19th September 2008 — 9th November 2008
The implied existence of a ‘Panel 1’ could perhaps refer to the ‘Struc-tube’ portable exhibition system that was at the centre of another of Martin Beck’s exhibitions; About the Relative Size of Things in the Universe. Beck has a sustained interest in exhibition display systems, in fact there is a print depicting the Struc-tube system included in this exhibition, near to the large coloured canvas panel that is central to this exhibition – perhaps the ‘Panel 2’ of he title. Beck has described the exhibition as ‘a genuine modern form’1, in that it is, in its original form, meant as an educational and emancipatory endeavor. It is this genuine (if flawed) attempt at enacting change that seems to fascinate Beck.
Beck’s exhibition at Gasworks takes the 1970 ‘International Design Conference at Aspen’ as its point of origin. Beck includes two different, clearly demarcated display spaces within the show: the first is background information on the conference itself; the second is that surrounding the coloured panel, where subjects and motifs are repeated from the conference and related material; still within the formal logic of ‘the exhibition’ but with their meanings rendered malleable.
On the other hand, ‘Panel 1’ could be taken to be part, or all, of the IDCA in 1970, which is being invoked and resuscitated here, as ‘Panel 2’. Beck says he interested in the 1970 conference in particular because it seems to sit at a crucial point in the conference’s history; a point where the attempts at solving the world’s problems through discussion and resolutions seemed to become redundant – perhaps acknowledging a break from modernism and a stumble towards post-modernism.2
Behind the coloured panel is a video projection, showing a group of people traveling through beautiful aspen woods, stopping to rehearse a speech, and deliver it to others in the group, then decamping and beginning all over again. The lines they speak are taken from a statement by Jean Baudrillard’s which was read to the conference. He denounced the whole idea of environmental activism as part of the problem, not the cure; ‘the established power has always fought against pollution, evidently against the pollution of the establishment itself’. The derisive views of the minority apparently are still present in this resurrected IDCA, but still on the outside, fated to eternally circulate outside the main event. That said, Baudrillard’s words of criticism are the only ones presented here, resounding through the whole space.
The show includes a series of prints, derived from the graphic design a book that contains selected texts around the Aspen conference. Standing on the floor is a series of immaculate stainless steel boxes, which seems to reference minimalist sculpture, although their open sides and the choice of steel instead of mirror perhaps bend this reference more towards design. Another recurrent interest of Beck’s is the shift a form makes from an artistic or educational device, to a tool of business.
The formula used to work out the differing sizes of the boxes creates the same progression to one found in the leaves of aspen trees; Beck has described them as bridging a gap between the corporate and natural. Walking around the space does give one the feeling of being in a garden, and at the same time that of being in an office building’s foyer.
The debates that were had in 1970 are revivified here, within Beck’s consideration of modes of presentation as important and powerful things. Rather than looking back in a nostalgic way, Beck points out that like mathematical patterns, ideological and ecological problems inevitably also repeat.
155 Vauxhall Street
London SE1 5RH