Daniel Laskarin at Deluge Contemporary Art

[written November 2009. Never published]

Like a film in which doomed youth try in vain to escape vengeful spirits only they can see, I have of late been menaced by my experience with Daniel Laskarin’s sculpture. Criticisms I’ve read of Alberto Giacometti’s work leap to mind too late to save me. Peter Schjeldahl, David Sylvester, and Jacques Dupin all detected a tie between object and observing eye as surrogate for the artist’s absented concentration. Enveloping the viewer in the largesse of an artwork’s undertaking, it is the promise of undecided form weighed against the threat of overall disintegration. Like the money that comes in dreams only to evaporate upon waking leaving somehow less than nothing, the plays of possibility that had appeared initially enter a vacuum as the work becomes obdurately, inevitably present. In the way that only dreams and artworks can steal back something never really owned, the viewer is suddenly indebted.

At the opening of Sticks and Stones, his recent show at Deluge Contemporary Art, I was with chair, one (2008), alone despite the crowd, feeling backed into a corner. The chair resembles the one occupied by the music teacher of Matisse’s The Piano Lesson (1916), both body and chair as skirted fetish, sternly listening. Blocks suggested by a cube emerging from the chair’s seat and the filled void beneath it are reminiscent of Bruce Nauman’s Cast of the Space Beneath My Chair (1965), in which a displaced mass speaks to the residue of an absentee author. Recall Gaston Bachelard’s book, The Poetics of Space, in which the accumulative nooks and crannies of domestic memory become the warrens of creativity’s accretion.

But Laskarin’s chair is not a residual artifact, it is an interactive device. The chair’s solidified voids respond to the viewer’s body through agencies of sheen and sound. When I saw the chair in Laskarin’s studio, he paused as we spoke across it, his voice taking on a rustling ring, “Hear that? It registers.”

The hollowness of the chair as both throne and bell supports the authority of its profile, a traffic cone defining the centre of an accident scene, expanding to become a cone of silence enclosing the room, an inquisitor’s cap dropping down around your ears, shutting you in against a ringing throng (thunderous something-not applause-surrounds…)

Back at the opening, I was thinking, this work makes me feels stupid. Plenty of things make you feel stupid in passive principle, but this work was doing it on purpose. On first take, it might be like a painting by Luc Tuymans, a shivery proposition cum preposition, not the thing one thinks but a construction of the mind, a revenant placeholder for lost politics, resilient as a complex. The person to whom this chair belongs has felt stupid (second take), the person for whom this chair has been made was persecuted as ignorant, (third take: tortured by education).

On the wall there are three pictures and then somehow more of a building wrapped up plus a monument with a golden statue on top (and yet, and, 2009). Blue-grey wrapping, grey sky and gold statue compose soft relief nestled in a grey niche. They present themselves sculpturally, if sculpture didn’t seem to always be moving; the impression is of the medium pointedly denied its dynamism.

You watch each picture for the plot but each is the same. Now you are wishing you had not constructed this line of thought, as obviously wrong-headed as it is when all of these images are readily irreconcilable (the pleasure of stereo being, for instance, not in reassembling two sounds into one, but in becoming two places musically). It becomes a taxing match game, double-checking for story and scale as the hypnotically bland beauty of each image demands estrangement from its doubles. A companion piece to Laskarin’s more demanding objects, the photographs compose a vanitas to both the travel snapshot and the public monument as two languages stranded on the wrong side of time. A digital-age moral lesson ensues, in which the pangs of multiplicity pay for the pleasures of spastic relativism.

Nearby a large, boxy object (like a postbox, or the filled cube/skirt of the chair) flattens a punch line beneath itself, evidence appearing in a comically still-there blob of plasticky resin, a throbbing, blood-red, thumbs-up (the trouble with longitude, 2009). You feel the freight hit its mark, but the sanguine exclamation doesn’t quite surrender its absurdity and become a full-blown joke. The box is really very smooth and rhetorical, and floats before ever it falls. The crimson curl is not crushed -a supine quotation mark or deferential comma- so that the impact of the statement (it falls) never settles (‘it falls’; it falls,) but rests…

Dupin writes, “The purposeful indefiniteness which readily isolates the objects and figures, expresses my separation from them, leaves them free, that is, in a position to choose among various possibilities.”

Like those phenomenological reads of Cezanne’s brushstrokes that assess each one as representing infinite choices, the posture of Dupin’s argument assumes that the counting doesn’t cost, configures a viewer who is not bound even as the work is made free.

In three separate works, a small figure-bust with head down -not to chest, but like a dog offering its concentration- broods. The most consequential-seeming of these is at the end of a plank counterweighted with books (considering the quotient, 2009). A uniform brown in concert with the wood, the books once belonged to artist’s father, and speak of schooling stacked up on a distant, dusty grade. The axis is a chunk of industrial flooring still surprised at itself, and below it all a pole negotiating a kind of tripod or jack rigged with improvised shims.

The handcraftedness and precariousness of everything but the little man make it look as if things are as they are for a reason. The books (mathematics and improbably, Macbeth) offer a column of causation we’ll never grip in one hand and saw off with another. Such is school. Plank and man form a kind of jumping-off point for a line of thought about texts that won’t be penetrated, places that can’t ever be reached, or retaken, from the memories that have yoked them to one gaze, when that gaze turned down and followed its feet, observing nothing, shoving whittlings of wood into the crevice between bed and wall, all this time spent alone with one’s words, working without talk.

Silence is what you can measure the spaces between the artworks in, a matte silence belying the striated, fractious destinations of your body. The effort to stake out silence is undertaken with seriousness by the duped photographs, by glassy planes rendered in CAD, by prosthetic antlers crisscrossing in several directions from a dandling hub, or a tiny bronze rocket and what resembles the dross of its casting. What do I mean by silence? It isn’t choosing not to speak in aid of asking something, offering consent or (as often happens in dialogue) indictment, but not offering to speak regardless because withdrawal is a finer expression of the gesture of instruction. The works would make us silent too, neither looking and asking nor looking and acknowledging, but watching and waiting, not expectant of a reply.

Midway above the stairwell down and out is a video monitor of the endless steps of an escalator, each stair rising up to fill the frame. The hovering plateau completes one wedge of dark and shimmering parallelogram of light before coughing up its double (there’s a slight lapse, things shudder along less sharply than expected of simulacra.) The drop from which you view the monitor is not rhetorical: the suspension of the loop in the confines of time-space read as tread/riser/riser/tread should be obvious to your arms and legs, but your brain has clasped itself around the theories of stairs. Everywhere else in the gallery you suspected it but now you know it in your bones: Laskarin’s work robs you of your place in this world, bulls you back into the season you just passed through, because, after all, it is an art in aid of an origin, and an eyewitness to the intellectual drift of its adventure.

For a static equivalent we could think of the drawings of Charles Sheeler who, like Giacometti, organized visual surveys whose signal motive was a massively tactile effort at disambiguation, electrifying with doubt whoever stands in the lighting rod rectus of the watcher’s shoes. Laskarin has expressed his admiration for critic Richard Shiff, who writes of doubt (and related experiences identified as prophecy, paranoia and projection) as ‘interference’ phenomena in the communication linking viewers and artworks.

In a recent exhibition at Vancouver’s Access with Toronto artist Jennifer Hutton, one of Laskarin’s works appeared adjacent to a Hutton text piece that read, “Things, not pictures,” echoing William Carlos Williams’, “no ideas but in things” the little sails of these italics blown by a breeze we’re all made to feel when we read,

“so much depends

upon

a red wheel

barrow

glazed with rain

water

beside the white

chickens

An earlier body of work by Laskarin, Agnostic Objects, borrowed from illustrations in 19th-century farming manuals, re-plotting horse-feeders and fleece-crates in a way that lent them the virtuous virtuality of minimal sculpture. Take Laskarin’s interest to be sincere, and apply the will to animate objects of utility intimately linked-as in Williams’ “variable foot,” both arch and plain- to his testing of the sensuous thresholds of cognitive dissonance. Like Williams, Laskarin builds knockdown plays of form propped up by oblique semantic gestures. Treacherous to the prejudices of the educated, commanding in their contingency, they read as operating manuals for anti-academics.

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