Ceal Floyer / MATRIX 192
September 16, 2001 - November 11, 2001
Download the exhibition brochure (PDF) .
"I consider the things I make to be self-reflexive; they are not necessarily about anything outside of the work itself and the context of its production, and I mean this both in terms of its being made and its being shown. The activity of making the work and the consequent result of it being shown become inseparable."—Ceal Floyer1
British artist Ceal Floyer makes good old-fashioned Conceptual art2 with a late '90s/early '00s attitude. Educated at the trendsetting Goldsmiths College, London, Floyer quickly established herself among the new generation of British artists emerging in the second half of the 1990s. Using a classic Conceptual strategy—i.e., a limited, predetermined set of ideas or conditions in which to execute a work—she reconsiders the nature of visual perception through an engagement with everyday objects and situations. Floyer and other young British artists such as Angela Bulloch, Rachel Whiteread, and Douglas Gordon sort information procedurally, recycle trivial ideas, and situate meaning directly within the cognitive process of the viewer.3
Floyer's work embraces both Minimalism and Conceptualism and comments on each. A double or even triple take may be necessary before her apparently simple installations can be deciphered.4 Complexities of meaning not immediately apparent on first viewing are revealed along with the subtle humor and self–conscious irony with which the artist approaches her subject. Floyer's works often play with the viewer's perceptions of space and light, idea and physical presence, but like those of the Minimalists, do so without illusion. She makes no attempt to hide the underpinnings of her work, which nevertheless are often so subtle that the viewer is at first unable to recognize them. In Light (1994), she hangs a light bulb, obviously disconnected from any possible source of electrical current, and makes it appear lit by shining light on it from four projectors that are mounted from the ceiling in plain view. In Door (1995), the crack of light visible under a door turns out to come not from the room beyond, but from a slide projector set in the middle of the floor. In this way, Floyer sets up expectations only to confound them.
In a quote that encapsulates the premise of Conceptual art, artist Joseph Kosuth pronounced in 1969: "The 'value' of particular artists after Duchamp is weighed according to how much they questioned the nature of art."5 Kosuth himself is interested only in making works of art that inherently question their very existence. The genesis of this exploration can be traced to Marcel Duchamp who, by putting a urinal on display and titling it Fountain, pushed the notion of how art is defined as art. For Kosuth, and for others who work within the now canonized framework of Conceptual art, art exists in the ideas of the artist rather than in the object itself.
Many of the early Conceptual artists studied the writings of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Looking at the function of language as a means to engage philosophical discourse, Wittgenstein posited both that "The meaning of a word is its meaning," and that "The meaning of a word is its use."6 Floyer also contends with meaning. A 1997 work entitled Glass is a clear vinyl seven-inch record. The track is the sonic vibration resulting from the artist running her wine–wet finger around the rim of a wineglass. Here the meaning of the title is its use. In Bucket (1999), an actual bucket sits in the middle of a room, seeming to collect drops of water dripping from the ceiling. The bucket, however, contains only a CD player that produces the sounds of water dropping. Here, to quote Wittgenstein, "The meaning of a word is its meaning."
1960s Minimalism reduced art to its bare elements. Two camps existed within the movement. The one led by Donald Judd focused on pure form and privileged intellect as the determining force in both perception and art. The other, propagated by Robert Morris, Dan Flavin, and Carl Andre, presented raw materials and found objects as art and emphasized the viewer's bodily awareness in the appreciation of and interaction with works of art.7 Morris and Judd did agree, however, on the power of space, light, and material when they functioned literally rather than as mere illusion. Both artists promoted an interaction between the viewer and the whole, literal work in a real, shared space. French existentialist theorist Roland Barthes addresses the interactions that define a work of art in From Work to Text. In a concept that parallels those of Morris, Barthes believes that a work of art exists not as a self-contained object, but rather only through viewer interaction with the work.8
Like that of her art historical predecessors, Floyer's work relies not only on the viewers' cognitive process but also on their perceptual participation. In works such as Monochrome Till Receipt (White) (1998), for example, meaning arises only with recognition. Here, a receipt documenting the artist's trip to a local supermarket is pasted directly on the gallery wall. Only gradually does the viewer comprehend the list of purchases to be only things that are white: milk, toilet paper, cottage cheese, etc. Floyer's spare, ironic, and evocative installations reflect quietly but insistently upon their own ability to manifest themselves as art. At the same time, by focusing on the day–to–day quality and poetic associations of a bucket, wineglass, or doorframe, among other utilitarian items, she challenges the fetishization often assigned to objects transformed into "art."
Floyer's works are spare, paired down to the extreme, almost immaterial. Many are inherently reliant on the context in which they are shown, not just for meaning, but for existence as well. In the General Release catalog for the 1995 Venice Biennale, she chose not to reproduce past works, but rather left the pages blank and altered them solely by adding "th" to the page numbers. Thus the 46th and 47th pages were Floyer's. For a book project with Imprint 93, her contribution was one page. It was blank and had the top corner folded over. Her exhibition at The Showroom gallery in London consisted of a mechanical counter, an infrared beam that traversed the center of the space counting the number of visitors to the show.9 And in Projection (1997), Floyer projects an image of a nail, the structure that supports traditional visual art, onto a white wall. Cool and clever, if Floyer's works and ideas do not capture the viewer's critical imagination, then there is no other space in which they can succeed.10
37' 4", Floyer's site–specific MATRIX exhibition, continues an ongoing exploration of the relationship between language and perception. A wall drawing comprised of a single piece of black elastic, it is Minimalist in appearance, but is actually the antithesis: maximalist. The material is extended to its extreme, thereby negating its elasticity and reducing it to a black line. The choice of material, however, is extremely important—the use of black elastic is deliberately absurd. Floyer chooses to use a material whose dimensions are constantly in flux to quantify distance and delineate the defining feature of the MATRIX Gallery, its long uninterrupted wall. And allowing the viewer to imagine the performative aspect of the wall–to–wall (corner–to–corner) stretch reveals the artist's sense of humor. The poetics of the work lies in the discrepancy between the title and the actual length of the wall of the MATRIX Gallery (84' 5 11/16"). As viewers we are left to ponder how titles (identifying factors assigned to works of art by their creators) influence what and how we see.
Floyer's investigation of the relationship between thinking and seeing in 37' 4" recalls Conceptual artist Mel Bochner's Measurement series from the 1960s. In the Measurement series, Bochner used black tape and Letraset letters to create line drawings. Horizontal and vertical lines were accompanied by measurements of the lengths of the walls themselves. As such, his drawings were very literal, large–scale diagrams of the exhibition spaces in which they were shown.
Floyer pushes and destabilizes our imagination in playful ways. Modern art, in particular Conceptual art, carries a stigma of indecipherability. Floyer's work, which one could argue is deceptively simple, fractures this phenomenon by being truly simple. As British critic David Barrett wrote, "Viewers who obstinately read artworks literally, which unsurprisingly exasperates most artists, would please Ceal Floyer—what is aimed for is a finely balanced paradox of the obvious literalness of the work, coupled with the pressing urge to read further into meanings which present themselves so shamelessly."11 Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of Floyer's work is its levity. One is reminded of the genius of Richard Tuttle who said that, after all, "it is just art." That is more than enough.
Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson
Phyllis Wattis MATRIX Curator
1 "Freddy Contreras and Ceal Floyer in conversation with Kim Sweet," in Freddy Contreras and Ceal Floyer (exhibition catalog), April 26-June 4, 1995 (London: The Showroom, 1995), n/p.
2 Howard Halle, "Ceal Floyer," Time Out New York, September 30-October 7, 1999, no. 210, p. 67.
3 Brian Muller, "Ceal Floyer: Seeing the Light," contemporary visual arts, 1997, no. 16, p. 52.
4 Nico Israel, "Ceal Floyer: Casey Kaplan," Artforum, February 2000, p. 119.
5 See www.artandculture.com, 20th-Century Art, Joseph Kosuth.
6 See artnetweb/views.
7 See www.artandculture.com, 20th-Century Art, Movements, Minimalist Art.
8 C. Murray, "Minimalism," www.solucian.com, artheory.
9 David Barrett, "Playing Dumb: David Barrett on Ceal Floyer," Art Monthly, February 1996, no. 193, pp. 22-23.
The MATRIX Program at the UC Berkeley Art Museum is made possible by the generous endowment gift of Phyllis Wattis.
Additional donors to the MATRIX Program include the UAM MATRIX Council Endowment, Ann M. Hatch, Eric McDougall, and Glenn and April Bucksbaum.
The museum also wishes to thank Richard and Lenore Niles for their support of Ceal Floyer/MATRIX
192 37' 4".