would be the priestly caste of art professionals who might seek to steer a reading, but I’m pleased to report that the curious objects of Curio Island elude their knowing grasp. The work, rightly, cannot easily be defined and it continues to distract me.
© Joanne Lee 2007

Ayling & Conroy Interview - Double Acts, Pheonix Gallery

Interview by Laura Mousavi of Permanent Gallery, Brighton

Did you make a conscious decision to work as a duo, was it out of circumstance or a happy accident?
H - It was a conscious decision. Bruce was helping out with an exhibition that I was organising, and we were collaborating on a couple of artworks.
We both had an interest in curating, as well as our individual practices. The more we worked together, the more it felt appropriate to join our independent artistic practices and curational interests, under the Ayling & Conroy umbrella. I have always enjoyed collaboration. I find it helps push an idea to its furthest reaches, because there is a critical dialogue from the early idea stages.

B - I guess its about the way you see collaboration, I think Hannah and I were very sure about the way that we wanted to collaborate, using the name ‘Ayling & Conroy’ was a way of merging what we did together under one brand.
I think this was important stage for me as, before this in my artistic practice I was very single minded about creating artwork, and collaboration didn’t really come on the radar until I started working with Hannah. Within my solo practice I always found it really long winded, from creating the artwork to getting the feedback, and that’s why I find collaboration so exciting, is you get an immediate discussion around an idea, and the ideas develop that much further.

Artistic practice can often be solitary, there is a single person accountable for reflecting, processing, creating, do you believe working as a duo produces a particular kind of art work, and if so how would you characterise it?

H - No we don’t believe it creates a particular type of artwork, I suppose it depends on the type of collaboration. Bruce and I do not have individual practices anymore. We are not interested in keeping a separate identity, or emphasising each individual’s input into the work.

An idea is passed between us until it works. Both artists are reflecting, processing and creating, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes alternatively. Both are equally accountable in our case.

B - Just by the nature of two people working together, it always raises questions, about how that relationship functions, I think this is partly about the way we collectively think about art, and artists in general about being strange creative beings, an the creative cliches ‘from the soul’ etc. I like the idea of collaboration, because it interrupts this assumed ‘naturalness’ about creativity, as there must be a dialogue, and agreement between the two parties. I am not sure that collaboration is that rock n’ roll anymore, but for us it is a very effective way of producing art.

Do you have individual concerns which are somehow combined to produce a work or is the work the outcome of a single idea which occurs through joint discussion and shaped between the two of you?

H - Definitely the latter one. Artwork created by Ayling & Conroy has its own identity and concerns.
B - We are trying to develop the form in which the whole of our practice takes, in that works relate to the practice as a whole, rather than, producing disparate pieces of work.

There is a playful and humorous element to your work which suggests an enjoyment in the making, what is your relationship to making art and enjoyment?

H - I think it’s intrinsically linked to our personalities.
It’s not just about our own relationship with the artwork, but our relationship with the people who see it. We try to make artwork that is approachable, accessible and enjoyable.

B - I guess in a way we see artwork as a form of entertainment, and ultimately we are trying to create artwork that we would like to see. The process of making is one that changes all the time, we really like it when we get an artwork to a stage when we can get it produced by other people, but we often find it difficult to let go of the making process at the beginning, and with the Curio Island sculptures they need a lot of work, discussions, and playing with objects until it feels right, and so its not something we can hand over just yet.

Do you ever encounter opposition in the collaborative process, and if so, do you see this as a valuable way of informing the making of an art work or as a hindrance to its realisation? Or how necessary is conflict to your process? Do you see conflict as impacting positively or negatively?

H - No. There isn’t any opposition. There maybe a heated debate, but this generally relates to the aesthetics at the outcome/realisation of an idea. There are constant conversations about the work and ideas. If an idea is strong enough it is discussed, developed, and is then made. If it doesn’t maintain enough conversation, it is generally forgotten about.
I think for me, if there is a conflict the idea isn’t resolved, and needs more discussion. It is neither positive or negative, its just part of the process of making an artwork.

For this exhibition you have produced an 'island' can you talk a little about the piece and why you where driven to make an 'island'?

H - Curio Island (version one) is a remake of a previous artwork ‘Eyesore Sundae’, which was a big installation.
B - The Island relates to the physical distance of the artwork from the rest of the exhibition, away from the flock, so to speak.
The artwork was also an attempt to develop a self-contained sculpture from two huge installations that we had made last year. The ‘island’ was a way of visualising a series of sculptures for group exhibitions, from this mass of materials in our studio.
We wanted to create a series of sculptural artworks that could fit into nearly any group exhibition, the island was a way of thinking about sculpture, in this cut-off sense, a sort of sculpture franchise. But actually in practice, the sculptures are uniquely made for each exhibition, and not the ‘place-and-run’ approach that we dreamt of in our studio.
We tried also to think about the context of the exhibition, and the ‘duo’ aspect. It was really important to show one piece of work on its own, and not two paintings for instance, we wanted to project this idea of the ideal collaborative sculpture.


Fight For Sore Eyes

by Bianca Winter
Fight for sore eyes, presented at My House Gallery, is a part of the 'Sideshow' programme of exhibitions and events, which coincide with British Art Show 6 during its stay in Nottingham. With spectacles such as this, Sideshow could be poised to eclipse the large touring show.

My House Gallery, back in its original location in the reception room of a Victorian house in the suburbs of Nottingham, is completely transformed. Haribo and Pot Noodles adorn the walls of the entrance hall conspiring, along with the fantastic orange t-shirt of the host, to bring the prying eyes of the visitors to attention. There is music in the air, which is a striking, fun, rodeo type mix that makes it impossible to suppress a grin. Directed into the 'bird-watching hut', which is a stark contrast to the colour and busyness of the entrance hall, the visitor takes their position in front of one of two flaps. Lifting a flap, one is assaulted with abundance. A cleverly positioned mirror makes the space seem vast, and multiplies the objects that are layered and stacked, some moving, some making noise, all vying for attention. Impossible to describe, even sat before the vista, the complexity of the arrangement is astounding. Inevitably certain objects momentarily isolate themselves from the rest after the initial barrage: a tree like structure made from gleaming, colourful micro cars; a porcelain fountain issuing forth blue liquid, replete with yellow rubber ducks; an arched bridge, unconvincingly mimicking wood, atop which sits a rabbit with evil red eyes; the bird speeding in a circle near the ceiling.

The work is progressive: a light sporadically switched on and off maintains one's attention as things come in and out of view, and dry ice gradually builds up, fogging one's vision. There are also time-based elements: two videos that are looped, from which the 'soundtrack' emanates; one seeming to be an extreme advertisement set to baffle the senses, and the other adding a sinister edge to the scene with the creaking and laughter that we automatically associate with Halloween. The changing light conditions and the dry ice combine with the mirror to make the viewer unavoidably conscious of their position as spectator.
ayling + Conroy have amplified the clamour of the high street in what could be considered a critique on consumer culture. However, the work appears to have deeper and more subtle concerns - it makes me think not 'where is the art?' but 'forget the art' as I embrace the full pleasure of unadulterated looking.

© 2006 Bianca Winter. All rights reserved

Fight for Sore Eyes

by Johnny Sharp

As any regular cinema, theatre or gallery goer knows, no arts-consumer experience is complete without a visit to the refreshments stall. So on entry to Ayling and Conroy’s humble abode (a terraced house which doubles up as their exhibition space) I am pleased to find that there is a refreshments stall in the foyer/hallway. Rows of Haribo star fruit sweets line the left hand wall, and neat stacks of Pot Noodles on the right.
But something’s not quite right here. The products in question are just a little bit too neatly arranged in front of a quaint pink and white striped wall, as if this were a Roxy cinema in Burnley in 1964. Clearly they are exhibits in themselves, and although I’m told I can actually buy a Pot Noodle if I want (Chicken and Mushroom, since you ask), I feel like I would be eating their art (edible art - now there’s an idea – another time perhaps), so I resist the temptation.

Maybe Ayling and Conroy themselves missed a trick by greeting us in their civvies – surely his’n’hers usherette uniforms would have helped enhance the surreal Mr.Benn-style feel of the place.
No great loss, because there’s plenty to feast your eyes and ears on in the main event, into which we are invited to peer, peep show style. We are presented with a room crammed with juxtaposed objets d’art.

Where to start in this gaudy grotto of wonder? Well, being a child of the video age, my gaze immediately gravitated to the television screen flickering on top of a cherry blossom tree in the top right hand corner of the room. Technology grows on trees? It’s as natural a part of our environment as nature itself? If you insist.
On the television itself is a series of rapid-fire images of the aforementioned Pot Noodle product we saw in the hallway. They’re soon followed by the message ‘Buy me, eat me’ – yes, I suspect that’s what most food advertising is designed to say. Then there’s a slightly macabre picture of a baby, its eyes red as if hypnotised by the bright images, accompanied by the word ‘Happy’. You mean our children are being indoctrinated with this consumerist filth? Say it ain’t so!

The plot thickens from here on in, though. Elsewhere are various bits and bobs from theme parks – some seemingly cowboy/western themed, some associated with scary fairground rides, if the intermittent ghost train screams are anything to go by.
Meanwhile, a plastic parrot flies round in a circle overhead, and a Roman fountain spouts blue Portaloo-coloured water. A coke can litters a bed of greenery, toy cars are dotted up and down a wicker-covered wall as well as stuck to what looks like some kind of totem pole, blue smoke belches from a barrel, and a kitschy ceramic rabbit with glowing red eyes perches on a rickety wooden bridge over some presumably troubled waters. What can it all mean? If anything?

Are we perhaps to deduce that a supposedly natural, innocent, traditional world is being soiled by the cheap quick thrills of the modern consumer culture? Looking in the mirror you see a painting of a figure in traditional Japanese dress preparing to tuck into a Pot Noodle – how impossibly vulgar! Cars swarm all over the place, the evil, fume-belching bastards. Even the downhome banjo soundtrack is pervaded by that impossibly naff ‘Wooh…yes!’ James Brown sample. Is nothing sacred?
Evidently not, but At the same time Ayling and Conroy clearly have a love-hate relationship with modern consumer culture – their affection for cheap, chintzy little ornaments, gaudy coloured toys and mass-produced processed snacks of questionable nutritional value clearly goes beyond mere irony.

Sooner or later, courtesy of a large mirror at the back of the room, you catch a glimpse of yourself looking in on it all, as if your head’s in one of those cut out figures you find at the end of the pier. So we are voyeurs to this motorway pile-up of a universe – watching it, commenting on it, but rarely doing anything about it, other than going to see a conceptual art piece about it in someone’s front room, right? What a sick world.

Whatever your conclusions, the best thing about this piece is it hits you right between the eyes. It bombards you with so many messages, signifiers and suggestions that your retinas almost shut down in protest. I suspect ultimately that’s the whole point – to shove a world full of contradictions in our lazy, fat faces. Bring it on.
Still, my overwhelming feeling at the end of all this? I could murder a Pot Noodle. Is that wrong?

© 2006 Johnny Sharp