2010 A Design For Life by Chris Clarke, Curator of Education and Collections at the Lewis Glucksman Gallery, Cork. Review of Angela Fulcher at The Guesthouse Project, Cork, Feb 4-10, 2010.
“A Design For Life”
Angela Fulcher at The Guesthouse, Cork
February 4 – 10, 2010
“So, I now assume, that when people say that something is "natural," "natural" is the way they found it when they checked into the picture, and this picture has been changing incredibly rapidly (…) And so that is one reason why then the young people of our day began to see things very, very differently from their parents; and to realize that the long traditions and customs were really no longer appropriate. It wasn't a matter of the unfriendliness of a young generation with an older generation; it was simply that the new generation was being born into a new "natural," which was absolutely "unnatural" to grown ups.” Buckminster Fuller, “Everything I Know”
Is this how it was meant to turn out? In Angela Fulcher’s installation Out There 4 Man (Paloma Grey and Bluebell), a tent-like structure, exposed in parts to reveal its underlying framework, is sharply illuminated by a flickering strobe light. Adjacent to this, a series of images are projected against the wall: the detritus of outdoor music festivals, rudimentary geodesic domes, rows upon rows of tarps, tents and sleeping bags. While one image slides subtly into another, the staccato pulsations of light follow an unyielding, mechanical rhythm. Even after stepping out of the space, a persistent after-image remains in one’s field of vision, of diamonds, lattices, and tetrahedrons.
If Buckminster Fuller’s invention of the geodesic dome was supposed to be the culmination of his utopian ideals and a solution to impending environmental disaster, the reality appears a little more disheartening. The ‘nature’ that one now finds is often compromised and commodified, like the theme parks which use Fuller’s structure as an easy signifier of retro-futurism. In this light, the re-configuration of the geodesic dome as an incomplete and open shelter for music festival travellers suggests abandonment and deterioration. The construction has served its function, as both a temporary habitat and as a marker for an adolescent rite of passage. Against the repetition of the strobe light and the projections, the site cannot help but recall the exuberance and excitement of youth. However, it presents something rather different: an aftermath, absence (of occupants, activity, even music) and the slow, drawn-out comedown.
The immediate impression of Angela Fulcher’s use of light and projected images is one of disorientation, of unfamiliarity with both one’s surroundings and senses. While the flicker of the strobe offers associations of outdoor raves and techno music (and the attendant effects of the drugs which are almost compulsory at such events), the silent atmosphere and the likely isolation of the viewer within such a restricted exhibition space counters any suggestion of euphoria or celebration. Rather, the overwhelming sensation is of the spaces between ecstasy and lucidity. Without overemphasising the pharmaceutical nature of such experiences, the light could be seen as the inevitable awareness of a new day, sunshine peering through the blinds, with the dissolve from one projected image to another acting as a sort of visual analogy to such states of transition. We’ve all been there.
An illustration of this in-between quality can be found in the details. A Native American dream-catcher is attached to the rungs of the dome, left behind, almost as an afterthought. Nevertheless, one can see such an object through its re-contextualisation from a specific symbolic artefact to its current status as a symbol of spirituality. The distinction is important in that, separated from its initial use-value, the item is appropriated as a signifier, as a way of connoting spiritual depth and new-age mysticism in the individual bearer. Of course, such traits are freely available now, as mass-produced commodities (and, as such, are also freely expendable). Here, too, the ritualistic has been made into a mere accessory, an ornament. And yet, as in Buckminster Fuller’s shifting meanings of nature, one finds a clear trajectory at work, a redefining of the notions of identity and self-determination, that cannot be seen as simply another example of post-colonial appropriation. For instance, the dream-catcher had already undergone a contentious conversion into a symbol of Native American unity in the 1960s - a measure that divided as much as unified those it claimed to represent - and this deliberate political inference may be as responsible for its current incarnation as that of a mystical, romanticised past. One can go even further here and read the contents of the dream-catcher itself, as an indicator of one’s ‘dreams’ as aspirations for the future against the Freudian interpretation of the dream as a crude form of childish wish-fulfilment. Again, the dichotomy of idealism versus narcissism breaks down to reveal a more complex and intertwined set of relations and readings.
The title reaffirms a number of these themes. Recalling coded messages, text-speak, hippie doggerel, conferred and vaguely spiritualistic names, it imagines the advent of a new society through the appropriation of the old and the ‘natural’. The audience of these music festivals isn’t the same as that which would have attended Woodstock. Rather, they re-fashion the codes and signifiers of the past into a new and novel agglomeration, combining the rhetoric and accoutrements of an idealised vision of nature with (an equally idealised) faith in notions of mobility and communication. Consequently, the residue of the social gathering – the sleeping bags, empty bottles, and discarded belongings – is excluded from such utopian worldviews. In the projected photographs of matted, muddy tents laid out across a wrecked campsite, one can see the by-products of this nomadic existence and its emphasis on the temporal and the transitional. Juxtaposed with images of geodesic domes under construction, the documentation of the festivals offers a sharp rejoinder to the potential, propositional nature of Buckminster Fuller’s structure. While his model may have offered a sustainable solution to environmental despoliation through containment, one could never predict that the development of technology would veer off in an altogether different direction. To this generation, the notion of being grounded, cut-off and cramped-in feels like a very ‘unnatural’ situation.
In some ways, Fulcher’s installation refrains from tying together these strands, of naivety and indulgence, high-minded spirituality and gross commercialism. However, this seems wholly appropriate, as contradiction is implicit in all utopian ideologies. The disconnection between possibility and practicality ultimately shapes such models for future living, and while, as a work of social commentary, the installation displays the unpleasant, unseemly side of human nature, it also retains something of that initial optimism. While, inevitably, the context for social change has altered, so too have the terms of its possibility. With a concurrent shift in one’s perception of the work, it is not too far a move to see the framework of the dome, the half-built structure, not as the remnants of a discredited movement but, rather, as the beginning stages of a new one.
Chris Clarke, Curator of Education & Collections, Lewis Glucksman Gallery, Cork