Seán O Sullivan is a writer and curator whose work focuses on the politics and preservation of localities. He has curated projects and written critical texts dealing with community, ecology and the bonds between people and places. He holds an MA and a BA in Visual Arts Practices from IADT, Dún Laoghaire. He is a former chair of Black Church Print Studio, Dublin. He is Visual Arts Adviser to the Arts Council of Ireland / An Comhairle Ealaíon.
This page: A catalogue essay on ‘Tenuous Monument’ by Barbara Knezevic, which was written for Plastic Art at RUA RED, Dublin.
18th Aug –13th Oct 2012
I have recently seen an object. It is a monument, or speaking more loosely it is the makings of a monument, a promising infant of permanence. This object bears many hallmarks of the human hand: straight lines, sharp corners and a tidy geometric vertex, all things alien to nature. It is principally formed by emptiness, not necessarily hollowed out, but substantively unencumbered by its material. Or, it is filled with enough air to topple from its pedestal at the whim of a breeze. This particular monument rests on a thick slab of silicon, the type normally used for packing and moulding, which is slid under the infant-cuboid to hold it in place while travelling.
Monuments follow structured systems of production before being cast into form by a finalising metal. Their reliance on such systems is the cause of their great lifespan, which can barely succumb to the vagaries of the natural world. There are bulky tools and mould that warp its deformations into refinement, and a waxy filling that is deputised to the true object, poured to meet a monumental form but only holding a stopgap constitution. Silicon typically bears the impression of the thing it is not; it is a maker of monuments, a testament to a further testament.
Barbara Knezevic’s work refers to systems of usage. She presents us with a material, a form that is partly processed, but whose artificiality somehow wears a mask of the elements. This material is set out bluntly, standing alone and silent. If Knezevic’s object is a stone, she has it perform its most stony function with the barest use of resources. If it is a block, then it becomes the maxim of a block in my memory. Whatever the material, her monument seems more itself than it would have done without intervention and without artificiality. The effect is no mere economy of use; it is both an artifice and a lightening.
The modern monument can be easily identified, perhaps it is a cuboid riding a slab and presented in public view. In the past, an ancestor would have occupied its domain, a statue of some beloved hero exorcised to grip the baton of living once more. This new thing retains the dialectics of that old statue, which is to say that it is the same object as it parent, except as a geometric shape rather than a bronze rendition of some absent stallion. Its language has a profound endurance, surviving in our comprehension of any big placid entity in open space, and prematurely ageing the modern device by testifying to the grand rank of past forms.
And for Knezevic, the monument might as well be shorn of its historical solubility and vivification of the future. That the stoic looking thing has carried an echo of permanence with it is a valued coincidence. She can repurpose the echo into a new semiotic system if the materials oblige, and we see just such a system in place, propped up in concrete, seeming fully archaic. Unlike an old monument, the new infant refrains from an outright reflection of the past. We see the most serially existing historical object, muffled by the switch from stone to wax. Ironically, although the well of memory is absent from Knezevic’s objects, it is that very absence which endures in memory. The old thing is simply there, refashioned and re-systematised – a new wall built from old bricks.
This new monument could be the authentic object: the unquestionable fixture, newly shorn of its memories. It could be a famous object made unreligious, affixing no cautionary tale to our consciousness. We should presume that it is the silent object, or is at least reluctant to grasp the pen of historiography. Knezevic has some hidden knowledge about objective form, which will go untestified. She holds a mirror up to the monument and then tells us about the mirror.