Linda Stauffer at G.159
For her recent first solo, Linda Stauffer arranged four spike-studded bottles of alcohol and three glasses around the white cube of the intimate apartment gallery G.159. The first bottle, along with the glasses, were placed on a tall stool. Next, the viewer (or as G.159 prefers to term them: a guest) would see a canvas sign taped on the wall close to the entrance displaying a list of locally popular brands of alcohol. The other bottles were placed on the floor below the canvas. All of the bottles and glasses had their surfaces completely covered with thumb tacks applied and sealed with a layer of industrial silicon making them almost impossible to touch or hold. The guests were then invited to pour themselves a drink from the bottle on the pedestal. The objective of the event was to drink. Once the first bottle was emptied, the audience could choose from the available brands of alcohol and pick the next bottle to drink. On the last day of the exhibition, as a response to requests from the guest for water, additional small glass bottles hand-painted by the artist were arranged on the floors filled with fresh drinking water.
The show functioned as an interesting nod to the properties of relational aesthetics. The exhibition brought to light the role and participation of the audience, both in the context of the gallery space and their interaction with the artwork itself. In his often-cited text, Relational Aesthetics, Nicolas Bourriaud refers to the inherent nature of an image as being an inevitable linkage or “bond” to another entity or idea. Art in one of its most basic forms is the drawing and making of a connection, and yet the space of a gallery boxes this connection into that of a pristine white cube, a cage, producing a sort of “specific sociability.” Within this space of a gallery, all objects and entities are drawn into an inevitable transaction, and with relational art this transaction morphs into the core of the artwork in itself. This transaction between the viewer and the artwork functions as a performance of sorts, existing within that specific time frame, within the space of the gallery. The relationship between the audience and the artwork becomes the commentary on the connections drawn by the artwork, and therefore ascends it in meaning. The relational nature of the piece becomes, therefore, what completes the piece.
The viewer’s relationship with the artwork here portrays an interesting contradiction. Drawing upon relational aesthetics, the bottles invite the viewer to touch them, to drink from them. The bottles do not function simply as sculptures, but also primarily as containers of beverages. Their purpose is to be drunk, to be emptied. However, the sculptural quality of the bottles lies in their painstakingly accomplished untouchability. Covered in sharp metal barbs, the bottles cannot be held without extreme pain or discomfort. This layer of metal upon the surface of the glass bottles allows them to ascend their utilitarian purpose, or perhaps simply brings this purpose to the forefront of a viewer’s mind, due to its unavailability. Therefore, the interaction with the artwork becomes that of an interesting conflict: trying to hold the bottle to access the alcohol (that being its purpose) while being deterred by the brass tacks. Whereas, the reward for withstanding the discomfort of holding the bottle being a sip of alcohol, and the evidence of the interaction between the space, the viewers and the artwork being the gradual emptying of the bottle. The relationship between the viewer and the artwork was comprised of this simple sequence of specific actions, however, the bottles also embody the passing of time through the eventual wear and tear of the sculptures as the metal pins rust or fall off the surface of the bottle.
There was an inescapable aspect of the inherent toxicity in the work – the elements present were industrial silicon and rusted metal, the alcohol consists of cheap local brews. The pins rust and fall off and may be dangerous if they prick the skin. The event brought to mind tetanus and chemical brews, with the whole experience functioning as an act of self-poisoning – something that is an indulgence of the every day human life. What constitutes the experience of this exhibition is what is left within the gallery space after the passing of this time: the stains of alcohol that accumulate on the floor and pedestal due to spillage and the mess created within the space along with the drinking. Therefore, the gallery space was not simply a pristine cube, but an area constituted for participation and the visual evidence of this.
The manner in which the exhibition was conducted within this gallery space seems notably progressive. Art was almost replaced entirely with alcohol – something that is normally the stimulant of openings. Here, alcohol became the purpose, the end-game of this participation. A visit to the exhibition became simply about getting drunk, but within these bizarre limits of the hazardous bottles and the game of utilising them to drink – a game cleverly devised by Linda Stauffer (who, incidentally, worked in the past as a bartender). With the addition of water bottles on the last day, G.159 utilises a model that encourages expansion and change within the exhibition, allowing for exhibitions to be tested and modified during its course with the help and the reactions of the viewers themselves. The exhibitions are not seen as finished states, but rather as works in progress, reflecting the process of participation and inquiry engendered by the work itself.
Linda Stauffer: The More the Art, The Less the Jokes was on view at G.159 in Yelahanka New Town, India October 29th – November 2nd, 2015.