Critical Proximity: Notes on a.f. kiendl’s information junkie

information junkie: a.f. kiendl
November 4 – November 26, 1994

a response to the exhibition by jake moore

The exhibition, a.f. kiendl’s information junkie, is a collection of works arranged in a space and connected physically to it by snaking cords and wires. Buzzers, motors and compressing air complement the sound of your footsteps in the expanse that is Ace Art. Lower case helvetica tells us the artist’s name and states an affliction, information junkie, quotation marks. If this is an admission of his own circumstance we cannot be certain. It is, though, the title of his book.

The book, information junkie, printed in both of Canada’s official languages, sits waiting for your taking on a Leopold Stickley side table. Copies of this book are sandwiched between a limestone fossil and stamped metal book end, the kind of which were reproduced continuously from 1924 to the present and occupy the shelves of all the public libraries. These details may seem minor, but to the information junkie they are critical to the understanding we attempt to construct of our constructed world.

Leopold Stickley was a relation of Gustav Stickley, North America’s parallel to William Morris. Gustav’s ‘Craftsman’ label and periodical decried the mechanization of our world and the subsequent loss of quality, both in our lives and our objects. He attempted to convert (perhaps revert) the public to the morality of hard work and the piety of working with one’s hands. His own family ultimately caused his downfall, ousting him from the company presidency, insisting that there was more money to be made in mechanical manufacturing. This Leopold Stickley table is a result of that ousting. In comparison to contemporary standards, it is beautifully constructed.

By walking to the wall that holds this table and book presentation, you trip the motion detector that activates art timer. This work consists of a physically fabricated metal tripod, an air compressor with a ‘cozy,’ and a glass ampule with a clamped clam. Your passing sets in motion the pumping rod within the pedestal. It raises the clam(p) up, thrusts twice, and then returns to its nesting place within the pedestal base. There is no ejaculate. It remains erect awaiting the next passerby.

In 1920 in Moscow, Naum Gabo constructed Kinetic Sculpture: Standing Wave, (the same year Marcel Duchamp made his Rotary Glass Plate in New York). Gabo’s piece consisted of an old photograph vibrating on a rod that was set in motion by a motor, housed in a pedestal box. Thus, the machine was at last put in the service of art, though Gabo resented the need for anything so cumbersome as a motor. He was lauded for de-materializing a volume, rendering sculpture as illusory as the fine art of painting, and making sculpture stuff for the eye and the mind. kiendl’s motors are obvious and intentional. They are awkwardly present and at times, pathetic, in the sense of inciting pathos. The ‘cozy’ which covers the air compressor in art timer suggests an attempt to either comfort the machine or domesticate it — technology as an extension of the self.

The ‘cozy,’ knitted by kiendl’s grandmother, Margaret Smith, is minimalist in construction. It is beautifully made of ecru wool with a consistent striping allowed by a careful variation of knit and pearl stitches. It is as constructed as the pedestal of the thrusting piston. Each was constructed by one as skilled in their craft as the other. Though if one were to judge each medium strictly by itself, the cozy is better constructed, given the respective technologies available. McLuhan’s dictum, the medium is the message, is brought to mind. Though at this late date the clarity of his statement is clouded (perhaps clarified further) by semiotic analysis.

It is my knowledge of a. f. kiendl which allows me to evoke McLuhan without fear of overly academicizing kiendl’s objects. I enjoy a critical proximity. The artist’s reference to McLuhan in his book is important. kiendl is aware of his predecessors and does not pretend to be ‘bringing news.’ He does not see the role of the artist as illuminating some new truths for an unaware public’s consumption. He is creating work that examines a means to avoid the paralysis so possible in the information-filled life, that is ‘post-post-modernity.’ His work is an act of research. It is both defense and offense, when faced with potential moral dissolution brought about by humankind’s continued mechanization and commodificaton. It is the moral questions kiendl examines in St. Valentine’s Day.

A micro t.v. monitor pulsates with the rhythm of a heart beat, its face etched with a newspaper quotation stating new possibilities for organ use. The medical tubing that fills the clear plastic air bag of art vacuum suggests the possible need for medical attention by fine art. Its oil painted chicken, labeled ‘object,’ and gilt frame begs the question: what or when does something become an object? When it is represented? His Stereotype:Auto-Portrait furthers this line of questioning and recognizes kiendl’s own construction as an artist and as an individual. It is part chemical makeup (photographs of his chromosomes provide the portrait with its eyes), part personal history (the oil painted nose is flattened to one side, something he was told about his appearance at birth) and part art historical (given the various mediums he uses to portray himself). His senses are separated in this presentation. It is our job to unify them as one. We see the ‘other’ as whole.

While the machine has been omnipresent in twentieth century art, it has functioned most often as metaphor. Its speed and potential for de-humanization were championed by the Futurists. It was equated with the human experience by Duchamp, and built for self-destruction and beauty by Tinguely. In information junkie, kiendl acknowledges these traditions at a time when the machine can no longer be safely removed from our own bodies. The human body shop is open. Parts are being bought and sold and patents are pending on the ‘genetic blueprints’ of our brain. The Human Genome project is currently attempting to catalog all human genes. By making us responsible for the activation of his machine pieces, kiendl reminds us of our responsibility in this equation — and — that something physical is taking place.

It is the physicality of his works, and their reliance upon us to activate them, which ultimately commands our attention. The super eight film of tall prairie grass reads nostalgic. The hanging inverted projector shining on to a mirror causes the image to ultimately rest on a linen handkerchief. In doing so, the piece asks questions of representation and our own sight. Tall prairie grass is then re-presented above this construction by a hand wrought line drawing reminiscent of a bar code, the same imagery used to illustrate the mouth in Stereotype: Auto-Portrait. Is this the commodification of nature and words or a connection between components of identity construction: prairie-boy artist for sale? Or is it simply available for international consumption using the one language that appears to be universal?

The above paragraphs have simply been notes, glimpses of my own responses to another’s work. I have re-stated the details which have struck me as starting points, in reading the noisy and visceral text which is information junkie. I will state again in well-trained-academic-girl-essay-style, my original observation; these details may seem minor, but to this information junkie, they are critical to the understanding we attempt to construct of our own constructed world.

Jake Moore is a girl, living and working in Winnipeg