via ART REVIEW:
By Jonathan T.D. Neil
Posted by artreview.com on 22 May 2009 at 6:09pm
15 May – 20 June
The kind of art that Eve Sussman and Rufus Corporation make often requires a bit of explanation, so bear with me: their current project, ongoing at this point, is titled White on White: A Film Noir. Devotees of art history will quickly recognise that Sussman and Rufus are once again drawing upon a significant work of past art, and in particular of past painting, as – how to describe it? Let’s call them 'datums': facts of orientation that can serve as a reference point with which to find one’s way. For 89 Seconds at Alcazar (2004), the datum was Valesquez’s Las Meninas (1648); for The Rape of the Sabine Women (2007), it was David’s 1799 masterpiece of (roughly) the same name; now the datum is Kasimir Malevich’s Suprematist Composition: White on White from 1918.
The cartography in which Sussman and Rufus engaged for their own White on White involved a kind of nomadic travel through central Asia. As Jeff Wood of Rufus describes it at one point in a dispatch from the Caspian Sea: “This is a research trip. For an art film about extreme combinations. Architectures. Economies. Landscapes. Personalities.” The Rufus Corporation website has been given over to a blog that details some of the travelers’ more bizarre and enchanting experiences, from sharing vodka in the early morning with a pair of freelance hydro-geologic archaeologists in Almaty, Kazakhstan, to bribing their way onto a train heading for Turitam, the rail stop for Baikonur, the former Soviet settlement and location of the Cosmodrome, birthplace of the world’s first space program.
The contents of the Cosmodrome are of particular importance for Sussman and Rufus. There, preserved like some eighteenth-century period room, lies the office of Yuri Gagarin, the world’s first spaceman. This is where the group’s travels reconnect with Malevich. Suprematism was Malevich’s answer to that most revolutionary of questions, What is to be done? His suprematist compositions, beginning with the quasi-mystical Black Square (1915), supplied a visual proving ground for the creation of a new consciousness, one that would free itself of all spatial and temporal limits. (The paintings trace their roots to Malevich’s costume and set pieces for Matiushin, Khlebnikov and Kruchenykh’s cubo-futurist opera, Victory Over The Sun (1913), a utopian space drama if there ever was one.) Malevich’s declaration in 1918 that he was “the commissar of space” led Wood to imagine Gagarin as heir to Malevich’s dream world and, eventually, Sussman and Rufus to the gates of Baikonur.
White on White: The Pilot (just like being there) thus stands as the first or pilot “episode” in this science fiction tale (all good SF is noir by nature). The centerpiece, Yuri’s Office, is a replica of Gagarin’s office. Actually, this is incorrect. What is stationed in the gallery is a full scale, three-dimensional replica of Gagarin’s office as it is pictured in a photograph that Sussman surreptitiously shot while touring the site. What this means is that the office reproduced in three dimensions in the gallery is not really a duplication of the office itself. It is a 3D duplication (the office in the gallery) of a 2D representation (Sussman’s photograph of the office) of the thing itself (Gagarin’s office at the Cosmodrome), which, it seems important to note, has been preserved to look like it did in the 1960s.
As with all such mise en abyme, this one is not without its distortions: the geometry of Yuri’s desk “recreated” in the gallery is just off square (Nicolas Locke, Sussman’s collaborator on the production of the office, told me that its inside angles come out at roughly eight-seven degrees), as is the rug, and even the ink blotter on the desktop. These details may be very small and easily missed, but that of course does not mean that they are not there and available to be seen and registered—“just like being there.”
The mock-ironic tone of that tagline uncovers what I think is ultimately central and deeply important to not only this but all three of Sussman and Rufus Corporation’s recent projects: each is deeply interested, if not invested, in certain problems, or rather mechanisms, of reference. This may seem obvious at the outset given their choice to hitch their wagon to significant works of the art historical past, but in no sense are any of Sussman and Rufus’s works simply about the paintings to which they point. Think about Las Meninas for a moment: the great achievement of that work was to shatter the barrier, to that point taken for granted, which had split pictorial from real space (indeed, it was just this revelation in front of Valesquez’s work that sent a young Richard Serra, then living in Florence, to dump his paintings in the Arno and to begin making sculpture). I like to think that 89 Seconds in Alcazar takes up residence in that moment of shattering and extends it for us so that we can magnify the points of stress between reality and representation.
Each work—89 Seconds, The Rape, White on White – holds tightly to a notion of reality (I hesitate to say 'realism') upon which much contemporary talk of 'mediation' (new and otherwise) has little purchase. White on White appears as if it will be most adamant about this. For all its oddity, for all of the directions—both spatial and temporal—in which the references point, there simply is no getting over what we might as well call the 'fact of the image' (is this not the very hinge of cinema verité?). How to tell the future from the past v.2, a three-channel video installation that captures a 72-hour train journey across the central Asian steppe (and joins Yuri’s Office in the present exhibition), attests to this undeniable reality, to its veracity. There is the landscape of Kazakhstan passing by; it’s just like being there. Only it isn’t.