Artspace 25 : Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining, edited by Caterina Riva, with texts by Tobias Berger, Chris Kraus and others, (Artspace Auckland, 2012), 160 pp., $ 40.
Art books are a mystery. Art itself is mysterious, not just because it is often better understood in retrospect but more because in order to be art, art must fail. Boris Groys pointed out that if the surrealists’ automatic writing had resulted in a psychological improvement for the artist, it would have been an interesting byproduct of the work. But if it was intended to heal the psyche of the artist and succeeded, it wouldn’t have been art, it would have been psychoanalysis. It is not so much that art fails, but that the criteria for success are absent. Artspace 25: Every Cloud Has A Silver Lining, is an art book. As a rule, art books don’t have a text that you read from cover to cover and they often have images that seem unrelated to the text. They obey design principles, but their readers have often not studied design. It can be seen that art books have an aesthetic that they adhere to, but what that is that aesthetic and how is it arrived at? What are the rules? What are the criteria for success in a book like this? How do we understand them, or find a way into them? I spoke to the three people who had had most to do with the construction of Artspace 25: Every Cloud Has A Silver Lining.
Caterina Riva is the director and curator of Artspace, a non-collecting, non-commercial organization for contemporary art in New Zealand Aotearoa. Caterina was the main decision maker for the content of the book, and also author of the text on the cover. For Caterina, an important aspect for this publication was that it was not an endpoint: ‘Artspace 25 is not an encapsulation of 25 years in a handy package and that is the end of that. It is a subjective take on the research that I carried out with the then Artspace intern Arron Santry in the archives. It is not just what we decided to show or make available, but also an attempt to let the Artspace organization speak for itself, rather than privileging mine or Arron’s, or anyone else’s voice.’
The exhibition, Every Cloud has a Silver Lining, which opened on the 16th March 2012, and ran to 5th April that year, came about because the 25th anniversary of the forming of Artspace was coming up, and it was felt that it would be good to have a show for the occasion. The Artspace archive was duly searched, and Blaine Western and Henry Babbage were asked to come up with a structure to make the information available for viewing. This structure recreated the three buildings that had housed Artspace since its inception: Federal Street, Britomart Area One, and Karangahape Road where Artspace is today. The structures allowed for an almost playful interaction with the archive information, and an added temporal context because not only the texts relevant to Artspace could be seen, but the adverts and articles on the back of the texts could be read as well. The book came out of this exhibition.
Included in the book are conversations that happened during the public programme between members of Artspace’s extended family including: Lara Bowen, Mary-Louise Browne, Marie Shannon, Wystan Curnow, William Somerville, Judy Darragh, Daniel Malone, Sandi Morrison and Caterina Riva. The parts of the book that include these conversations, which are scattered throughout, tend toward transcript rather than being heavily edited, in order to give their voice to the printed form. The essay How To Be, provided by Amita Kirpalani, is a more structured form, but also a more open invitation to someone outside the previous international directors of Artspace. It captures the spirit of what Artspace does with a touch of irony. Alterations, Tobias Berger, Brian D. Butler and Chris Kraus provide other texts in the book.
These components are more about the process of Artspace than the output, and give a flavour of how Artspace has worked over the time of its existence. Caterina didn’t see the publication as about the past, so much as a tool to think about the future; a tool not only for herself, but also for anyone that picked it up. It was also a way for people to have a better sense of how Artspace came about and what it meant through the years: ‘I think there are a lot of assumptions about Artspace that are not necessarily true. I think there is a consensus that it was an artist run space that turned into an institution, but from the very beginning it was a quite structured group of people that knew how to find money, and knew how to get cheap rent, and that’s the kind of opportunity people talk about. Maybe that’s why also it has survived for all these years — because it kind of goes beyond the people that give it a soul, but has this structure in place that allows it to move through different social, economic, cultural times.’
Kelvin Soh is the director of DDMMYY, a design company he formed in 2011. For Kelvin, every work is a collaboration, which is why he doesn’t distinguish from his design and art practice. ‘Art is a conversation, and this project (the making of Artspace 25: Every Cloud Has A Silver Lining) is the same.’ Kelvin approaches projects with a lot of specificity, in much the same way a site-specific artist might approach their work, explaining, ‘The unique parameters of the project, the historicity, the context, finding something interesting that hasn’t been thought of before. The content is considered first and then a design language that fits the content can be extrapolated from that.’
The design language chosen for this book is that of the magazine. 25 years is a lot of content to include in a publication. With the Artspace archive, they were trying to include a part of the history of Artspace that hasn’t been that visible. They were trying to go deeper with the content than recent memory. Celebrating 25 years, and not doing something completely comprehensive, will always leave something out. The reason the magazine format was chosen was because it is trying to set in motion an impossibility, which is to summarize 25 years. Being a periodical, it exists as a sliver in time, so it is a moment in time, trying to remember another time. In one way it is incredibly efficient and in another it is fundamentally flawed. The periodical format alludes to time, but also to subjectivity. It is an acknowledgement of the present as a context of this work. If this book was not so subjective, and was much more comprehensive, I probably wouldn’t have gone for that conceptual approach. I would have gone at it with a much more documentary approach really giving presence to an archive.’
Ironically, Kelvin had considered the possibility that things would be left out of the book during its design phase. There are empty framed shapes in the book, which when first encountered might be considered mistakes. One asks oneself on encountering them, did something drop out in the printing? Was this space meant to be blank? But the whole point of the empty shapes is that something is missing: ‘In some ways the empty spaces are a nod to conceptual practices where the artist tries to bracket silence, but in this case we are bracketing gaps or absence. The reader can enjoy these empty spaces or fill them with something they feel should have been included in the publication.’
Arron Santry was the archive assistant for Artspace at the time of the Every Cloud has a Silver Liningexhibition in 2012, and second major decision maker for the content of the book. He saw his role as mainly supporting Caterina and Kelvin in the selection of material. Arron felt the most inspired editorial choice in the book was the parallel history of Artspace and Portikus, which came from the Wellington group Alterations. The two institutions, one in Germany and the other in Auckland have a shared formational history in different contexts, and this text maintains an international perspective.
Artspace 25: Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining, is a book in magazine format, printed on matt paper and exactly A4 in size. The choice of matt paper conforms with the quality of the clippings, and invites to art shows replicated inside. It is meant to be dipped into like a magazine rather than read from cover to cover like a book. It is not a finished or conclusive product. There could be many more Artspace 25’s, or no more, and both would be fine. It is not an historical project that needs to be finished, but more of a cornucopia of some of the delights from Artspaces’ 25-year history. Being flawed or unfinished is a mark of success in art, one could argue. Intended to be a record of what has occurred within experimental art spaces, this anthology records gaps between aesthetic ‘objects’ and the theories of aesthetic ‘objects’ in order to demonstrate fruitful tensions and useful areas for further exploration. Just as its title promises, this publication offers fascinating evidence of the more experimental, the more successful, in a win-win situation.
AINDRIU MACFEHIN is a PhD Candidate at Elam School of Fine Arts in Auckland.