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A Vacant Bazaar (provisional legend) by Melbourne-based artist Christian Capurro, explores the erasure of nine lifestyle/fashion magazines from the mid-1990s. The meticulous process of hand erasing images and text from Marie Claire, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar was completed by the artist over the last decade.
This process of erasure has been implemented in a further work by Capurro entitled Another Misspent Portrait of Etienne de Silhouette (1999–2007), and it influenced the creation of the works-on-paper series, Compress, (2001–ongoing). Presented at the 2007 Venice Biennale Another Misspent Portrait of Etienne de Silhouette explored the erasure process through a five year collaboration involving the artist’s friends and colleagues, who each erased a page from a men’s fashion magazine and then suggested a price for their labour. In each of these works, Capurro has investigated the notion of artistic process via visibility and subtraction, each work unravelling or dissolving the original material form and structure of the magazine.
The installation of A Vacant Bazaar (provisional legend) at Artspace explored the spatial relationship between each magazine and its erased remnants. A shared cosmetics advertisement linked all but one of the magazines, alongside the remains of the page numbers and most of the magazine covers. Entering the exhibition, the focus on process was immediately evident, as the erased magazines were carefully displayed on constructed tables and ledges. The meticulously arranged fragments of ink and rubber erasing accompanied their respective magazine, displayed according to page number.
The precision and fragility of the erased magazine fragments suggested an unusual collection, more than a strictly curated exhibition. The obsessive nature of the process also made for a visually striking installation. We could not but wonder how exactly the artist made the work and just how long it had taken him. The rubbings resembled piles of ashes, forming a stark contrast with the minimalist tables and ledges and inciting curiosity and intrigue. What was most fascinating was the way in which Capurro had taken the usual form of the magazine and completely reinvented it. The manipulation of object and image via such a repetitive process ultimately reduced the magazine to its most basic elements.
The act of erasure within this exhibition suggested an exploration into the ‘unmaking’ process, the act of removal or alteration of an image or text. The often substantial piles of rubbings conveyed a sense of the immense alteration of the previous form. This concept of unmaking an object or image draws into question issues regarding visibility. Visibility, as a marker of value in a consumerist society, is particularly informed by these process-driven works. Within the exhibition, it had been significantly reduced via the intervening hand of the artist. The magazine’s basic purpose—to communicate with its audience via image and text—had been completely negated by the artist. The repeated image of vacant eyes and lashes resurfaced throughout the installation, all that was left untouched by the artist from a popular cosmetics advertisement.
Themes of creation and destruction overlapped precariously throughout the exhibition. The notion of creation out of destruction or erasure acted as an underlying foundation for Capurro. A Vacant Bazaar (provisional legend) ultimately re-examined material artistic process and intervention. The simple act of erasure recreated new form out of destruction.