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John Stafford: (P)art (T)rap
Bureau art space is a shop front and as such has an aquarium-like 24 hour a day display potential. Bureau not only brings art onto the street but also brings art into confrontation with its modern mentor: the society of spectacle, the society of cammodified desire - from the white cube into the glass cube.
In two separate and very different installations, both Smith and Stafford exploited the "capitalist realist" alienation of the shop window space in order to reveal some of the problems and contradictions inherent in art in our society of surface. Stafford pointed to the collusion between art and power, and Smith depicted the suicidal and destructive impulses which characterise modern man (sic.) and his attitude to his environment.
John Stafford's installation worked extremely well in the alienated shop window situation, and the palindrome which made up the title, (P)ART (T)RAP, seemed to reflect the wilderness of mirrors which is life in a specular culture. He also added the ironic subtitle "Circumstantial Muzak".
In the window stood a pedestal which supported a silver platter on which lay a pair of binoculars, no doubt placed there as the preferred way in which we could view the other end of the room where a small detail of Bernini's The Vision of St. Theresa was displayed on a light box set against a rich, red, pleated velvet curtain. In front of the curtain we were kept our distance by an art gallery rope - now the intellectual property of Hans Haacke.
St. Theresa's ecstasy ought to represent the sacred ecstasy which lies beyond social confinement, but here it represents the opposite. Superimposed on a light box like an advertisement in a shop window at night, the beyond of ecstasy becomes encompassed by the mechanistic glare of productivist/consumerist society. We are offered an ersatz ecstasy which does not promise any beyond but represents, instead, a limiting condition - this is the only ecstasy our society will allow us - the ecstasy of consumption.
In a similar manner the binoculars might, from a modernist perspective, symbolise farsightedness, the potential for extending human vision, and human possibilities, offered by the mechanical eye. But here the binoculars represent quite the opposite: a distanced fascination for surface, surveillance, possession, and control - there is nothing farsighted about the profit, or power, motive.
Stafford offers us capitalist realism, a cold mediatised surface from which the body, the human element, is expelled. Wayne Smith's installation reflects a similar situation but through very different means. Smith does not employ sanitised surfaces like Stafford but goes in the opposite direction using junk and dereliction. But, like Stafford, he also is referring to consumer society as essentially destructive of the body, where the body means the body of nature as the environment, or the body as a site of possibilities confined and restricted by authority.
Looking at Smith's installation through Bureau's window we saw a large image suspended in front of the window with "fragile" written across it. The image was abstract, but looked like mountainous terrain seen from the air - a generalised symbol for "environment". Underneath the image stood an empty chair, and fixed onto the wall adjacent we could see a car windscreen set in front of a birds nest. The instinct of caring firmly set behind a wall of toughened glass.
Inside, Smith's Kienholz-like installation showed a squalid environment, a man's room. At one end a terrestrial globe stood on a pedestal, opposite it was a wardrobe set into the wall. Whoever opened its door was confronted with a suit on a hanger beside which dangled a strange implement of torture with straps and spikes. In the middle of the room a hand basin was drenched in "blood" and surrounded by a semi-circular array which replicated a wasteground with its rubble and crushed beer cans.
The man's room is a mess, and the man is evidently prone to sadomasochism and suicidal tendencies. The terrestrial globe set on a pedestal denotes, like Stafford's St. Theresa, the phony respect, the sham sense of values, characteristic of our era. The ostentatious respect for the planet represented by the globe on a pedestal contrasts radically with the devastation of the man's actual environment which surrounds the pedestal.