If you have read the pages of certain of the British newspapers over the years of the TurnerPrize, you will have been confronted with an overdose of what Roland Barthes, called ‘blind and dumb criticism’ about it. The kind of criticism which mocks the work of the artist and offers its readers a guarantee of informed opinion (after all these are critics of national newspapers!): if we The Daily Mail just don’t get it then it must be rubbish. The blind and dumb critic throws up their arms in a gesture of simultaneous indignation and ignorance and their readers are satisfied – thank god we don’t have to think and reflect about this stuff now that the Daily Mail has expressed itself. I am reminded of Heraclitus’ “present, they are absent’“. There are those who see nothing as if they were absent rather than present and those who see something and are most definitely present.
There has been more suggestive responses to Lloyd’s work. For example the C4 arts correspondent tweeted: “Hilary Lloyd punky, mischievous and tantalisingly tough to crack.” And the booklet that comes with the Turner Prize exhibition suggests the images are pensive. Punky and pensive: how could these two go together?
Recently during an afternoon in Gateshead, I heard Lloyd talk about her work with interviewer and Tate curator, Jeremy Corner, who mentioned how he felt when Lloyd looked at him – it was as if she was seeing more than most people when she looks. Maybe we really need to take a closer look ourselves. What will we see? What will be visible? The difference between nothing and something – the visible itself is at stake. That visible which is all over the place but which is not always said to be something.
What is the art saying? In a delicious moment from the video that accompanies her Turner Prize entry she responds to just this sort of question: she doesn’t know – you can speculate about it . . . but maybe, not her, but rather you, could tell her what it’s saying. Yes . . . she is tough to crack. It is the visible matter that matters. If you don’t ‘get’ it, that doesn’t matter.
Lloyd is not anti-thought – she tells the audience at The Baltic that she doesn’t think her work is over-interpreted. But there is just no authority to tell you what it is you should get. You can’t get it. There is no authority or arche (meaning authority or principle) that could illuminate you. This art just exists without authority so it exists as the an-archic.
Is it an object that can be subjected to authority? None of the art rests like paintings may seem to rest. The pieces all move or change. So the art doesn’t rest. It doesn’t stay still. In fact it seems to try to impose itself as subject between us and the world – we have to move around it to proceed! Lloyd says she likes the fact that it gets in the way.
Here at The Baltic it’s like as if us and it are co-habitants of a space, we are not just spectators of it, it is not just spectacle. All this engenders a kind of restlessness but not without a certain excitement – like walking into a new and strange nightclub for the first time: difficult to negotiate, not sure where to stand but there is stuff happening that sure looks interesting, yet we are definitely out of our comfort zone, it’s impossible to feel smug or self-satisfied. It doesn’t seem to guarantee any foundation. Indeed, here at the Baltic in the space of Llloyd’s art, we are reminded that we are a long way from the foundations of the building by the large window looking out onto the Tyne – there is only some vertiginous flux below – which at her Baltic talk Lloyd refers to: she likes the way that in that space you can look out onto the immense Tyne and its way to the sea. The work engages me as possible thrill but also as a threat – it lives! This stuff – what am I to make of it? It may be that the certainty of objects underlines my own subjective certainty. But these are things that appear to be on the edge of the visible and the invisible and so provoke a kind of ontological uncertainty. With this art some alarm registers, yet I want to look, to see, to be here.
Lloyd’s work can have an almost mannered anti-media professionalism about it. It is more or less guaranteed that the techno-code-obsessed editors and camera operators of the media industries would judge some of the framing and the camera movements to be amateur, with their sudden jolts and movements. But the point is that the camera has caught something and that something has value in it – look!
The specially published Turner booklet references Jacques Rancière’s idea of the pensive image in relation to the art. The reference is too fleeting for the casual reader to be able to make much sense of it. But we can enter into a proper engagement with Lloyd’s work by emphasising this idea of the pensive image and another of Rancière’s angles – his political thought, which anyway is never separated from his aesthetic thinking. His is a thinking of the an-archic and the consonant anarchic tendency in both Lloyd’s presence and art would seem a reasonable point for entry into discussion of it.
How might the artwork be pensive and an-archic? Rancière’s (2011) idea of the pensive image is of an image that conjoins two regimes of expression without homogenizing them – so to paraphrase Rancière – Lloyd’s work is an art poised between cinema, documentary photography, sculpture, and painting, in which none of these regimes dominate – there is an an-archic relationship between them. Floor, (2011) for instance, has a cinematic projection of light across a space. There is something of documentation – there is clearly an existent object but it is hard to define, seemingly an erect stick joined to a piece of what weirdly looks like a piece of pregnant wood with a navel. It is also beautifully and seemingly haphazardly vertically lined by a purple stripe of light vacillating between appearance and disappearance. Other images hardly move and have something of the photograph about them. We sometimes are not sure where to look – indeed Moon frustrates our attempts to see both its screens at the same time. The projectors have sculptural qualities. There are screens which have a long-held affinity with television. So in the artwork there is a Rancièrean refusal of regime domination and there is ‘resistance to thought’ but also because of that a ‘reawakening of perceptual possibilities’ And in interviews Lloyd is ‘punky’ – resistant to thought that may enclose her work within a single regime of expression because the art may, should, must, open up possibilities.
At the very least it is a reminder that the boundaries between the perceivable and the unperceivable can be changed, opened, unpoliced. So suggesting another way of seeing and so another way of being and of course that necessitates thought about other ways of living: politics
At Lloyd’s piece at the Turner Prize at times we are confronted with just white screens. So somebody says we see nothing. Yet of course we do not see nothing, we just see that somebody has the idea of nothing. To rework a famous ontological consideration here there is something and the something somethings.
Roland Barthes: Mythologies
The Emancipated Spectator
Gary Widdowfield lives in Middlesbrough, teaches Philosophy and was on strike five days before the Turner Prize was awarded.