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TEXT Outside the Red House by Galit Mana
Written as part of Ouside the Red House at Marian Cramer Projects, Amsterdam

The East coast of England. Misty landscape. Determined waves engulf a long strip of sandy beach. An introverted man appears on the scene, accompanied by dogs. Does he approach the pastoral Red House near the beach – seduced by a life he wishes to live?

Imagining the composer and tenor, Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears. What images flicker in mind? Life in a secluded house. A desert island or a resort? A glamorous pair inhabiting domestic interiors that are magnificently designed with art collection and artefacts. A home – hub for creation and creativity or life in a pseudo 19th century Parisian salon? Britten and Pears men of the world hiding in the Red House.

The Red House as superb kaleidoscope: shards of images, innovative design, fashion, performance, manuscripts, music, Geoffrey Clarke’s Sirens, ribbed glass, walnut wood, William Blake’s St Paul Shaking off the Viper, metal and textile, 1960’s British psychedelic colours, Keith Grant’s Aldeburgh Beach and John Piper’s Clymping Beach.

Between an insider and an outsider, Richard Healy conjures up the lives of Britten and Pears –‘making objects that open-up narrative spaces’ and welcoming us to step into the men’s isolated world. Healy walks in paths of enigma and imagination, putting together the jigsaw pieces (some derive from the Red House’s outdoor architectural features). He animates the life of Britten and Pears in one confined space. Eventually Healy unveils his vision of their domestic sphere, inhabited by artworks and concealed desires; glass phallic sculptures either hung or presented on wooden shelves; mysterious, abstract prints almost architectural. A cable knit sweater floats on a hanger. A film on a music stand. English traditions, English gestures and English codes of a nau[gh]tical world.

Galit Mana is a curator and writer based in London


IN CONVERSATION with Oliver Basciano (Managing Editor, ArtReview)
First published in USED Magazine Issue 5

'Is Materiality now Immaterial?'

Oliver Basciano: Your work, which encompasses sculpture, installation and video has this uncanny, unworldly feel to it. This perhaps stems from your use of digital animation in the videos works, which in turn affects how the viewer receives the tangible objects. Yet we should be more familiar with this aesthetic – we spend so much of our time working in ‘digital space’ – on our laptops, staring at our phone screens after all. What is your work’s relation to real world materiality? Much of your work seems a rejection of, or at least a critical investigation, of physicality.

Richard Healy: The idea of 'materiality' occupies a lot of my time. For me physicality has always appeared to be the result of 'hard-work' or ‘labour’. I would never say that I reject hard work, but I do investigate the idea of how 'hard' I am working versus how ‘productive’ I am being in the studio. I suppose this is a by-product of working with digital technology. I can sit until late in the studio being highly productive, creating thousands of high definition jpegs for a new film, however I am not working 'hard', my computer is. Again, I can make dozens of marks with a digital pen and in a few clicks these are transposed into chiseled strokes on a slab of marble. The computer allows for this hyper-productivity because it is divorced from the time constraints of physical material labour.

OB: How political is that mediation of labour for you? Marx said we were supposed to become freed through our labour, and then the Silicon Valley utopianists said we'd become freed from labour. Yet we seem to have become enslaved to our screens. I always think of video rendering as a great expression of that: the computer is doing the work, but it traps you, babysitting it. Or, more generally, maybe we're the babies and the computers are looking after us. But perhaps you have a more optimistic outlook!

RH: Generally I have an optimistic outlook. My interest in labour is a result of the consistency of technology in our everyday lives, every moment is an opportunity to be productive at the hands of a laptop or smart phone. Is that liberating? I honestly do not know, I definitely find the speed of technology liberating, but you are right that more often than not it just frees more time to use more technology. To open another window or look at another screen.

Any political mediation would be on who owns this productive space. I use various online platforms through which I make my work – Tumblr pages, issuu pdfs, Vimeo uploads –these platforms obligate the user into a form of self-design or self-presentation. This is interesting I think. How we are so free with the idea of appropriation that we happily navigate the web projecting images of ourselves through the default settings of others. I realise the speed of the computer screen obligates me to work more, blurring the boundary between social past-time and real-time labour. However my optimistic side hopes that this blurring is a result of my satisfaction with producing work through this process. Not only can you produce effects quickly through a computer but in a second you can upload it onto the web to show the world. The act of courting attention in this way can have its trappings, however I view it as a liberating aspect that the computer screen has offered the art world.

OB: We can never fully reject materiality though, however much we spend our lives working with or within computer space, we’re still eating, breathing, moving objects in the real world.

RH: Yes and the work isn’t rejecting or ignoring that. It will always be rooted in the material world, so undoubtedly the idea of materiality is always present in my work. For example I have a collection of images of marble and other surface textures to render into films and prints. These materials are always placed out of arm's reach however. They are suggested, described rather than realised. When an object does escape the gravity of the computer screen and I produce a sculpture, the choice of materials (mainly glass) echoes their digital origins. These choices were repeated in my last show where digital prints were mounted directly onto the surface of the glass frames denying any physicality of the paper, while trying to recreate the moment when I first saw the image on the computer screen.

OB: Perhaps a work you made for a show last year titled Vetiver connects that idea. You made candles scented with the smell of a Comme des Garcons cologne right? Whilst the candle is an object, its main function is something immaterial, a smell.

RH: The use of perfume came about from an invitation to do a show at Marian Cramer’s project space in Amsterdam. It is a unique situation, as it demands that the artist make work for Marian Cramer’s home as well as the white-cube gallery space. The notion of this brought up obvious issues of gallery display, interior design and taste. I started to make scented candles as objects that could exist in both spaces and bridge the presentation. The idea of using my cologne in these candles seemed sensible: it allowed the show to address my tastes as the artist and Marian Cramer’s tastes as curator and collector. As a motif it seemed very different to other elements within the show. Most of the works deal with surface and the formulation of architectural space, yet here there was nothing but the heavy vapor of the cologne I used.

OB: What's your relationship to design, or more specifically architecture? You didn't study it did you? Your work, both the videos and the sculptures, has an architectural sensibility to it. The computer animated video Testing Ground for example has this amazing architectural space depicted, yet it's a fiction – it reminds me of those old Archizoom projects or Zaha Hadid's conceptual designs.

RH: Yeah, I really like the idea of fiction within art practices, and architecture links to this. I never trained as an architect and when I was younger I didn’t express any interest in architecture, I did however love science fiction. And my first interests in architecture came from sci-fi design – Star Trek: The Next Generation, Babylon 5 and Dune, as well as the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov were hugely influential. However, it wasn’t until I saw an exhibition by Superstudio that I realised that architecture could be concept based, that it could be virtual rather than real. That first encounter with Superstudio lead to me seeking out Archigram and Archizoom and their models, fanzines and masterplan prints. With all these groups, what I liked was the language they used; in fact I probably liked the way that they communicated their ideas more than the ideas themselves. Architectural design has a really great aesthetic to create fiction with. Models and prototypes are such interesting objects of potential that allow you to point the audience in a direction and at the same time afford the audience a lot of freedom.

OB: When did this interest manifest itself as a work though?

RH: The first time I made an architectural film was out of necessity. Part of my fine art course was an interim show of all the student’s works in what was a very small gallery. The idea of compromise in that situation was problematic for me so I decided I would make a virtual model of the gallery and curate a solo show of objects from my studio at the time. That video became the first version of Testing Ground. These videos have been shown several times since that outing and every time are different, reflecting a different set of objects and ideas that are occurring in my studio. In fact I think of Testing Ground as a direct extension of my studio. That is another aspect of architecture that I have borrowed – the idea that a work can be edited, altered and improved in subsequent versions.

OB: That idea of editing, renovation and improvement (which a digital practice lends itself to) is picked up in a text that you made available alongside a show you did last year. It was a story, a parable really, written by the architect Adolf Loos, describing a man who hired in an architect to furnish his house. The essay seems to mock the idea of a ‘finished product’.

RH: Loos’ essay was a critique on a certain mode of modernist design and the limitations it placed on the user. In the story the client wants to bring art into his home, however does not want to deal with choosing it, so hires an architect and defaults to his tastes. I found the idea of scale the most engaging aspect of the essay. In the end the architect has reduced art and design to a capsule collection of good-taste, while simultaneously reducing his client’s life into an ordered trap of certainty and function. In Testing Ground I delay any conclusion, I prolong the process with more edits and additions. It is a space for production without any conclusion, which is an exciting prospect.

Interestingly, having used Loos’ essay I came across Against Nature by the French novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans, that seems to celebrate the provisional and inconclusive. I ended up using an extract to accompany the exhibition Vetiver. In the extract Huysmans’ protagonist creates various perfumes to mask the smell of the garden outside his window. In the end he gives up, collapsing exhausted on his windowsill, but only after having mixed endless variations of compounds and tinctures. The whole book is filled with similar unconcluded projects, however there is something progressive about these willful acts even though they serve no function. It’s a really moving book.

 

IN CONVERSATION with Samuel Jeffery
As part of ‘Strategies for Building', a solo presentation at Outpost, Norwich


OUTPOST is pleased to present ‘Strategies for Building’, a solo exhibition of new work by London-based artist, Richard Healy.


Healy presents us with a series of highly rendered, graphic objects. Four, canary yellow frames support partially rendered pencil drawings depicting prototypes of modernist interiors. Seemingly bleak, the drawings appear as unfinished designs or blueprints. A crisp aluminium shelving system of the same colour houses a projector. The film, anchored through a backdrop of a static horizon, shows a morphing digital landscape of abstract geometry, oscillating between pure abstract form and seemingly recognisable architectural spaces.


'Strategies for Building' continues Healy's exploration of the exhaustion of form, particularly the notion of Minimalism’s search for new possibilities for the object, a search shared and continued by minimal design. Embodied through simulations of architecture and design, Healy’s work explores notions of proposed outcomes, setting his search against the background of ‘future think-tanks’ and ‘invisible committees’.


Addressing the political implications of interior design, the exhibition focuses on a highly regarded and influential colour group. Choosing to remain anonymous this respected group of colour analysts meet twice a year to discuss and forecast colours for various economic outputs based on current observations. Through discussion, a democratic decision is made upon a palette of colours that will be placed into production for use in the next two to three years. Their British palette is then sent, with a representative, to an international colour group workshop, which will form the basis for an international set of colours to be used by multinational organisations. Made up of 23 members, the British group has guided the economic use of colour for over forty years. For the exhibition they have chosen a single colour, which is used throughout as a ‘support structure’ that upholds or contains the artworks.


Healy displays a dichotomy through making simultaneous references to both recognised, existing design histories as well as unrealised ones. His drawings and films imply a time that exists somewhere between or outside the past, the present and the future, where minimalism, an exhausted, historic movement, rubs shoulders with a digital landscape purveying an unrealised environment, a future space. Putting to question the pragmatics of design and its potential to function within an art context, Healy eloquently incites a conceptual playoff between disparate languages and values.


 
A conversation between Richard Healy and Samuel Jeffery -


Samuel Jeffery: You have spoken about the framing devices in the show as ‘Secondary Structures’ although they play a critical role within the conceptual underpinning of the work. How did these ‘Secondary Structures’ come to play a primary role?


Richard Healy: Yes their role is critical but equally pragmatic. It is interesting that as I have been discussing these objects I have called them ‘secondary structures’ but also ‘support structures’, in any event they have always seemed dissimilar to the drawings or film. All apart from the aluminium structure, which in its making became increasingly rarefied to the extent that it warranted a title. Interestingly I called it ‘Divider’, so how much can a designed object escape it function?  I am not sure, in any case the system of support in the show isn’t universal and that really interests me, especially as they are all a single colour. Monochrome was such a modernist obsession with order, so it’s interesting that the yellow supports are, in fact, unequal to one another.


SJ: The works in the show are pregnant with implied practical and design functions. Even the film, which is potentially the most ambiguous of the works, seemingly manages to retain the quality of a prototype, a draft or maybe even something like an architectural mood board. Is it important that all of the artworks maintain a functional implication, that they seem that they could go on to live different lives outside of the gallery?


RH: It is important that they maintain their elements of function, however I always see these functions through the prism of the gallery space in order to highlight and question their value.  The idea of them going into the ‘real world’ to follow their functions is obviously implied, however the reality of that occurring seems less appealing to me.


SJ: You have made a decision to place the printouts of the press release and this interview inside the gallery on a purpose made shelf. These are usually placed in the foyer in racks but between us we have decided to change this system. This way the shelf is almost in the real world and seems to be fulfilling a function that we know was once in the ‘real world’. How would you justify that?


RH: Yes it is fulfilling its function, however I would argue that the gallery is not the ‘real world’ but a ‘pseudo-world’.  The distinction between the gallery space and the other areas of OUTPOST like the office, foyer and kitchen are apparent.  Choosing to place my works, like the shelf, into those spaces would hinder what that object has been made to do.  In that situation I would just be making a shelf for OUTPOST. The fabricated, clean space of this gallery offered the opportunity to question its position and the value of its fellow objects, simply because there is less to interrupt these relationships.  I would like to point out that gallery can exist in real spaces, galleries can be in peoples living rooms, if that was the case here my approach would have been very different.


SJ: There appear to be worlds illustrated within the drawings and within the film. These are definitely un-real and fabricated worlds but this is a significantly different kind of thing. In what way is it important for these two types of pseudo-space to come together?


RH: I think it is about control, the opportunity to edit a space.  The way in which I have been talking about space as real or unreal is problematic I think.  What the white-cube gallery offers is control for the artist, less compromise than in the world outside, hence feeling unreal.  The drawings and film are a double of this relationship.  The way in how I construct space offers meaning to me, where a chair goes in relation to another object etc.  Working in OUTPOST has mirrored this mode of using interior space to construct meaning.


SJ: Looking at the work I have become occupied with a notion of time or, more importantly, a lack or uncertainty of a sense of time. Could you talk about that?


RH: There is a definite sense of nostalgia.  Visually, the show feels like it could be in the late 1990’s, I like that a lot.  There are also references to the late 1960’s with objects I placed in the drawings.  However these elements never anchor the work to timescales, like the objects in the film everything is adrift.