"No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man." Heraclitus
At a fundamental level everything is in flux. Nothing is fixed, nothing absolute. What once seemed permanent proves ephemeral, arbitrary and short-lived: a phase, not a given for a generation. Political, economic, and artistic certainties dissolve, often overnight. Ours is an age of transition and destruction, yet also of renewal and innovation.
Art has always flourished in times of uncertainty, tapping into the energy of change. Chance juxtapositions of previously disparate elements and traditions unsettle, subvert and ultimately enrich the visual. New genres evolve, new ways of seeing, and artists themselves adapt their practices with them. Some immerse themselves in the maelstrom of influences, drawing energy from the transformations of the age; new lexicons, metaphors and oppositions emerging to challenge our perception. Others find points of stillness in a world beyond rapidly changing appearances. A heightened desire for secular equivalents of spirituality can be satisfied in the cycles of nature or in moments of epiphany.
The artists in this exhibition in their disparate ways reveal transcendence and beauty in impermanence and change. Each provides a distinctive perspective and response to the ebb and flow of existence, which though accelerated today, was, as Heraclitus knew, ever the human condition.
The state of FLUX is dynamic, a force; a constant and vast structure around us. The unity of opposites posits the oneness of things otherwise believed to be different or distinct. Dark and light, positive and negative are necessary not only for change and renewal, but to maintain the tension and balance of constantly opposing forces. This occurs most obviously in the physical realm, but also on a metaphysical level. Interdependence in our relationship to other people and the world around us is one of the essential contradictions of everyday life.
“All of our work is about perception and the uniqueness of all of us, and conversely, the sameness of us all. The coincidence of opposites. You are what controls you, and what controls you makes you who you are. It’s not a simple image of opposites, it is a dynamic exchange…” Mike & Doug Starn
Big Bambú by Mike & Doug Starn has appeared in several manifestations. It began in their studio, the former Tallix foundry in Beacon, New York, as a tower representing self-organization, adaptation and the interconnectedness of all things; its continuous rebuilding emphasising form and thought in flux. On the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Big Bambú - You Can't, You Don't, and You Won't Stop took the form of a cresting wave, bridging the realms of sculpture, architecture, and performance. Now in its most recent incarnation as part of the 54th Venice Biennale program of collateral events, Big Bambú has been re-assembled as a fifty foot tall hollow tower of bamboo, with a trail spiraling up to the top reaching a twenty-foot wide rooftop lounge:
"Big Bambú is always growing and changing and becoming something new - as we all are. Each time it suggests the complexity and energy of an ever-changing living organism…embodying a contradictory nature: it is always complete, yet it is always unfinished”
The fragment from the Metropolitan Museum installation shown here suggests a heart extracted from the vast living and moving structure. Now suspended and isolated, connecting ropes trailing, it is a composite of intricate, intricacy, chaos and strength. As with all the Starn’s work, there are echoes of previous series also seen here: the silhouetted pathways of Structure of Thought, the embodiment and evidence of our life and breath in Black Pulse. The coloured network of rope ties recalls the basic components of the colour carbon process as seen in Get Ready (for Love): the delicate layers peeling and ripping to expose colours beneath; simultaneously an absence and presence. Complex and ever-changing constructions suggest impermanence, evolution, and what Dylan Thomas called ‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower’: the organic energy that drives everything that is.
Garry Fabian Miller has always been fascinated by light. His earliest series Sections of England: The Sea Horizon captures beautifully the passing of time, the changing weather reflected and transformed by the sea’s surface, the constant of the horizon. Despite changing conditions, the cycle of sunrise and sunset over the ocean remains in harmonious and impersonal balance. Fabian Miller has since explored a wide range of forces: the ebb and flow of the tides in Thoughts of a Night Sea, the corresponding waxing and waning of the moon in Year One, the life-giving power of the sun and the destructive potential of the earth, seen in Exposures. Everything that lives is constantly changing and evolving, each day the sum of all the days before, as seen in his plant series with the earliest example here The Greening and the most recent Last. The Tiltyard, Gingko, Dartington.
There is also a reminder that we can influence this process, that by looking towards the light whilst acknowledging that it cannot exist without the dark, we can create our own reality: opposing forces creating a dynamic equilibrium, with a pulsing energy that exists as a constant between the two poles. The monumental Beckoning I and II recast the perspective of our interaction, placing us before something larger and more mysterious, a window onto a transcendent reality.
Katia Liebmann brings us closer to daily life, capturing the experience of passage, the view beyond changing as we remain still, yet not unchanged. In her Winter/Journey series familiar landscapes and buildings appear as blue-tinged metaphors for memory. Transient perceptions are at once universal and unique, a conduit to the fleeting potential that exists between origin and destination, between one state and another – all the more difficult to grasp in the pace of our modern existence.
The work of Pascal Kern brings a unity of purpose and value. He would often regenerate and repurpose objects that might otherwise be cast aside or overlooked. He was concerned with a sense of both history and modernity, questioning the value of craft and process, art and industry. Using found or natural forms, he elevated the everyday to an almost iconic status; fascinated with the space created and occupied by the subject, and the purity of its form. Taking the role of artist as storyteller, he revealed the beauty and significance of process; the art of fiction as it became fact. He explored the relationships between volume and surface, fullness and emptiness, mass and colour, depth and contour, as seen here in Sculpture Triptych, Avatars and Sculpture Diptych. Thoroughly grounded in industry and culture, Kern also used and explored processes and cycles from nature. He grew his own pumpkins and squash, photographing them, taking a cast of each side, then filling the cast with pigment and allowing it to evaporate. The 'rings' left behind give a sense of history as with the rings of a tree, and the final presentation as in Nature, Triptych questions the values and weight ascribed to art subjects and objects and the evolving perspective of context and history.
All of the works in the exhibition have a powerful physical presence. The tangential effect of an element of photography grounds us with a sense of reality and truth; that somewhere in the world this object before us has been recorded as fact. Each act of modifying this reality transports us further away, challenging that truth, questioning that reality. Expressed in many different forms, the contradictions of fragile power and fleeting endurance – the unity of all opposites - are manifested in tangible, lasting objects. Each piece is imbued with a sense of infinite possibility, offering a myriad of interpretation, meaning and experience. The substance of each object is a testament to the permanent, changing and deeply human state of flux in which we all live.
Text by Kate Stevens and Nigel Warburton