Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Anthony McCall - Serpentine Gallery 2008

written by Tom Trevatt

On the moment of death, when, as Blanchot might say, one is hung between existence and non-existence by the merest of threads, will the crossing be perceptible? Will the transcendental moment, the cut between two forms of discourse, between that that is sayable and that that is absolutely un-sayable, one cannot speak of death, be marked by a sublime experience? The ‘white light at the end of the tunnel’ as the imperceptibly thin plane that is passed through, just a few protons thick, reduced to a point by our position within it. As a metaphor for avant-garde art practices that surpass the discursive limits of their own particularities, that cross the boundaries between, say, art and the rest of society, art and non-art, this is rather blunt, but let’s run with it. In his seminar at the Whitechapel last year Robert Linsley picked out G. Spencer Brown’s idea that “when the frame is noticed it is crossed”, and suggested that “with reference to art we can probably also observe the opposite, namely that to cross the frame is to render it visible”. His suggestion, that the very process of the crossing makes visible the boundary, and the imperative in Spencer Brown that one must cross the boundary once it is noticed come to act doubly on the discursive limits of art. Modernism is supposed to operate as such. A working through of its own presuppositions necessarily involves an investigation of its boundaries, as it is the boundary of the system that is the precise definition of it. This double movement, to notice the frame is to cross it, and to cross it is to render it visible, has the figure of the cleave. That to cleave is to both to cut apart and to bring together. In the crossing of the boundary one is both marking it and passing beyond it. The path breaking, then, that renders what is broken through perceptible also joins the inside to the outside. At the moment of my death then, I am not only crossing the Styx, I am a bridge across it.
With Anthony McCall’s recent retrospective at the Serpentine it is difficult not think of moments of death when traversing not just the space occupied by his solid light drawings, but the very planes of existence created by the solidity of the beams of light themselves. Refracted off smoke, the light comes to operate as solid form.

9th January 2008, London

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