Votive, CCA, Glasgow, December 5 2009 – January 30 2010.

Review first published in ‘MAP Magazine’, Issue 20, Spring 2010.

‘Bed Piece’, Chris Burden, 1972

Writer, academic and curator Sarah Lowndes has gathered a variety of subtly poetic artworks and arranged them as if according to the uncanny logic you might meet at the heart of a dream. Votive is an economical exploration of three central themes: the intrigue generated by those carefully fabricated things which have since time immemorial supported magical narratives; the awe that even secularists can register when close to the minds and manners of humans capable of extraordinary devotion; and the idea of ‘sculpture as event’ – matter fixed in the moment it is beheld but which inspires imagined episodes, post and ante.

A grainy black and white filmed recording of Chris Burden’s eerie ‘Bed Piece’, 1972, is a powerful mood-setter for the show. Burden, on public display in a Californian gallery, stayed in bed for 22 days, speaking to no-one. In one shot the camera hovers over Burden’s face; he’s sleeping, like a doomed convict. In another he seems to express a monkish contentedness and in yet another, he is seen from afar, his performance symbolically miniscule against the role of expansive nothingness played by the studio wall.

Burden’s asceticism lingers in mind in the space of Torsten Lauschmann’s ‘Dead Man’s Switch’, 2008. Projected onto the wall of what feels now like a darkened transept is a mesmerising window of colour. With something of the nostalgic richness of a Vermeer and the contemporary look of a Richter, the projected image shows a lit church candle on a kitchen table next to breakfast condiments. The zone of light is magnetic after Burden’s monochromism; but as pious beholding turns into viewing pleasure the gallery light comes on and the projection pales. The wick issues a wisp of smoke as trace of its extermination. A hand appears, relights the candle, and darkness conversely returns to real space. The dead man’s switch, that morbid safety feature which anticipates the demise of a human operative, and covers for it, appears to have been activated by us.

Into the nave – at each end Richard Wright and George Brecht present signature pieces. Thea Djordjadze and Abraham Cruzvillegas make offerings in between. In addition, two vitrines display actual votive objects selected by Lowndes from the Glasgow Museums’ World Cultures Collections. Some have been identified as components of funerary rituals, others remain now distant from original use, so the primed viewer begins to place them in sequences of events in an invented narrative.

Georgian artist Djordjadze’s surrealist works of materially contrasting artefacts – woven nomads’ rugs, smooth plaster, wooden supports – are quickly anthropomorphised by the conditioned mind; skin, cranium, skeleton, appear in place of the inanimate. The invoked transubstantiation parallels the scripted transformation to follow those acts of religious communion which are structured around symbolic objects as markers of faith.

Brecht’s ‘Chair Events’, 1960s, most clearly signal the role of sculpture-as-event, and by now one is attuned to speculate on the before and after-life of the chair the cane and the orange. Although the telegraphed surrealism doesn’t match Lauschmann’s poeticism or Djordjadze’s idiosyncratic invention, the peculiar tension between Brecht’s items-as-things-inthemselves and items-as-signs-of-actsunseen is worthy of contemplation.

Looking back from Brecht towards what is convincingly the apse, the delicately unnerving wall drawing of Wright comes into its own. Wave-like patterns in red gouache are spread up the height of the architecture and perpendicularly to that axis. The wall work is engagingly hard to account for: might this formation be cruciform, or is the aesthetic that of a cardiograph?

The eye is taken up and out of the main gallery space by the verticality of Wright’s composition. Indebted to the prompts and hints of the surrounding works our eye is trained through the skylight to the firmament. But as the apotheosis dawns, and our attention to the earthly prefigurings of other worlds is on the verge of some great reward, we meet the jagged geometry of the man-made metalwork above the roof of the CCA. This is no accident I think. From this observation, a return to Lauschmann’s haunting film is enacted. For if our commitment to Wright’s devotion to his craft moves us upwards but back down to earth, there is parallel thinking from Lauschmann: it is we who control the dead man’s switch by being alive and attentive, but when it does switch, on our demise, the divine light, which is of our worldly making, will snuff and join us in the tomb.