Critical Proximity: Critical Distance

Sculptures: Blair Marten
October 7 – October 29, 1994

a response to the exhibition by Bruce Sapach

Upon entering the gallery, one is met by a span of floor space that is dotted with generally small and even miniscule scale objects. They attempt to identify themselves with a significance beyond that which is generally given to a reduced size. Although Blair’s use of materials is obviously still in it’s formative stage, this effort is generally successful. This is due primarily to two aspects that extend beyond the objects themselves. One aspect is their social/philosophical content and origin. The other is the object’s existence in an atmosphere of murky shadow and dim ‘twi-lighting’ that identifies each of the works as a separate presence with their own agendas.

The overall scale and sparse nature of the objects presented might cue or bias the viewer into the interpretation of minimalism. However, this is far from the truth. More accurately, the work should be described as reductive of ‘editive’ in nature. The works are more concerned about how the objects function and less about concrete space. Somehow the object cues us back into the ‘mind’. These pieces externalize ponderous thoughts such as ‘why?’ and ‘for what purpose?’

The work also has a specific associative intentions. On this level, there is a querying verging on the didactic, a cool effort to investigate the conundrum and present at least a partial solution, somewhat like an academic exercise.

To assist in resolving these exercises, titles are utilized to facilitate the visualization of cognitive projections. the labels provide a vital perspective from which to extrapolate.

For example, the title Post Modern Centre challenges both the viewers intellectual capacity and level of art education. It does this by translating the work into a conundrum and concluding that the very nature of post-modernism prohibits a centring or focus in one cognitive space. In other words, the luxury of settling upon universally certain meaning is unavailable in these post-modern times. Subsequently, the multi-faceted circular shape of this piece is fabricated from scraps of wood in order to produce a mongrel progeny that stands desolate and lost in its own paradox, thus obscuring the viewers attempt to understand its significance.

This is Not a Pipe refers to Foucault’s observations of Magritte’s series of pipe paintings. Briefly stated, Foucault argues that throughout history, power based organizations have systematically institutionalized agendas that not only determine basic beliefs and values, but also determine the direction of discovery by controlling the randomness of experience.

Magritte’s pipe paintings provide Foucault with the opportunity to address the intangibility of reality. Through the whimsical utilization of pipe images as metaphor, Magritte questions the artificially and systematically generated world around us in which we seek to verify an absolute reality. By depicting pipes once removed from their concrete context of existing in a three dimensional space, he asks if reality exists beyond the third dimension. Is the pipe real once placed on the canvas and inserted into our psychological space? What is real?

With these thoughts in mind, we might now consider Blair’s piece This is Not a Pipe as he has intended us to; a vehicle that questions mythologies of certainty.

Many of these works challenge the viewer’s expectations. In Here Hear, the absolute viewing point is ‘metaphored’ in the utilization of the pedestal beyond simple shelving space. In Series of Firsts, there is a gestural ambiguity and elasticity that speaks directly to the notion of ‘beginnings’ as a continually occurring sequence of ‘nows’ that float by in the proverbial river of the mind. And above this river is a large canvas like blank wall that contextualizes the ‘firsts’ of art history as relative to each other. Like Postmodern Centre, Series of Firsts speaks to the confusion surrounding attempts to locate the artistically normal.

Continuing to challenge the viewers expectations, the sparse austerity of these works presses them into an academic arena by substantially identifying them with the ability to think; I think therefore I am. And although thinking can most easily become a concrete basis from which to understand, the clinical shelving of experience into taxonomy of philosophical solutions cannot possibly embrace the vastness of human experience. Beneath this very human need of ‘mind’, that attempts to fundamentally locate itself as a significant presence, there exists a confusing place both manmade and cosmic.

This place can be accessed if one decides to suspend critical pursuit and see this body of work for the considerable presence that it elicits on a more freely associative, or almost poetic level.

Poetry often leads the reader past literal meaning to where the juxtaposition of the words only seems illogical. The ‘chemistry’ of this show becomes emotionally and psychologically alchemical, and we find ourselves sensing a meaning that locates us in an ‘interior’ experience that is well beyond words.

For example, while walking past Self’s reflective light spot that integrates the middle ground of the gallery space… “I approach a white tube that seems to be floating. As if in a dream, I look and seek for what I sense is ‘out there’. When I arrive at the tube, I realize that someone has been there before me. A hole has been drilled in the top of it, seemingly trying to determine what is real.” The tube is titled Metaphysics. It’s emptiness is beautiful. If you are looking for the ‘drill hole’ answer of certainty, what you receive is an empty void surrounded by wood shavings. However, if your search is less needful of the concrete, you are offered a pure sense of space and place.

Further on in the show, the concrete mass of Pic-True seemed to represent the weight of its own memory. Only the dream language of poetry could offer such effective apologetics for the academic mythology.

From the query to the statement to the gesture, from the cool academic to the personally revealing, an almost Bataillesque methodology ‘uncovers’ in Ontological/Epistemological Consensus (penis). In this piece there is a curious personality profile that verges on Nihilism while reaching for a more nurturing Anima, thus allowing for a warmer embrace of the issues that confound us.


Bruce Sapach is an artist living in Winnipeg.