Roma The road to contemporary art, Rome
06.05.2011 — 08.05.2011
Simon Gush
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Haines, Liz, June 2009. Uneaasy Encounters, in Code Magazine. Vol 9

Uneasy Encounters
Simon Gush

The world is far from perfect. I guess you worked that out right? You there, yes, you. When did you stop expecting that it would be? Surrounded by the pat replies slipping out of the bouncy grins of sitcom stars, the billboards of religion, the shiny lustrous slogans of magazines, or political ‘solutions’ you’re left in the grey, the in between. There might be fleeting moments where you feel it all makes sense, but they’re very diluted by doubt.

So how to deal with this uncertainty? Some people just ride the waves that come.Mostly though, people start molding those doubts into mantras of truth, objectives and morals, then set out wielding those half-crafted, half-inherited ideas to meet everyone else. Unsurprisingly, that confrontation isn’t always easy. As an artist Simon Gush’s primary material seems to lie in this arena. You often find him setting up situations that imitate the strange forms that doubt takes on as people press it into certainties and systems. The result of those imitations is an elegant interrogation of the more absurd manifestations of society’s rules and impulses. In South Africa, Simon’s first home, human co-existence is more than usually problematic. The structures that define the relations between different groups of people are especially complicated, and patterns of behaviour defy spoken ideals.

So starting from the position that mutually negotiating doubt, rather than the statement of love, is the beginning of social experience, let’s imagine the zone of meeting as Simon’s field of interest, field of action. As an introduction to this kind of reading of his work I’d take his interest in Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ 1991 work, Perfect Lovers. Two clocks. Two is the first form of coexistence, its first unit. Gonzalez-Torres’ work is iconic, the perfection of the circle, time moving around and yet forward, synchronicity, harmony and eventual discord. It’s poetic, and rather melancholic, there’s a longing. Despite his appreciation of the original work, melancholy isn’t a sentiment that Simon seems to have much time for. His first re-working of Perfect Lovers was the installation of a pair of ceiling fans, that were positioned so closely as to rotate almost touching and also hanging just inches about the spectator’s head (Perfect Lovers, 2006). In this context the longing for perfect love starts to feel uncomfortably like the kind of dream enforced by the guillotine or genocide. In another re-working of the ‘Lovers’, (Untitled, 2008) he opened two circular holes in the plate-glass window of a South African gallery. That act literally opened up a connection from the elite intimacy of the white cube to the noise, dust and surprises of the street. Co-existence is revealed as a risky business, not something easily solved by slick formulas or simple devices. Utopian ideals, he seems to imply, are an over-simplification of being.

You feel this even more strongly in the recent work Underfoot (2008). Underfoot tells a story that begins in the Savoy Ballroom, Chicago. This ballroom (couples again, dancing couples this time) also served as a general public space and hosted boxing, figure skating, roller skating parties, mass political meetings and significantly, basketball. The twists and co-incidences in the story play out the emblematic forces of white and black, Europe and the USA. The story ends with Coca-Cola being used to create a floor surface sticky enough for a match to take place.

If love is the absence of doubt, and by absence we can understand suppression, and supression is proving unhealthy, well, what’s left to us? The recomplexifying of history, institutional critique, are some of Simon’s tactics for cutting up big ideas into more realistic fragments. The moment I find most exciting in his work however, are when he plays those ‘strange forms’ and awkward inequalities back into the systems that has generated them and puts both parties to the test. The 21 Gun Salute for the Death of a Collector (2007), is one of these. Here the relationship between a collector and an artist is shifted when the artwork purchased is in fact the rights to the Gun Salute at your funeral. 3 Point Turn (2007) (in collaboration with Dorothee Kreutzfeldt) is another. This time chaos is unleashed from the Drill Hall gallery central Johannesburg into the evening traffic, in the form of a pimped-up truck with the mission of performing a three point turn on a busy one way street. A short video is on his website.

“The piece is a response to the site. The gallery which hosted this show is in quite a rough area and people have a real (and overblown) fear of the place. But once visitors are inside the gallery, they feel safer. At the openings, people tend to have a drink on the balcony and watch the traffic. I wanted to somehow interact with the traffic and make the action of watching from the balcony more self-reflective. I had this idea of driving a car against the traffic for a while and I asked Dorothee to work with me on the piece. The car was decorated using designs based on the panel beaters in the area.”

The point is, our position, your position, as spectators, art spectators, participants in life, or history, they’re just setups, temporarily harmonised. They can be setup another way. You’re reading this. We’re watching them. But what is the you, who are the we? Who are they? How do we fix something up to sort that out? What happens when we don’t agree? My take on Simon Gush’s work would be: forget those simple solutions that feel cozy; to deal with those questions you’re going to have to be a lot more creative than you think.

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