CHRIS FREMANTLE

What art have I seen? Jimmie Durham

Posted in Exhibitions by chrisfremantle on June 18, 2014

An older man with shoulder length grey hair wearing a bad suit sits behind a battered office desk. Someone appears from off screen left and puts a watch on the desk in front of him. The man picks up the stone on the desk and hits the watch repeatedly until it breaks. At one point he shifts his grip from one handed to two handed enabling him to hit the watch more accurately. When the mangled watch eventually spins off the desk he reaches down, opens the drawer of the desk and pulls out a stamp pad and date stamp. He then pulls out a pad of paper. He date stamps the paper, pulls a pen out of his pocket, signs the paper and hands it to the person who put the watch on the table in the first place. They have been standing looking into the corner of the room (as if instructed so that their photo can be taken by a security system. They didn’t watch their watch being destroyed). They leave. Meanwhile the man behind the desk rapidly puts the pen back in his pocket and the stamp pad and date stamp away in the drawer. He assumes his former position. Another person steps forward, this time with a dust buster. It’s hard to break a dustbuster with a stone, but the procedure is repeated. The dustbuster is beaten with the stone until it spins of the desk. The stamped and signed paper is handed over. Slowly the area surrounding the official becomes littered with the remains of things brought to him for processing.

Jimmie Durham’s Traces and Shiny Evidence, currently at the Parasol Unit, is one of the most powerful groups of work you’re likely to see. The video work described above is entitled Smashing and was made in 2004.

The whole ground floor is an installation that, for me, answers the question, what would be the form of a contemporary ‘political garden’? Gardening can be a political act. It has been in the case of other artists such as Ian Hamilton Finlay, and was for some in the pre-American and French revolutionary period. This garden (albeit actually an installation in a gallery with no living things included) takes its cue, according to Durham, from an observation by the writer and philosopher Walter Benjamin, “that the rainbow colours in a thin film of oil on a puddle of rainwater are the best sign of modern times.”

Plastic pipes in bright colours span the room connecting oil barrels which have been gone through a ‘respray’ process with that particular sort of paint used on cars modified by boy racers that changes colour depending on where you are standing. Thick puddles of automotive paint spill out of the barrels and puddle on the ground. Other parts of cars (bonnets from Renaults, boot lids from Audis) lie scattered around. Skeletons of animals and birds are trapped in the spilt paint, or lie in corners having been repainted in rainbow colours.

You could accuse Jimmie Durham of being didactic. You’d be hard pressed to interpret these works as anything other than an indictment of our fossil fuel and consumer culture.

The third work that makes up the exhibition is much more ephemeral and strangely beautiful. Large sheets of white paper cover the upper gallery walls. They are loosely patterned with charcoal ‘drawings.’ These have an extraordinary three dimensionality and character. You can make out everything from small mice to large bears, all curiously beautiful and at once precise. If you watch the ‘film of the show’ in the foyer, you realise these have been made by taking children’s soft toys, shaking them in a bag of charcoal dust, and them throwing them at the paper. In the context of the other works, these shadows take on a resonance with the shadows left on walls after the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

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