‘Man’s Vistas’, David Bellingham, artist’s book, 2010
What appeals to me about this work, and much of the artist’s other work, is that the interest is released from what already exists in the object itself. In this instance, Bellingham has rearranged and adjusted small details of the familiar matchbox, and a new, but related, aspect opens up. Here, with his own patient and studied process, Bellingham invokes the reflective rigmarole of smoking. In my reverie about the piece, this is at first an invocation of the pipe smoker.
The matches having served their function, the smoker reclines and looks out upon the world and wonders: now through a cloud of Burley, now through a moment of clarity, now through a cloud of Burley, now through a moment of clarity. Like the processes of art making, smoking as a craft practice induces poetic reverie, and might be only slightly more deleterious.
One could get all puffed about this and wax on about a Heideggerean unconcealing of that which is always already there. The ‘Man’s’ is there in the ‘Swan’; the ‘vistas’ is there in the ‘vestas’; and the smoker’s reverie is already there somehow in the paraphernalia of the habit. Notwithstanding Bellingham’s consistent seriousness of intent, and his expansive range of references, there’s something in the humour of this work and others which resists that kind of knowing overlay.
With this artist, commendably, the philosophical underpinning is never worn on the sleeve to upstage the reefer. In true Bellingham style, only that much is done which is required to be done: there is no indulgent artistness foisted upon the readymade which might overburden that which is unconcealed. Now, a connection springs to mind between Bellingham’s working method and the way in which Frank Stella used to produce paintings. Remember those Stellas which displayed an aesthetic determined by the physical properties of the painting as object? The depth of the wood on the canvas stretcher, for example, dictated the patterns of the painting. That which can be revealed on the canvas is already there, held within the material of the work. That which Swan and Vestas can reveal is already there in the properties of the words and their lettering.
The hermetic nature of Stella’s making is methodologically somewhat the same. The work is born of itself. To know about that connection to an established precedent is to enjoy even more the vista which Bellingham reveals by similar but different means. For, far from resting our attention on the internal properties of the thing by way of a mechanical intervention, Bellingham’s meticulous play with the object selected sends us through the thing to a poetic arena on the other side. As the props and processes of the smoker, metonymised as they are by the famous matchbox, metamorphose into a heady contemplation beyond mere props and processes, Man’s Vistas transfigures itself into a reflection of the deeper, and more interesting, aspects of its common usage. Inasmuch, this artist and the everyday make always an illuminating match