LEAN TO

Lean To, solo exhbition, East London Gallery, University of East London, 14 – 25 February 2000.

Works

My Heart Your Sleeve, 2000, badges, cards, table, cloth

Someone Special, 2000, polaroid

Susan’s Room, 2000, sign, found doors

Take Me Away, 2000, spikes, paper, permanent marker, endorsing ink

Mobile, 2000, shoes, hanger, lights

Wait (walk / Don’t Walk), 2000, foamboard, astroturf

Wall, 2000, paper, coins

Lean To, FCHKUK, and Elements of Drawing Blind were all two week projects approached as short-term residencies, that took place between 2000 and 2001, the former presented as solo exhibitions, the latter a group show  While Lean To and FCHKUK resulted in installations that explored the very notion of residency as ‘home’ (both hosts, the East London gallery and Stuff, an artist-run space in Bethnal Green, now coincidentally defunct), Elements of Drawing Blind responded performatively to an invitation to participate in a drawing residency in the West London-based artist-run Central Space.

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On the steps outside the building, chalk outlines denote the passing of a body – the artist at work  faking a death.Double-doors lead to double-doors plastered with ‘SPSL’ stickers, a territorial gesture, an exercise in public relations, or quality assurance. Beyond, a bowlful of badges and chocolate hearts offer to placate, a placebo as greeting with instructions (a request) on their consumption and dissemination: “Tell Me Where You Go With My He/art…” A curtain of paper strips, weighted with pennies, creates a foyer-like area. On another wall, a bright orange box warns, ‘beware of the dog.’[1] A mediatory site of correspondence and exchange, the milk/letter box is emblematic of a nostalgic landscape of sub/urban living, couched in ‘trust,’ while the warning suggests a mistrustful present, where ‘home’ is a territory to be defended, and ‘the community’ both subject and object of surveillance. Adorned by a surplus of dysfunctional locks and handles, a doormat, and a string of fairy-lights glowing outside and in, audiences and trespassers will be welcome, or bitten.[2] Two milk bottles contain, respectively, sea salt, and a boat: a milky waterway evaporated, a red envelope-note in the empties – a ‘Lucky Money’ vessel bearing wishes for good fortune and prosperity in the New Year, stranded. A little green man, a cartoon-ish alien, waves from inside the door, before a familiar image of the earth seen from outer space, suspended in blackness; a mirror inside the lid aligns viewer and alien within the same frame as temporary visitor, voyeur, tourist, or potential intruder.

The false wall reveals dilapidated doors leaning against the far wall, unhinged and unlocked, entry and exit points to undisclosed spaces. A business-like plaque designates informal ownership of a place – ‘Susan’s Room’ – whose parameters are unclear, and inhabitant absent. A polaroid shows a pendant in the palm of a hand, ‘Someone Special’: bought second-hand, a sometime a mass-produced declaration of affection, uniqueness, and difference has been withdrawn, or a self-bestowed moniker relinquished, or acquired.

Specialness as a soporific soothes, anaesthetizes my sense of justice… Now i [sic] am not only given the permission to open up and talk, i am also encouraged to express my difference. My audience expects and demands it; otherwise people would feel as if they have been cheated…[3]

On the floor lies a carpet or bed of six-inch spikes, of the kind found in restaurants and bars, a reference to the trade that brought the majority of Hong Kong Chinese immigrants to Britain in the last century. Each bears a sail-like paper bill, a miniature fleet heeding those who came before (meal tickets for dreams of meal tickets?) and cautioning those coming after, in search of exotic escapes, or escapes from the exotic. Each bill bears multiple signatures, fake chops and kite-marks, all false-verified versions of ‘SPSL.’ Another wall carries three abstract life-sized figures cut from artificial grass, frozen strides heading left and right, towards and away from an ‘exit.’ In the centre of the room, bulbs blink about a cluster of ill-matched shoes and boots suspended from the ceiling; a lantern of sorts, illuminating journeys past and future, or a mobile, going nowhere.


[1] Space 1999 (1999) was originally commissioned by inIVA (the institute for International Visual Arts) for the exhibition ‘Cities on the Move’ at the Hayward Gallery, curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Hou Hanru. Mediating a collaboration with artist Tsuyoshi Osawa, curator of the miniature so-called ‘Nasubi Gallery’ which takes its form from the once-common Japanese milk-box, the self-appointed ‘Smallest Gallery in the World’ was first launched in 1993 as a parody and protest against the prevailing commercial gallery system. inIVA invited nine artists to make work for the collection of portable exhibition spaces, which were then installed by Osawa in the interstitial spaces of ‘Cities:’ exhibitions within an exhibition, within an exhibition. Space 1999 was recently included in Osawa’s collection of new Nasubi galleries in ‘Osawa Tsuyoshi: Answer with Yes and No!’ Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, 24 August – 5 December 2004.

[2] Possibly by a gallery attendant; in the context of ‘Cities,’ the Hayward’s lower galleries were crammed with banks of monitors nudging objects and installations with degrees of intended interactivity not always clear to the invigilators, let alone to audiences. Erring unsurprisingly on the side of caution, the presence of guards dotted about the overall monumental exotic spectacle of ‘Cities’ detracted inevitably from the notions of spontaneity and autonomy intrinsic to Osawa’s conceptualisation of the Nasubi galleries.

[3] Trinh T. Minh-ha’s essay, ‘Difference: “A Special Third World Issue”,’ in Trinh, Woman Native Other (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1989), pp.79-116.

 

The above text is extracted from the chapter, ‘Back Words’, in ‘A – Y’ (2004).