Jim Speers: Raider Lodge
11 June 2005 - 9 July 2005
Jim Speer’s new installation Raider Lodge includes a prismatic room, a choreographed dressage routine, a floating dance floor and orchids in colour-tinged lagoons. Components fresh from Speer’s recent solo show Ghost Trail Services¹at Kunstverein Ludwigsburg, Germany are reworked for the raw aesthetic of ST PAUL St resulting in a new tension between object and environment.
Speers’ work draws on the look and feel of urban civic and commercial environments (the super mall, glass curtain wall corporate atrium, prefabricated car park) where the trade-off between luxuriousness and functionality results in cool, sanitized, mediated sites of consumption and transition.
His structures allude to traditions in social architecture – particularity the autonomous zones of meeting places, waiting areas, retail palaces. He draws on both the materiality of these sites and the way in which they determine social interaction. Speers offers us a more open experience, we are lulled into a laconic reverie bathing in palid, soft-focus glows, only to be awoken by a puzzling conflation of disparate associations. We are not presented with a singular narrative, rather evocative fragments collide and layer; iridescent accents haunt and tease.
Interview between Leonhard Emmerling and Jim Speers
Leonhard Emmerling: Let’s talk about the title of the show Ghost Trail Services
Jim Speers: In saying this I mean to point of the effect which comes from utilising a word, which because of its metaphoric usefulness escapes redundancy. It describes something that is generally not believed, despite this there seems a strange productivity in its over determined form. In its structure as an idea it provides a register of more believable social fears such as the relative effects of history or the possibility of events occurring outside of an individual’s control.
So anyway when I think of ghosts I think first of frauds and invisible string, cheap books and unhinged websites rather than the presence of the dead. What seems stronger than any idea of ghosts is our desire to enact the idea, even if we are committed to its falseness.
So the word Ghost refers to a phenomenon, but one so far outside accepted truths that its use simultaneously inspires a sense of the mundane that almost throws you back into the physical world. So I imagine the act of painting it in enamel on a truck, the origins of it’s invention as a device differentiate some company and at the same time the reality of filling out a tax form on behalf of a ghost trail. Within it there is also the curious combination of Ghosts and their servicing I like to consider what this might involve. Beyond this I’m interested in the idea of trails disappearing and remerging as a consequence of their use. It seems a useful metaphor in relation to the kind of experience I would like to create as an artist. I’m also happy for titles to retain an open weave, offering something for people to work with themselves
LE: A central part of the show is the installation Tiffany´s Kyoto. It is inspired by the movie “Breaktfast at Tiffany´s” and the idea, the jewellery store “Tiffany´s” could be franchised in Japan. In general it uses code mistakes – like the one, that Audrey Hepburn has become a common image for chic and classy even she plays the role of a kind of call girl in the movie. How do the single parts – the glass walls, the trees, the prismatic room – refer to the idea behind that installation, the mix of Japan and America, the idea of dislocation?
JS: My starting point in thinking about Tiffany’s Kyoto was a memory of a certain type of book that was popular when I was a child. The locations varied but it showed through simple photography, a day in the life of a child, similar in age to ones self, growing up in an other culture. The aim was to emphasise the universality of human experience while educating the reader on differences between cultures. So everyone eats breakfast and as the book would have you believe has a similar relationship to their parents. There was an unquestioned assumption that interpretation could successfully occur through an application of known ways of doing things onto those situations culturally outside of ones experience. The idea of creating a character as a cultural representative stuck me as interesting. I then thought what if her own notions of self and culture were fluid and approximate, consisting of misunderstandings and a desire for other ways as well as those accepted as her own. It is this possibility for chains of misreading and the re-appropriation of ones own culture that served as a starting point. A reversal of the usual dictum to begin with what you know.
In making stories through installation I’m interested in the physical detail involved because in a day to day sense experiences that seem very different from those you might be familiar with occur in environments that are often surprisingly contiguous to your own. Efficiencies of production often seem to cross cultures without disturbing local patterns of life. To my mind this compounds a sense that these particular cultures are in some sense waterproof to internationalism despite experiencing its effects rushing though their structures. I think all alien situations are comprised of ordinary surfaces, being reminded of similarity at a physical level also compounds a sense that it’s in habit that people differ, to experience this can be disorientating in a way that makes you aware of how you stitch together meaning.
The scenarios I’m interested in creating are atomised ones where the elements don’t quite fit.Through the process of making sense the viewer is aware of their own articulations and an inability to suspend belief. I think of this interference effect as being an ungraspable phenomenon similar in a sense to earlier photographic attempts I have made to capture physical situations with flat light in a way that removes the subject, leaving one with an experience of being present rather than returning through representation, to environments. By this I mean to say that I am interested in the legend, if you like, of 'being there’. The idea that you might experience directly without reference to a recording process. (There’s a tangential tie in here, back to the idea of ghosts, in that ideas of the paranormal often incorporate the use of one sense to record the presence of another – heat for movement, smell for presence. In a similar way naturalism collects the evidence as 'witnessed’ and suggests it metaphorically stands for other truths not available to the eye.
All these objects tend to want, in my mind, to be treated as singular category cases hence your way of describing them using the proper name. This makes sense with trees – our notion of them seems readily represented by a stand in. It gets stranger when the Prismatic room is considered however – the room is part pergola, part stage but in a proper name sense what is a Prismatic room and what’s its purpose? To make sense of it you almost have to invent a back story, a past, a history of usage. For me it’s representative of a condensing of social space and a short-hand which comprises a shared understanding where objects are understood through reference to other objects.
LE: You have mentioned Caspar David Friedrich´s painting Die gescheiterte Hoffnung in relation to the Barrel Room. Can you explain that relation?
JS: The barrels are replacements for the Friedrich ice floe. I have been in the habit of seeing them as little seals, animals on the ice. They are extracted from nature to serve as emissaries of corporate kindness, either in a BP kind of way 'It’s a start' or as representatives of the Benetton branding machine acting as exemplars within the company’s super-moral positioning. While I imagine them as a literal extension of this imaginary inhospitable landscape. They are also open entities representative of a contained proliferation. Their lack of individual markings infers their permanent production as well their lack of a source. In this way they’re a kind of white label nightmare indicative of a mutable capital operation whose brand presence represents an illusion of a source. I’m interested in the way in which the sublime, even in its sense of representing something to be feared, is utilised within culture to instil a sense of a natural and unalterable order. The presence of forces larger than ones self and yet in some sense unidentifiable is in effect a shared semi conscious cinema which acts as under painting in a shared brand-scape.
LE: You have started your artistic career with the light boxes. On the one hand they deal a lot with painting, with interference of colour, coming out of an immense depth; on the other hand you are using a medium which is normally related to advertisement. I have seen the Honeywell light-boxes in Auckland, and to be honest, I didn´t understand your intentions by repeating the sign of a company and putting it into the museum space. The work was totally hermetic for me, totally mute.
JS: It comes down to where one chooses to find the poetic. In the case of Honeywell I found a great redolence in the simple onomatopoeic function of the word. Roll it around on your tongue. To me it is a sensory experience. In choosing to borrow an existent object from the world I was more interested in its ineffable qualities rather than its physical particularities. Although it might well have originated with someone’s proper name it now functions as a formal conjunction of two simple ideas – Honey and well. This is an example of how well brands function not to resolve dissimilar meaning but as sites that operate to generate new forms out of contradiction. It’s also great that the name Honeywell, which infers reward and a surprise opportunity is the identifying mark for a corporation that makes among other things security systems. In the museum such a work has a delayed relationship as a doubleganger who reappears in the mind when one comes across the original. In borrowing from the world I’m, even if this is only an effect that is known to myself, co-opting the source material, bring it into my own game. Driving here I passed the original Ghost Trail services, the real life source for the appropriated moniker, driving the other way and felt I’d somehow stolen some kinship. The link between this highly specific light-box work and those in the show is that these more abstract pieces also draw their corrupted sensibility from the day to day world. Where brands come to earth and are remanufactured and made literal in a local setting. Their colour represents a kind of functionalism cut loose from its moorings while at the same time retaining traces of its utilitarian origins.
LE: In the Wooden Floor Room you are projecting a video loop of a horse performing dressage manoeuvres. Like in Tiffany´s Kyoto with the trees which are grown for use at plazas or in shopping malls you refer to nature as being incorporated into culture, itself a product of civilization. Nature seems to be lost, in a way, and on the other hand you are again mixing categories, in this case the categories of nature and civilization.
JS: Nature seems lost in any retrievable sense as soon as we refer to, but I am interested in how people use a construction of nature in order to make sense of the social. The floor is a recreated environment, a transition space where your movement across it becomes an important part of how you experience it.
The code complexity is what keeps these situations operating in real time. The refusal of the elements to coalesce returns the viewer to the situation of viewing and opens out the possibilities of failure. By this I mean that all outcomes can be considered for their narrative potential, including things that operate in a manner outside of my control. In that I find it necessary to maintain the same active involvement in the work as in the situation where I’m asking the viewer “what’s happening here?”
LE: Can you explain the idea behind the Tile Room with the vitrines and these objects, the tiles and the green painted wall?
JS: This is a spare space with old time chic. Inside the vitrines are little models, basic in their form they could be models for teaching, the ideas they represent are unavailable, having departed with their maker or situation of use. The only clue to their origin lies in their wooden construction which makes them seem to be artefacts from a handmade age where questions were answered in individualised situations. It is an opposite, if you like, to our present action of typing enquiries into Google. The broader material choices continue this feeling of the physical against the electronically received. The tiles retrieve, in a sense, an era of the local with their implication of food and the domestic. The wall colours are drawn an image of the pool in Mexican architect Luis Barragan’s Casa Gilardi, a house built in the mid seventies. The use of colour in this room relates to an interest in the modernism where it hits conditions outside its point of origin. This is of importance to me coming from New Zealand. The model can be seen this far out as being an adaptive organism parts are lost other features become distorted through a grafting process where alternate ways of doing things have an effect on how ideas are understood. My desire to reemploy attributes in this way stems also from their presently depleted nature. Like any currency design represents agreement, acting as transferable cultural capital. Unrestrained by any reference to the specifics of its origin it renders down difference while appearing to celebrate it. What matters is that the rules of appreciation are known and understood as a shifting mechanism which records permanent affluence.
LE: Mixing the categories, using the “productive misunderstanding”, the misreading of codes, the “false interpretation” has, in my perspective, a lot to do with the fact that the world and its parts get closer to each other – we can fly to every destination within 24 hours – but at the same time we don’t have the opportunities and the need to experience what seems to be strange to us. Even if we are making holidays somewhere in Africa we are barely leaving the hotel area, and if yes, we are experiencing a kind of cliché, an image. What we know we rather know from real experience but much more from TV and mass medias. So we know a little about everything, but it is all second hand. Is it right to put your work in this kind of evolution or the fact of globalization?
JS: The question is how should such a reality affect the way I might see things as an artist? For me it seems most interesting to have two responses at the same time. I can recognise the fractured functioning of codes as both a material fact and a tool but do this in a way that continues to be engaged with the act of looking and the subjective experience this involves. A response to your recognition of the immersive outcome inherent in an over determined landscape could be to ask is to what degree does this represent a change in condition? More to the point has the real ever been locatable. The historic popularity of the Casper David Friedrich rests on its effective representation of a shared myth. If there is a problem it might lie in our inability to share myths or the need to recognise the fact that we may never have shared such notions in an uncomplicated way anyway. The knowledge that our taste is group developed to say the least seems a productive freedom. I continue to be interested in a kind of free association that begins with specific objects, each containing the possibility of being read diffusely. Despite the idea that every where is accessible through some means or another it seems to me that the situation of how an individual reads the world remains particular and variable. I consider watching movies to be a first hand experience and value it in the same way as I do music. I tend to be interested in the phenomena and concrete structure of songs heard by millions rather than that identifiable in its rarity.