An open-ended enquiry - in/elegant formalism

My practice investigates issues of materiality and form as part of an ongoing enquiry into contemporary aesthetic processes. Recent work seeks to negotiate a position between formalism and opposing conceptual approaches, arising from the ongoing discourse around materiality in art. By its nature, my work encourages a dialogue between objects, content and viewer and so raises issues for which minimalist art was criticized, including a tendency towards theatricality and literalism. (1) However, I also identify with a trend in certain early conceptual art practices in which material form retained equality with idea and process. (2)

A collaged painting aesthetic underlies my working method of using randomly found materials sourced in the urban space, which are then arranged and displayed as a foraged historical legacy. A tension is created between these degraded forms and their reflected aesthetic qualities. The content is not fixed, yet it is consciously ordered, hinting at an underlying instability and anxiety of process. A degraded transcendence may result.  

A poetic juxtaposition of found objects recalls unresolved issues thrown up by Dada and Arte Povera, both of which demonstrated hybrid approaches and a reactionary theatricality. Art that turns to the ordinary is symptomatic of a desire to address things in the world. However, the formalist approach is inevitably art-historical, the working method is archival (albeit anarchic), and the issue of exhibitionality and display is made explicit.

Contemporary experience is rife with a baroque-like excess of style to which art has reacted by behaving demurely. It has done this through various dematerialized and relational practices, which have sought to create a positive impoverished aesthetic. (3) A degraded transcendence may be a means to approach this, through a deliberately inelegant aesthetic that actively recycles forms while reflecting on their formalist qualities. An aestheticisation of ordinary found materials permits a reverse experiment by using these materials in a deconstruction of the formalist vocabulary.




(1) Michael Fried criticised a literalism and tendency towards theatricality in certain minimalist art, and sought to defend art from what he termed an objecthood and a failure to address quality and medium. (Art and Objecthood, Artforum V, 1, 1967) His proposition can be broadly seen to favour formalist art, which for him had greater ‘presentness’. In turn, formalism and related high-modernist practices created a strong reaction to materiality in art, leading to a range of conceptual non-object based art on the one hand and varied post-minimalist practices on the other.

(2) Michael Newman recalls a trend in conceptual practice which he sees as freeing materiality from an objecthood that had become, by the 1970’s, aesthetically and politically compromised. (‘Beyond Preconceptions: The Sixties Experiment’, Independent Curators International, New York, 2001)  Examples of practices in which the use of materials and objects retained equality with concept, were found outside the mainstream, mainly in Eastern Europe and South America.

(3) For example, see Welsch, Wolfgang “Undoing Aesthetics” (A. Inkpin, trans), London, Sage Publications 1997.