Babak Ghazi, Lifework / Gareth Jones, Untitled Structure, Raven Row, London 24 May to 15 July 2012, review by Rebecca Newell
Where a work of art begins and ends becomes the perplexing focus of the current double exhibition at Raven Row. The truth and framework of artistic endeavour – the very conception borne of that formulation of the artist-cum-explorer in the solitary studio – is considered here in parallel with the life of the individual. Babak Ghazi and Gareth Jones unite material output with the very living of their lives. In each case we are confronted: this is an ongoing project; a life’s work; a preoccupation.
The quiet, mounting accumulation of Ghazi’s Lifework stridently rejects the very notion of a finished artwork. Museum issue racking filled with archive boxes and spring-arch files fill a suite of galleries on the upper floor. ‘Madonna Cuttings’ one box reads, ‘Life’ another: magazines, cuttings and images have been dissected and classified meticulously. The visitor-cum-researcher is encouraged with didactic signage to rifle through the boxes, and a helpful alphabetical system makes it easy: feeling my way through the multiple ‘Andy Warhol’ files and then ‘Animal Portraits’; and ‘Raymond Radiguet’, then ‘Reading Poses’, then ‘Rear Poses’ was both funny and satisfyingly sensical. The ‘General Idea File’ made me laugh out loud.
But this is not a ridiculous cacophony of alliterative terms. The Raven Row space, with its cool white, smooth tiled floors and original eighteenth century features, accords approvingly; ‘quiet please’, this is a place of learning. Unlabelled grey boxes form book ends to Ghazi’s display and remind us on entrance and exit that this is both a circular experience and an unfinished idea that is both simple and expansive. Lifework is a diary, a confession, an insight, a system of classification, a musty museum archive, a Cartesian taxonomy, a cataloguing of the public trust that we put in our cultural institutions. But it is also a fine act, a performance, a contrival, a fiction. Ghazi presents a set of moments that are at once real and artificial, rationalised and falsified.
The archiving of pursuit continues in Jones’ Untitled Structure. The work is accompanied by a double-sided poster that gives us precise dating for each part; what is clear is that the process of gathering, developing, making has taken a while – a quarter of a century in fact. A beautiful twisted pile of paper shreds, gin bottles, small, unidentifiable wooden constructions, white expandable foam, mirrored plates, geometric shapes, six shoes tied together, a box of packaging labelled ‘FRAGILE’, a neat pile of denim jeans with a neon bar are placed quietly – beautifully – in the gallery space. Shoes and socks figure often; perhaps they allude most succinctly to that line between art and life which is so carefully treaded here.
Scattered over the entirety of the lower floor galleries, these diverse pieces form a sparse narrative and clusters of apparent meaning. Objects hang together in various conjugations of material gesture; the relationships between the objects form invisible gridlines for the visitor to step around and hop over. It acts on us like a little city; in part a survey of twenty-five years of work, in part looking forward to new journeys of discovery in the contemporary urban environment. Untitled Structure is a study of Jones’ interiors of the past and of public spaces in the present. It is not funny or chaotic despite its use of socks and its playful bounty. In fact, Ghazi and Jones are good companions for their quiet, durational displays.
Ghazi and Jones communicate their work as open-ended artistic resources – we can dip into their art, or their lives, as one might dip into a reference library, in a casual or more sustained way. The structures they create comment on the very nature of artistic and museological display and consider the very criteria by which we define cultural classification or ascribe intellectual value. In turn, they question the nature of the artwork itself – its author, beginning and end – and reconfigure the role of the gallery visitor as a co-participant. Rearmed with our tactile limbs and sensory equipment, we can investigate the claims of both artists, and choose to believe or disbelieve in the gallery space.