Ceal Floyer’s oeuvre
Ceal Floyer – A Handbook has been published on the occasion of the artist’s solo exhibition in Bonn. Therein is a text about her work written by fellow artist Tacita Dean, who – as becomes clear – has known Floyer for 25 years and frequently dines with her. Tacita Dean is somebody we might want to rely on when trying to conjure an impression of Floyer, since the artist herself is not eager to be interviewed. Firstly we learn that her last name should be pronounced such that it rhymes with 'her'. Floyer. Rather than like the French ‘foyer’. Both artists were born in England and now live in Berlin.
“It’s not the fault of the goldsmith that writing about the work of Ceal Floyer is nearly pointless”, Tacita Dean states, adding: “Description kills her work because it has already taken too long.” By ‘too long’ she is referring to the fact that Floyer’s work is about a quick moment of understanding or about seeing something and immediately grasping it. It is the kind of art that takes place in a split-second, in the mind.
In the first room of the Kunstmuseum in Bonn, a square of light is projected onto the wall, with the image of a light bulb in the upper part, close to the ceiling where you would usually and a lamp hang- ing. The image is actually produced by a bulb placed on an overhead projector in front of the wall. So the bulb is not emitting any light, it’s merely a projection created by light. This work plays with perception in the tradition of René Magritte. What we see is something assembled in our head, rather than what is actually there. In multiple works, Floyer applies a similar approach. For instance, two protractors are mounted on the wall in such a way that a circle appears due to the marks that measure the angles. Thus, two triangles make a circle.
Floyer’s work springs from a sharp eye for objects and their formal qualities, while at the same taking into account what happens when an object receives this kind of attention from a museum. The artist challenges viewers to the point of laughter and irritation. Another work in the exhibition, Switch, shows an image of a light switch projected next to the entrance of a room, in the typical place. The room is dark, with the only light coming from the projected image of the switch. Floyer’s oeuvre has been called conceptual, and one can wonder to what extent her works are merely ideas or mental ‘switches’, and to what extent actual objects and their presence are important. Light is certainly crucial in some of the pieces.
One work with a decided physical presence is an aluminium ladder with only the first and last rungs intact; those in-between have been removed. The ladder rests against a wall, waiting not to be used. According to the handbook, this ladder is “negating its function as a tool, rendering it a purely minimal- ist sculpture”, but surely that is a confusion of the meaning of minimalist sculpture. It looks more like a practical joke. And the same goes for two similar versions of a photograph of a drinking glass that is, according to the title, either half full or half empty. That’s not even a good joke. A piece with more sub- stance can be found on the oor: a nearly complete circle has been drawn on the wooden oor with a black marker pen and there is a saw stuck in it, sug- gesting that a hole has been sawn in the oor and that if you step on the circle it will collapse. Here the work gains a bit of physical weight.
Floyer is playing a game with the custom of museum-going: looking for meaning in objects or having an aesthetic experience. Her work tampers with one’s expectations when looking at art, partly by mocking its interpretation. But if the disruption itself becomes the main artwork, something strange happens. Once Floyer’s works are presented as precious and autonomous pieces, in the same way as those in the museum’s collection, they lose their credibility. They are domesticated, you could say, and this does not fit them since they are not meant to be looked at for any length of time. Once you get it, you go on to the next work. And once you are on the Floyer track, you know more fooling will follow.
Another of the works is called Sold. It is hardly noticeable in the exhibition, as it’s installed in a separate room where several Georg Baselitz paintings are on display. At the bottom right-hand corner of a painting called Sandteichdamm is a small red dot. In fact, it is a hole drilled in the wall and lled with cadmium red. For those who see this dot, it suggests that the Baselitz painting has been sold, a humorous notion in a museum context as such dots belong only in commercial galleries. The twist, though, is that in 2001 the Kunstmuseum had decided to sell the Baselitz painting to the Sparkasse Foundation to nance its exhibition budget. The foundation has al- lowed the work to remain in the museum on permanent loan. Here the placement of Floyer’s work had direct relevancy. It highlighted a specific episode in the museum’s history.
The type of art that Floyer makes puzzles museums, as it is not easy to present and discuss. It seems that the artist is welcome to mock the art world and comment on its habits, but the art world is not quite ready to mock the artist and find suitable ways of showing her work. The red dot was an exception: hardly visible, but in the right place. A text at the entrance of the exhibition reads: “Ceal Floyer’s art is conceptual and sensual, minimal in its outlay and yet of great complexity.” The thought that this artwork might be simple instead of complex must have frightened the museum staff. In texts about Floyer’s work, the tone is often serious, charging it with different layers of meaning and intelligence. But is it really that brilliant? And does it need to be treated autonomously like other pieces in the museum? Rather, is it not an example of what Tacita Dean was warning us of? If you talk too much about Floyer’s work, you might kill it. Because, let’s be honest: a good joke needs no explanation.
CEAL FLOYER is at the Kunstmuseum in Bonn, Germany until 10 January 2016.
and then at the Aargauer Kunsthaus in Aarau, Switzerland from 30 January to 10 April 2016.