Locus Solus: Site, Identity, Technology in Contemporary Art, Julian Stallabrass et. al. (eds.), London: Black Dog Publishing, 2000.

Review first published, ‘Contemporary Visual Art’, Issue 31, November 2000.

In the preface, Jon Bewley and Simon Herbert ask themselves how it might be
possible to trace a ‘through-line’ connecting the multidisciplinary and diverse
pieces curated by Locus+ since 1993. Their Newcastle-based group has overseen
some thirty-six exhibitions and eighteem publications; it has produced Locus
Solus
to record an engaging and impressive cross-section of the projects
they have created over the last seven years, and also as a tentative apologia
for their own particular curatorial strategies. Locus Solus itself
contains an implicit through-line which can be seen to delineate, in a
meandering and at times imperceptible way, the philosophical turf of the Locus+
group.

Projects as varied as Pat Naldi and Wendy Kirkup’s synchronised Newcastle
city-centre walk (1993), Sutapa Biswas’s ‘importance of the sari’ performance in
Winnipeg (1995) and Stefan Gec’s reconstituted Russian submarines (1996) force
Bewley and Herbert to state that ‘any aggregate associations are seemingly
aribtrary’. Likewise, the diverse works and essays in the book present the
prefacers/editors with the same problem of reconstituting brittle definitions
into an editorial backbone.

Nonetheless, Locus Solus does offer a rationale for the hybrid
nature of the group’s curatorial projects, and a covert defence of what might be
classed ‘postmodern fracture’. In true resistance to binary classifications, we
are informed that Locus+ is neither an independent unit nor an institution. As a
‘group’ it exists to explore the parameters of the locus of contemporary
production, and its members deliberately afford themselves a concomitant
fluidity which operates in sympathy with the works they commission, curate and
generate. Andrew Grassie’s painting of the cluttered Locus+ office in Newcastle
makes this point visually apparent, appositely preceding and introducing the
definitive list of Locus+ intallations, performances and publications. No
axe-grinding hack or critical theory superguru is to be seen in this office
space, for a such a character could all too easily upstage the site of
production and facilitation. Locus Solus, then, shows the reader that notions of
hybridity, fracture and clutter are office rules which are to be carried into
the field.

In his chapter ‘Memories of Art Unseen’, Julian Stallabrass gives the reader
an undertsanding of the network of spaces employed by Locus+ projects. Since
1993, the works have been sited, not in capital cities, nor in in the lap of the
assimilating critic, but within a network of regional art scenes such as Derry,
Hull, Newcastle and Winnipeg. Stallabrass’s selected works – Gallacio’s Two
Sisters
, Hull, 1998; Philip Napier’s Sovereign, Vancouver/Belfast,
1995; and John Newling’s Skeleton, Newcastle, 1994 – all contribute to
the through-line of decentred practice, where curatorial presence is somehow
dispersed and disarmed. The hybridity of the selected works embodies the
fracture of any curatorial (dare I say) metanarrative, and the siting of the
works disallows a location-specific map of contemporary art. Again the painting
of the Locus+ office parallels this – there is no London A-Z on the shelf, but
instead a map of the British Isles on the wall. However, the decentred,
fractured and democratised curatorial strategy may have similar dangers to
London-centric contemporary art projects. As Stallabrass writes, a regional and
site-specific artwork does run the risk of becoming as exclusive as any capital
city project – being equally constrained access and temporal meaning. Yet the
eventual disappearance of works from their specific regional sites allows for
meaning and access to be distributed by different means: memory, rumour, text,
catalogue, postcard and so on – those aspects which comprise what Stallabrass
calls a work’s ‘after-life’.

The sculpture of Paul St George is discussed by David Musgrave with this
after-life in mind. St George copies monumental twentieth-century sculptures,
but makes them hand-size – what he classes as ‘minumental’. Serra’s
Tilted Arc, Whiteread’s Ghost  and Christo’s
Wrapped Reichstag  have all been treated to an after-life through this
modus operandi. Here it is the process of copying and resurrecting that
knits together or ‘through-lines’ the separate objects/projects. Similarly,
Locus+ presents, to use Musgrave’s phrase apropos St George, ‘a group of objects
inviting configuration by the viewer, replicated evidence in a case that remains
open’. With essys on Mark Wallinger (Paul Bonaventura), Stefan Gec (Andrew
Patrizio) and Cornelia Hesse-Honegger (Peter Suchin) amongst others, Locus
Solus
proves again and again that Locus+ has the cluttered after-life of
art well covered and intelligently mapped out.

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