New Works by Manfred Werder, Ben Owen and Patrick Farmer
Exhibited at the Gallery at Arts at The Old Fire Station in Oxford from the 28th February – 21st March, 2012
The new show at the Arts at the Old Fire Station Gallery in Oxford epitomises the phrase ‘less is more’. Ethereal, the three works displayed at one end of the gallery, each by a different artist, alight on the edges of the space. Whilst succinct in themselves, the works face one another like a group in conversation, their discussion echoing into the vaulted, empty central space of the room. Standing in this void, one feels like the fourth voice entering into their repartee. At the opposite side of the gallery is a simple wooden reading table and a chair, complete with relevant texts for the visitor to peruse. The whole room signals that attention, study and time is required. It is, unsurprisingly, very quiet. In fact, the limited number of works may well be a relief to the viewer due to their combined great ‘potentiality for thought’.1
Whilst the works exist very lightly within the space, they draw attention to it as a whole. It is the notion of the ‘whole’ that is central to the thought behind the exhibition. The works resist being comprehended as isolated objects, both physically and conceptually. Centrally placed on the far gallery wall, Mansfred Werder’s text score, ‘Mansfred Werder 20121’, is printed on tracing paper, both casting a shadow on and framing the texture of the surface behind it, signalling its porosity to the world around it. A ‘found text’, the words read ‘the physics of ideation’. This phrase highlights the process by which ideas or creative acts are generated within the context of a physical world, a problematic that is continually visited by Werder’s practice. His series of text scores can be read as standalone texts, as poetry – whether found or original – or they can be performed. This performance can and has been enacted in a variety of different styles and in different settings depending on interpretation. Sat between the works of Ben Owen and Patrick Farmer, the work takes on this habitual role as both mediator between mediums and catalyst for creative action or thought. The phrase itself, and its presentation, centres the collaborative effort between all three works in the exhibition to examine the relationship between the material and the immaterial, object and thought and the ‘[creation] of a space in which to be receptive’.2
In Issue 3 of Wolf Notes, a journal published by Compost and Height alongside the exhibition, musician and composer Julia Eckhardt describes this receptive space as a void or the ‘gap’ that is created in listening, which ‘we actively fill in, as a creative act with our inspiration’.2 The minimality of the curation appears to provide this gap. This process of creative interpretation by the viewer reflects the exhibitions own consideration of the porosity between subjective self and the external world; separate and yet defined by one another.
This blurred relationship between mind and matter is explored in David R J Stent’s text, *The Marker*, which also appears in Issue 3 of Wolf Notes. Within the text, two objects that sit both inside and outside of human intention are examined: the stone sculpture of a human torso in the setting of a museum, dilapidated by time and neglect, and a forgotten bag of concrete that has accidentally been set into an interesting form by the forces of nature. Both objects are identified as the same ‘marker’. Through ‘marking’ them, the text explores whether the marker is the ‘accompaniment, even an assistant, to your emerging thoughts about it’ or ‘[shaping] your thoughts before you have them?’ 1 ‘Untitled paper #2 (for MW)’ by Ben Owen emulates the role of the marker in its completeness with and without human interaction. Left untouched, a small speaker hums on the ground below, almost inaudibly projecting the sounds of the building from a microphone attached to a wall behind a piece of textured paper. However, should the viewer give into the desire to touch the surface of the paper, as does the narrator examining the sculpted torso in *The Marker*, the sound of fingers running across the surface of the paper will temporarily overwhelm the low hum of ambient noise.
In contrast the text work by Patrick Farmer positioned opposite turns this interaction on its head. The text is constantly broken up, dispersed and interrupted, like a train of thought in a busy street. Any sense of a self or a distinct voice is lost in the crowd. The gaps between words and letters imply a space filled with everything else. Specific words are repeated with significance: the ‘i’, always written in lower case, followed by ‘nothing, other, else, everything, negation’3 ;a fractured monologue of being. In the last panel Farmer’s text sums up Werder’s assertion that ‘there is no outside the field’4:
s everything th
ing is born of every
t hing everything is th
The use of the world ‘field’ appears to reference the phenomenological field; the conception of human existence within a spatial and temporal realm. The subject locates themselves within this field through the practice of perception. In contrast, Werder states:
‘Personally I prefer not having the human subject privileged in its relation to the world.
A spider is integrating parts of my body in its cobweb.’4
This move away from the phenomenological understanding of space that identifies the material world as ‘isolated objects to be perceived’ to a ‘place where all is permanently drifting in its own right’ allows the self to be singular whilst always incorporated into the multifaceted ‘operating of all reality that is’.5 The surface of things, which are brought to the fore by each of the works in the gallery – the walls, the floor, the texture of paper – are transparent, like the tracing paper Werder’s text score is printed on: ‘both utterly closed and open’5. Despite his eschewing of phenomenology, this idea seems related to the phenomenologist Merleau Ponty’s later concept of the self as a ‘torn being’ existing within a ‘universal promiscuity of being’6. The act of viewing the exhibition becomes the reality of this idea, blurring the boundaries and connections between things, words, sounds and thoughts, in which it is hard to not be overwhelmed by the ‘abundance’7 of existence.
Exhibiting at Arts at The Old Fire Station
February 29th – March 21st 2012
This exhibition is part of Audiograft, an annual festival organised by the Sonic Art Research Unit at Oxford Brookes University
1. David R J Stent, * The Marker *, Wolf Notes, Issue 3, Compost and Height, February 2012
2. Julia Eckhardt, Collaborating Forever, Auto Interview, Wolf Notes, Issue 3 Compost and Height, February 2012
3. Patrick Farmer
4. Manfred Werder, The Field, August 2011
5. Manfred Werder, Polyprojec: Poetry as Score, Wolf Notes, Issue 3, Compost and Height, February 2012
6. Merleau Ponty, referenced by Alex Potts, The Sculptural Imagination, Yale University press, 2009
7. Will Montgomery, Five Ways of Looking at Manfred Werder, Wolf Notes, Issue 3, Compost and Height, February 2012