Liam Gillick: theanyartistwhatever
by Sam Korman
I first experienced a work by Liam Gillick on a tour of the Albright-Knox art museum in Buffalo, NY. Claire Schneider, the contemporary art curator brought our group to a sculpture entitled, “Local Discussion Screen”. Its glossy orange panels and rigid aluminum frames connected to form a rectangular demi-wall that partially divided a corner of the gallery, mimicking the space it occupied. Though at first glance the piece resembled a wall relief by Don Judd, several details belied Gillick’s intent. Manufactured in 2001-2, the piece could not be a part of the original Minimalist movement. Yet, the artist obviously appropriated its high Modernist forms, drawing associations between the minimal grid and contemporary cubicle screens. Moving further from the Minimalist cannon, Gillick left screws and joints clearly visible. By referring to the piece’s obvious production outside of the gallery, Gillick draws alternate contexts into the work—the object’s manufacture, then, become part of the content of the piece. So, when considering the piece’s title and form, we begin to recognize the conversation between this object and alternate spaces—historical, social, economic and otherwise—that went into the creation of the space in which we conducted our very own conversation. The audience’s broader discussion of the work is the precise moment at which Gillick’s work institutes itself, not as an object, but as a discussion, an ongoing dialectic into the nature of social space and its constituent means of production. His work extends far beyond the actual objects he creates.
In a conversation with Lawrence Weiner, Gillick draws upon a particular aspect of the film industry to illuminate his practice. At the end of a movie, the credits list every person involved in the film’s creation. Everyone is credited for his or her work and as a result of this democratic accreditation, every role becomes important to the whole of the film, bringing both dignity and worth to the film’s alternate means of production not otherwise highlighted in advertising and media. Keeping this practice in mind, the Guggenheim’s “theanyspacewhatever” and Gillick’s role therein becomes clear.
“Theanyspacewhatever” was a collaborative show between the Guggenheim New York and a group of artists associated with Relational Aesthetics. Coined by the critic and curator, Nicolas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics attempts to define art practices that draw from varied contexts, histories and conditions involved in the global and public realms. In short, the movement often exemplifies increased social engagement and collaborative processes (i.e. between artists, between artists and social organizations, etc.). This exhibition, as a relative retrospective of the movement, became a collaborative process between ten of the participating artists. Gillick not only manufactured objects for the exhibition, but also gave it its title and appeared in another artist’s video work. Gillick drew from a theoretical context with “theanyspacewhatever”, a term used by Gilles Deleuze to describe the cinematic moments in a montage when seemingly disparate scenes appear next to each other in order to create meaning.
As I mentioned above, the artist’s populist practice relies on these overlooked moments to create richer and more democratic spaces in which his audience may navigate their individual experiences against the larger range of cultural and social associations. The ‘s’ shaped benches Gillick created for the exhibition swerve through the space, playing against the Guggenheim’s spiraling rotunda. Providing a space in which the audience may view and discuss other portions of the exhibition, the benches position the viewers next to each other, yet without explicit face-to-face contact. By disrupting the social and architectural space, this piece subtly provides both a meeting place for discussion and recognition of the distance between individuals. It is not a utopian environment that Gillick creates through his democratic works, rather taking from that utopian vision an ongoing redefinition of art and social engagement, where art and relationships are not simply a commodity.