Author: Mark Sheerin | Posted: October 9, 2015 | via Critisism
Last night I dreamed about this, my least favourite piece of art from the 2015 Turner Prize exhibition in Glasgow. What you see, is what I thought I was getting: fur coats on chairs.
The coats are actually sewn around the chairs. So this is presented as a comment on claiming space in an urban environment. And about design. And about feminism. But I wasn’t dreaming about that.
And I don’t think I was dreaming about death, so I must have been dreaming about sex. Although until this point, Wermers’ furry chairs, with their parted fringes, had flown under the erotic radar.
Or was it plainly death, after all? How many creatures were bred for slaughter to make these coats and where are the coat owners? God knows you feel their absence.
The catalogue will draw your attention to the fact the chairs are a Marcel Breuer design classic. But in art sometimes, as in poetry, meaning is just the meat with which the burglar distracts the dog.
Let’s call it a poem, not only to paraphrase TS Eliot there*, but so we can allow it complete semantic ambiguity. (Another crazy aspect of my dream: Wermers was supposedly referencing a popular poet.)
It appears the artist has form with this kind of thing. Double Sand Table is a 2007 work which also plays with modern design. “I had to keep thinking of them”: so says critic and poet Barry Schwabsky.
That is from the catalogue too. Was I dreaming myself into the shoes of a far more eminent writer? Or does this sculptor really have a knack for tickling the unconscious mind and provoking REM?
She’s up against an archive, a choral piece and an assemblage of house fixtures & fittings, so by default Werners’ chairs are the strongest visual image in this year’s show. My eyes are opened.
Things have structure but they do not all have infrastructure, the material or immaterial, visible or invisible, elements from which things can be produced, organised and systematised. Infrastructure is also a network of relations, an apparatus – it functionalises things but instrumentalises them as well. We can speak of infrastructure as a support structure in that it creates and distributes goods and services such as natural resources, transport, space, telecommunication and information technologies; we can also describe it as a regulatory or disciplinary structure, in that it produces and reproduces social relations through laws, the economy, education, planning, culture and so on, where both aspects in combination generate variable forms of value.
Nicole Wermers’ exhibition Infrastruktur (‘Infrastructure’) looks at the structures of ritualised social relations in general and at the material objects through which these relations are communicated in particular. Although the two bodies of work on view are formally and physically distinct – they do not form an installation as such – they are structurally not dissimilar in that they comprise legible objects that have been reassembled or made anew in a different material form, re-contextualising their location-specific orientations from where transient acts and exchanges have been made into fixed concrete form.
Untitled Chairs (2014-15), is a series of unique dining chair and fur coat assemblages where the individual garments are seamlessly and permanently sewn around a chair’s form creating an entirely new one. The chairs themselves are Wermer’s adapted versions of a model created for German manufacturer Thonet in 1928 by architect and furniture designer Marcel Breuer, twentieth century ‘design classics’ that are still in production today. The Cesca chairs integrate a cantilevered tubular steel form with a cane or upholstered seat and backrest. These have now been conjoined with women’s furs in various styles and colour, whose folds and visual allure boldly disport themselves coupled with additional silk linings and matching iridescent velvet seats, rendering the upright steel frame and cane back support entirely hidden from view. The coats hang as if their owners had left the room, a coded fleeting ritual marking their absence and their ‘ownership’ of the chair and its ‘place’ as one would do in a public space. The works unify their disparate parts into luxurious functional sculptures recalling the work of architecture and design collaborations such those between Eileen Gray and Charlotte Perriand with Le Corbusier or Lilly Reich with Mies van der Rohe, which created innovative interiors employing contrasting materials to great effect and to great acclaim, although until recently mostly for the men, whom, unlike their female counterparts, are tellingly known only by their surnames.
Tear-off flyers are only found in public spaces. They are a transitory, moribund form of communication and exchange where one must be co-present and localised with the object for the act to be completed. Whether in a shop window, a notice board, a phone box or a tree, these ‘hand-made’ announcements are always oriented towards an anonymous addressee, who then tears off one of the aligned pre-cut vertical strips of the paper with a contact number to respond to an offer to sell or exchange something or to request or exchange information as in a lost person, pet or thing. Wermers has taken the flyer as a template more or less to scale and remade them as a series of three dimensional, matt white clay reliefs entitled Sequence I-IV(2015). The paper tear-off flyer is a temporary exchange mechanism here re-embodied as wall-mounted ceramics, resembling a castellated parapet or a set of teeth in need of a dentist but with no written message and no phone numbers. It has become a hardened relic of a fugitive social relation once removed and congealed, a ‘blank’ structural code to be deciphered. Like the chairs, it too rehearses the movement from the artist’s initial observation of social phenomena through an active interface to the static sculpture, telegraphing the persistent ways in which infrastructure informs it.