Exhibitions and Events
Postscript 14 - Liz Magor on Rita McBride
Liz Magor on Rita McBride
No Fixed Address
Air travel. Still the best, in spite of the forfeited nail scissors, small-scale movies and possible embolisms. Graham Greene said he accepted any assignment that required a flight of eight hours or more. He admitted that he found relief from depression and despair in the confined space of an airplane, escaping the gravity of his own identity through the promise of the unpredictable and the reorganization of his habitual character.
This is an understandable sentiment and in the course of flying to one's destination it is possible to feel kinship with fellow travellers knowing that we all have been removed from the same old place and look forward to being deposited at a new place with an equal chance of starting over. A psychic community is formed as each passenger engages in the same shape-shifting required by such a passage. Taking this further, when a plane goes down, carrying all passengers to their death, it's impossible not to imagine the intense bond that is unexpectedly forged as each occupied seat brings with it
an identical date of demise. But let's not think of going down. Let's think of flying, alone, to an appointment. An assignment that requires our presence making these few hours before arrival pregnant with enforced passivity. A passivity that drives us to watch the movie, cruise the audio program and flip through Vanity Fair all at the same time, while reviewing a plan to hit the ground running.
As the plane begins its descent and the oxygen-poor air becomes jumpy, the band of flyers begins to break up, shifting the focus from cabin life to thoughts of meeting people on the ground. For our solitary traveller, on assignment, the people on the ground may be strangers, known only by phone or e-mail. Curators perhaps, installers, dealers, other artists; colleagues dedicated to the same project, forming themselves as the new community poised to replace the little village of airline passengers. This is good, because travel can be lonely and the itinerant worker wisely engages co-workers for both business and pleasure.
At Artspeak, in her work No Fixed Address, Rita McBride has invented a situation that recognizes our propensity for serially forming and dissolving particular and devoted groups. The gallery holds a queen-sized waterbed covered by a bedspread embellished with pictures of airsickness bags. The bed is positioned so that its occupants can watch a flickering fire on a monitor attached to the ceiling while listening to a recital of chapters from a bizarre story on additional speakers. Elsewhere in the gallery, background information describes the production of this story as a collaborative work made up of chapters contributed by a growing number of artists and colleagues; another small community, gathered this time in the binding of the book.
A loop is forming, started by the artist flying to her job, hooking up with those who write and read this work, then extending to the people dropping in to see what's going on. These visitors elect themselves to the group by listening to the audio, perhaps relaxing on the bed, becoming linked participants who enlarge the work person by person. This is, in effect, a sculptural "Friendster" program, forming an organism that exists and grows on the nourishment of our personal interaction with each other, an interaction facilitated by our shared interest in art. Is this a description of a club? Perhaps, although throughout the structure there are caveats with regard to the terms of its incipient clubiness. Not only are the stories, centred around the character of Gina Ashcraft, strangely violent and fraught with themes of art world competitiveness and striving, but also the work that occupies the gallery has clearly conflicting signifiers. In graphic terms it suggests that the sensual relaxation offered by the bed will be paid for by the vomitty upset of travel and stress. For every fun trip there is a dose of fatigue and doubt. Rather than face the whole deal alone, McBride assembles us, devising a structure that introduces us to each other. In this case, the bed can serve as both object and occasion for seeking company, and we use it according to our own inclination.
As the central character of Naked Came The ****, Rita McBride's 2002 exhibition catalogue, Gina Ashcraft, is comical. A site-specific artist impelled to travel from exhibition to exhibition, she never seems to get it that the zany interactions which surround her work are in fact more compelling than the work itself. As a model for an artist, Gina is spoofed by this installation which posits that artworks are more useful as instruments for social interaction. This makes No Fixed Address a contemporary version of art about art, being, in itself, a perfect emblem for the nervous fun that is an artist's career.