Sciencefictive: An Unrelenting Pursuit of Surface

Published 20 May 2014 Simon Marsh

Today abstraction is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror, or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of the territory, a referential being, or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyper-real…today it is the territory whose shreds slowly rot across the extent of the map. It is the real and not the map whose vestiges persist here and there in the deserts that are no longer those of the empire, but our own. The desert of the real itself. [1]

Similar to the mapmakers in Jorge Luis Borges’s short story On Exactitude in Science, found in the collection, A Universal History of Infamy, [2] Gary Carsley adheres to a cartographic exactness throughout the creation of Sciencefictive, a metaphoric mappa mundi situating the viewer at the centre of the world. The superabundance of conceptual questions that one is met with when viewing the complex series of surfaces that constitute Carsley’s most recent exhibition at the Institute of Modern Art Brisbane, seamlessly revolve around an artistic inference, circle the believability of this metaphoric significance that exists between, within and throughout the artistic object, time, space, place and of course the viewer in situ. What we are challenged with are a profusion of conceptual slippages between illusion and reality. Challenged by Carsley’s artistic representation of a flattened world – the simulacral positioning of the fantastically disengaged state of the virtual – a subtle critique that circumvents the potential threat posed to a distinctive sense of place and the knowledgeable space of community that can and has in the past consciously located us in our world. Sciencefictive is in effect representative of a Baudrillardian desert of our own making, our own desire and yet it is an interior garden of thought that possesses a persuasive undercurrent of critical benevolence in its interrogation of artistic, economic, political and digital propositions et al that together comprise contemporary social conventions. It is, “a disobedient mirror in which the reflection no longer corresponds to the person who may be regarding him or herself.”

Processes of digital sampling firstly question the authenticity of the idea of place. Place no longer has an anchor. It is decoupled from the historical constraints of geography. [3]

Carsley’s meticulously constructed inferred environments within the gallery setting can clearly be seen to privilege the durational hand of the artist. In fact each work is the product of months of planning and execution. There persists a distinctly meditative instability throughout these works, a slipperiness of a multitude of surface that knowingly commemorates a photographic process that has been infected through the artist’s digital sampling. Carsley’s composite Draguerreotypes of architecturally constructed global gardens – in the main – fashioned through the use of sampled swatches of wood grain, sourced by the artist from various hardware stores throughout his travels, in effect, has supplemented the photograph and in the process has overwritten that which was, thereby challenging an understanding of the supremacy of the original with that of the inferred. This at times capricious and painstaking methodology, by degrees, disengages the image from its source and it is this constancy of decoupling that is echoed on a multitude of surfaces of representation throughout Carsley’s work. The multifaceted levels of disconnection that Carsley articulates throughout Sciencefictive seem a distinct tactic utilised to accentuate the viewer’s vague relationship to the real.

This entropically inferred veneer, representative of the similitude between itself and an architecturally designed garden space is strategically employed by Carsley to unlock a conversation surrounding, in one sense, the collapse of art and through association, life’s refined position toward that of a post-modern, surface orientated, mass-produced consumerism, a distinct and melancholic investigation of an accustomed simulacra.

This I like…I particularly like the collapse of what was an aristocratic and an extraordinarily expensive and refined position toward that of mass production. [5]

Framed by Chinese Moongates that metaphorically breach the walls of the gallery space, these inferred garden-scapes immediately assume another layer of conceptual significance. Traditionally topographical apertures enabling movement between evocatively divergent perspectives within a classical garden setting, in the vernacular specific to Sciencefictive, the artist fuses this traditional understanding of the Chinese Moongate with the imagined conduit of the Stargate in its fictional capacity to render an almost immediate conveyance across vast distances. This integration of a past fact with an imagined future and the intuitive fictional passing of both along a predetermined time-line, situates the viewer in the space and time of a constructed objectified and fantastical present. The affluence of in-authenticity that exists throughout Sciencefictive is simply inescapable. We the viewer, situated at the centre of this spun web of in-authenticity cannot help but feel a performative cameo in its creation and yet the exhibition holds its authenticity in a cognitive, conceptual knowingness of the territory it explores: the similacral rendering of an intrinsically known and felt hyper-reality.

Embedded in the work, is a critique of both the world and the art world and its fetishisation of particular forms of cultural production and consumption. [6]

The initial unlikely integration throughout the gallery space, both, of strategically positioned items of artistically camouflaged flat-packed IKEA furniture – further suggesting a fluxus inspired utilitarian intervention in that the viewer is invited into the work to realise its completion – and the flattened impressions of a classical statuary cut from a floral wallpaper, intermittently positioned throughout the exhibit – given reflection – underline Carsley’s extended consideration surrounding the collapse of the real into a distinctly contemporary sense of an unreal virtuality. Looking at the wallpaper cutout of the Laocoon for instance, the first question that arises, surrounds the legitimacy of labelling it as such and yet we immediately recognise it, almost feel its homoerotic masculinity reaching out to us like an echo from another time and place. However, rationally and upon further investigation we realise it to be a cutout from a photograph of a fibreglass copy of the real. These degrees of distance – at times thrice removed from the original – the degrees of a palpable culture jamming and discriminate mashing together of stylistic artistic processes – to paraphrase the words of Baudrillard – initiates a recognition that it is indeed the real that has been corrupted and displaced through our absolute un-blinkered acceptance of the verisimilitude we afford virtual space, time and place. [7] We cannot help but feel the artists absolute delight at intellectually compounding a hybridised mixture of conceptualism that extends the inference of these works beyond the confines of the gallery setting. And like a dystopian Moreau vivisecting artistic theories in his island laboratory, Carsley’s extended knowledge of the prevailing artistic canon holds the comprehensive feel of an exuberant exercise in exposing an encroaching blasphemy toward an accelerated and seemingly celebrated subsidence from the real.

The artist seeks…the fiction that reality will sooner or later imitate.

To clearly decipher the distinct characteristics of entropy, simulacra and the sublime employed by Carsley throughout Sciencefictive, we need to firstly comprehend the elongation of his extended artistic conversation with Robert Smithson, in particular, Smithson’s employment of the Nonsite. Essentially a logical dialogue between an exterior reality and a constructed interior signifier to that reality, a Smithsonian Nonsite encompasses the displacement of the real [original] and yet remains a map of that particular location. It is an indication of what may be expected upon arrival, a marker confounding “the illusion of materiality and order”. When viewing the work of Smithson and by extension the work of Carsley as seen throughout Sciencefictive, it remains imperative we keep in mind concepts surrounding, site, displacement, location and a capacity to metaphorically resolve distance. [8] Again it must be stressed that to traverse the space between these sites involves an exceptional faith in the belief of a prodigious metaphysical metaphor. 

The images then – aligned with a specific artistic template – within the gallery setting, become embedded with a symbolic magnitude that aligns the accredited indexicality of the Nonsite directly with our thought processes in resolving distance and conceptually configuring our place within the real. However, where Carsley wittingly departs from Smithson’s formula is via the introduction of another layer to the Smithsonian methodology. To be clear here, Carsley’s representation of a mappa mundi aligns a variety of Nonsites that comprise Sciencefictive to other artistic and architecturally imagined Nonsites which then, when following the ascribed prescription attributed by Smithson, we logically arrive at the site of the real. These degrees of displacement and dislocation from a known – potentially vastly  forgotten and only imagined – site of the real is prudently utilised by Carsley in arguably questioning the knowledgable reality of a rapidly flattened alteration of the human condition. Perhaps ironically, this process is something we do on a daily basis – seemingly without thought – when we address our ever flattening world through the interactive windows of a computer screen.

Art and life proceed from the same elemental processes and the elements and attributes that you find in life you find also in art…. But for many of today’s artists this “desert” is a “City of the Future” made of null structures and surfaces. This “City” performs no natural function, it simply exists between mind and matter, detached from both, representing neither…[10]

Carsley has conflated and at times – through his “promiscuous cross pollination of theoretical positions” – intimates a celebration of the art of the artificial, invention and cognitively devised travel between these sites. [11] These artistic devices are realised through the utilisation of an accrued cultural ‘value’ that remains intrinsic throughout the rise of a digital globalisation. Accomplished through the artist’s unrelenting pursuit of the surface, reassembled with divergent narratives that matter-of-factly dictate the positioning of the viewer to that of a centralised position. The hyper-real simulacra embedded within Carsley’s Sciencefictive, the vanquishing of distance and the foregrounded surface representations of the real, when viewed through the lens of a digital supremacy, intimate the contemporary human desire for a constructed immediacy. Structurally, Sciencefictive negates an ease with which to conceptually connect with the real, in many ways, it speaks to a human frenzy for a virtual closeness whilst adhering to a predetermined distance, an indolent eye that looks without seeing, a memory that refuses extension beyond the present, a tactile transference to that of the optical and the radically, collective, technological surgery of the social body in its decoupled resemblance to the exterior reality of nature. A nature that seems but a fleeting spectre on a distant and rapidly disappearing horizon.

Header Image, Gary Carsley, Sciencefictive, Artist talk, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, 2014. Music Courtesy: Per Olov Kindgren, Air, J. S. Bach.

[1] Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulations, University of Michigan Press, 1994.

[2] Borges, Jorge Luis, A Universal History of Infamy, Penguin Books, London, 1975.

[3] In conversation with the artist.

[4] Ibid.

[5] above n3.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Above n1.

[8] Unpublished Writings in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, edited by Jack Flam, Published: University of California Press, Berkeley, California, 2nd Edition 1996.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Above n3.

[11] Ibid.

Of interest:

Friedman, Thomas. The World is Flat, Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006.

Bolz, Norbert and Michelle Mattson. Farewell to the Gutenberg-Galaxy, New German Critique, No. 78, Special Issue on German Media Studies (Autumn, 1999),pp. 109-131. Published: New German Critique.