Bill Conger at Murray State University
Bill Conger‘s Coming Dark selectively sprawls across the walls, floors, pedestals, and cerebral spaces of the Eagle Gallery at Murray State University. Objects and their various support systems, substrates, pedestals, vitrines, frames, even a park bench, titles, text, and the subtle apprenticeship between thing-mentor and human-student enliven what feels like, on first glance, a relatively sparse and dormant ecosystem.
There are some big questions here.
Two-thousand-one-hundred and eight people bore witness to these questions. I designate visitors as potential witnesses here as there is more to be enacted in Bill’s reverent space. One can choose to sympathize, a lowly act of condescension, or individuals can slow down, look, listen, think, feel and ultimately empathize. This is a story being told not by the artist, not by the director, not by historians, or critics, although I am here gesturing at apprehension. This story is being told by these virtually impenetrable things that coexist with you in time and space and character. They are telling you something but are also looking for responses. They are conversant and decide, as a group, how to proceed.
They will resist you.
They are slumbering parrots.
A long time ago a Sperm Whale was killed and its tooth collected.
If you took the time to sit down and listen, this tooth would tell you of all the blood, sweat, and tears that were spilled at its feet. It would tell of the cave it sat in for years upon years waiting, or not. Much like Michael Pollen’s tomato, a tomato that houses its own agentic mechanisms, this tooth has big plans and human-kind shuffles at its behest.
Or maybe Conger has been allowed access to this clandestine network, or is being utilized as an ambassador. After all, things need to convey points to us somehow. He has agreed to crusade on things’ behalf. He underscores their presence through our own absence, our passing, through life, through fields of knowledge and recognition.
Is Bill Conger a metaphysical mediator, an esoteric liason?
He definitely explores his capacity to animate, to doll up, and for the fancifully simple rendition or simulacrum. All work, all of it, is lit with raking three-quarter lighting that underscores each element’s defiance of immobility.
These things are, however subtly, moving. They are imperceptibly engaged. Like their title, Bell, they vibrate, they emit. He nudges us into understanding nothing as static. Every rock, log, bottle, sea-bass, tarantula, scotch tape roll, and iron bridge is teeming with life, with movement, with qualities that the naked eye takes for granted in its nakedness.
In a lake near my house, there’s a stick that’s waiting for Spring thaw. It’s embedded, imprisoned in the ice temporarily. It’s waiting. In a few short weeks it will stretch and return to drifting in the braided currents of water. We use words like dead, numb, and inanimate, but Bill Conger searches to unpack this phenomenology of the frozen. The artist negotiates membranes. He is one himself. Porosity allows these various identities to flow freely; object, subject, life, afterlife, interlife, mix around and get mucked up. What Bill might be really after is interrogating our unfortunately confident sense of immortality. These things are as much us as we are them. They are we. We are, we and all of us are, passing.
More tangibly described, Conger’s sculptures look like they could be the melancholic residue of one of Spanish Dramatist, Federico Garcia Lorca’s plays, possibly his first, The Butterfly’s Evil Spell; A play of frustrated love and imminent death that I have not seen. A ramshackle white box, possibly a pedestal, stands upturned with a highball glass perched, on top, just out of reach of the edge. There’s a slice of lime nestled in the bottom; uncanny how it has potentially infiltrated the sacredness of the installation. Was it placed there, was it left, was it forgotten?
Does its verisimilitude provide a model for our own authenticity sought through replication, projection, and intoxication.
Does love exist?
He has brought things down to a microscopic, wonder-filled, perceptual space that is resistant to the hegemonic spectacle. Similarly, portions of the installation exist entirely below our eye-level relying on an equivalent egalitarian substrate that Rodin’s Burghers of Calais did and does. The aggrandizing pedestal is eviscerated or even gone subterranean making the earth’s natural platform a potentially heightened state of being. In his large and low work, Weeper, substrate and object do just that. Could it be that we are witness to another kind of martyrdom? A thing’s willingness to come, stay, and eventually allow entropic processes to intecept, waylay, and even detain it between here and nothing?
Facsimiles that read more like Dummies, beneath glass atop their pedestal perches, as if their vanilla-ness had been vanquished.
Moments of text that have breeched the pages of Bill Conger’s book, Your Mine, materialize on the wall as integral objects, calling into question how the mind identifies the world. Does it understand, as Joseph Kosuth’s timeless work shows, that Chair exists in numerous analogous perceptual realities via text, language, image, memory, object, use, etc.
We must remember that to be yourself or recognize any other selves we must constantly remember what those selves are.
I’m pretty sure it’s a childhood intoxication that those of us unlucky enough to follow it through adulthood are constantly inhibited by its impermanence.
If you maintain a child’s perspective of the existence of love through adulthood do you ultimately die young?
Bill Conger, Coming Dark: Selected Works from 2004-2014 was on view at Murray State University’s Clara A. Eagle Gallery from January 23 through March 7, 2014.
Images courtesy of the artist.