Gail Hastings

This performance: A passing thought
200 Gertrude Street, Melbourne

When they are introduced to a new paddock, sheep and cattle explore it. Initially they move around the boundaries and follow this by moving further into the paddock. In a small flat paddock which allows clear vision of all parts, sheep will rapidly start to use all of the area. However, physical or visual constraints may mean that several days or weeks pass before they have explored and started to move through most areas of the paddock.

Arnold/Dudzinski, Ethology of Free Ranging Domestic Animals.

 

The installation is prefaced with the observation, "Something like a theatre set." it's an apt preface considering the relation of this work to so called minimal sculpture of the '60s. We can return (via this reference) to the observations on 'literalist art' by Michael Fried in 1967 in Art and Objecthood. In considering what characterises the work of the period, Fried identifies the works' theatricality. It is as if these works become purer in the absence of any material ; as if they consist only in situ, as theatre, which implies an aesthetic outside of the object which is not contained within it. Which is to say an aesthetic including the object but only as a part of a larger whole.

The phenomenology of this elaborate set design is given in Shakespeare's famous verse:

Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage ...

The sentiment imbues all life-including art-with a futile theatricality which culminates, as we all know, in an empty signification! 1t was precisely this existential crisis which minimalism intended to precipitate by reducing human endeavour to the mere relation inhering between forms, (accompanied by intense nausea according to Sartre). Likewise for Sisyphus, the crisis must have been most apparent at the moment he laid his hands upon the rock at the foot of the hill. But, as Nietzsche observed, "we have art in order not to die of the truth".

Tony Smith discovered the truth of minimalism one night on the unfinished New Jersey turnpike in the total absence of any so called work of art. A turning point for Smith, he realised the art of this experience inhered in his relation to the city of New Jersey as a volumetric coloured form. Yet his own art forecloses on the possibility of instruction or communication about any specific experience. What makes it pertinent is the commentary he offers on this experience, his description of an originary meaning. (Incidentally, the '60s are characterised by an unprecedented number of interviews with artists and artist's commentaries).

Generally speaking, minimal art intended to reduce experience to its constituent essentials- volume, space, colour, surface, etc .-following Husserl 's injunction to "return to the things themselves ." The art however, also required our return, what Fried calls the work's theatricality. Without the participation of the viewer the minimal work of art was impotent, something like an empty theatre set. The performance was, if you like, a passing thought (if one spared a thought at all, for Heidegger, Husserl, Merleau Ponty, Sartre, et al).

Gail Hasting's work offers a comment on precisely this practice. Yet its register-its mode-is ethological. It concerns the dispersion of an audience across an expanse in relation to the reductive forms of minimal art. We can observe this in the point of view adopted in the floor plan (illustrated) which figures the movements, the likely responses, of an audience in relation to certain forms comprising the installation. We move from the centre of one room across a passage to the periphery of another. We move from the book to the bookcase, from one form to another. The image on the centre pages of the book is of the bookcase full of books ; the same bookcase which appears empty opposite the book in the installation . Here, the passage of thought is impossibly circuitous, which is to say, absurd.

In this sense, the installation figures our desire in the absence of reason because the absurdity of life is remarked upon by those who stand beyond the black lines watching.