Invocations of the Blank Page @ Spike Island

Review by Regina Papachlimitzou

The quietness and stillness you might generally associate with the blank page is challenged and eventually rejected in the artworks showcased in Spike Island’s Invocations of the Blank Page exhibition. Instead, the potential for meaning latent in a blank page is sharply brought to our attention, accompanied in turn by frustration, obsessive compulsion, the rawness of physical effort and even playfulness.

Anna Molska’s work Perspective takes centre stage: a looping clip shot in the midst of a peaceful snow-covered landscape, whiteness unfolding in all directions under a clear sky. The artist rises, and as she walks toward the vanishing point of the frame a number of ropes tied around her rise also. The artist’s figure becomes the moving centre of the converging lines that both make up and point towards a precarious perspective, at once suggesting and questioning the necessity of a single point from which perspective, and by extent meaning – stem. The agonising physical effort involved in the strife to create meaning on the blankness of the snowy page is accentuated throughout: the artist’s frantic pant, her heaving breath as she struggles to move forward, falls, tries to rise again, is continuously juxtaposed with the landscape stretching indifferently around her. A wisp of blonde hair and a furtive glimpse of bare hands, together with the constant soundtrack of gasping for air, firmly situate the artist in a physical plain, forever on the cusp of reaching something, forever drawn back. Breaking away from the blankness of the page and into meaning, and breaking away from a prescribed meaning and into the blankness that serves as the point of departure for creativity, are interchangeable, the film seems to suggest. The sudden and unforgiving sound of ropes snapping signals the breakdown of the narrative; and yet, the artist still struggles to move forward, coughs and falls. Over the deafening sound of rasping breath, the work plunges into darkness.

To the left of the screen is mounted Ignacio Uriarte’s Blocs: at once peaceful and manic, the undulating landscape of a pair of notepads greets you, their surface torn and mangled with admirable precision. The result is an uncomfortable testimony to the tedium of 9 to 5 office jobs: the fact that plain and ordinary office materials could be used to make unusual, resonating art seems to imply, by extension, that time spent in the office could also be used more creatively. However, at the same time Blocs acts as a hopeful reminder of the fact that art is rarely – if ever – born out of thin air, or created within the confines of an isolated creative sphere: rather, artistic expression is inextricably linked to everyday experience, tedious though that may, at times, be.

The exhibition comprises other works, including Gareth Long’s Work in Progress, a looping depiction of Daffy Duck apparently sentenced to suffer from writer’s block in perpetuity; Vlatka Horvat’s Pages (Repaired), a series of pages torn up and put together again, sometimes with order and precision and other times with the pathos of broken glass painfully reassembled; and Martin Creed’s Work No. 88: A Sheet of A4 Paper Crumpled into a Ball, which could serve as a synopsis of the preoccupation behind all the works: the tension between nothingness and meaning, and the struggle to achieve the transition from one to the next.

Invocations of the Blank Page revisits, in a manner at the same time playful and urgent, that staple and starting point of creativity: the blank page. In addition to the emphasis placed on the actual physical material necessary to produce art, the exhibition repeatedly puts forward the argument that a page can not only serve as a vehicle of artistic production but also, in and of itself, the final result. In a digital age, the urgency of the exhibition’s appeal to reconsider the importance of materiality in human experience and to revaluate its significance is particularly poignant. In the works, the page and some of its potential are in turn hidden, emerging, revealed, violently displayed; tossed away.

Invocations of the Blank Page continues until Sunday 10 April 2011, at Spike Island in Bristol.

Invocations of the Black Page installation Spike Island, works left to right:
Anna Molska, Perspective, 2008 Video: 1:31, colour, sound Courtesy the artist & Broadway 1602, New York
Ignacio Uriarte, Blocs, 2010 A4 paper, 32x21cm Courtesy the artist & Nogueras Blanchard, Barcelona
Vlatka Horvat, Pages (Repaired), 2009 Letter-size/A4 paper, artist tape, 8.75×11.75 inches each approximately Courtesy the artist
Martin Creed, Work No.88 ‘A sheet of A4 paper Crumpled into a Ball’, 1995 A4 paper, approximately 2in/5.1cm diameter Courtesy the artist & Hauser & Wirth, London