For the blind man in the dark room looking for the black cat that isn’t there

Decoding all the little symbols and latent meanings in art is fun. One of the reasons I love art so much is for that little eureka moment where I think I’ve understood something.

Despite this constant quest for understanding, some art causes complete bewilderment. Accuse me of philistinism if you want, but certain artists (RUSSIAN CONSTRUCTIVISM, anyone?) have always left me in the dark.

With ‘For the blind man in the dark room looking for the black cat that isn’t there’ (yikes!) at the ICA, this darkness is celebrated. The show suggests that we learn to enjoy not-knowing – presumably rather than lying awake at night wondering whether string theory could ever be proven. As a result, ‘For the blind man’ has been deliberately constructed as a fairly confusing ensemble.

MATT MULLICAN’s wall installation

NASHASHIBI/SKAER’s ‘Our Magnolia’, 2009

MATT MULLICAN sets the first room’s exhibits against an installation; here, a wall covered in flags and drawings provides a chaotic backdrop to five other pieces. One of them, BENOIT MAIRE AND FALKE PISANO’s ‘Organon’ requires extravagant weaving through tables scattered with unidentifiable objects, while ROSEMARIE TROCKEL’s ‘Dessert 3’, is a glazed ceramic sculpture that looks like fools’ gold – iron ore that used to deceive miners into thinking it was the real deal. The arts writer in me is desperate to analyse what this could mean, but given the theme of ‘For the blind man’ I restrain myself as much as I can.

FISCHLI and WEISS’s creatures take a nap

Swedish duo PETER FISCHLI AND DAVID WEISS pop up more than once, and their incarnations as a rat and a bear are one of the highlights of the show. Downstairs they discuss the human condition and metaphysics in the Swedish countryside, like a cross between Sylvanian Families and Descartes. By contrast, upstairs the same characters snooze away on the floor, apparently exhausted by their adventure.

Part of DAVE HULLFISH BAILEY’s ‘When there was nothing left to see, we looked for a place where we couldn’t be seen doing that’, 2009

There is a decidedly Dadaesque quality to the show, and not only in its determination to resist meaning. Dada artists – as well as creating their own works – also saw themselves as collectors, and assimilated the work of long-dead artists that fitted their nihilistic outlook. ‘For the blind man’ also uses art from epochs long-gone in order to make its point: included in the exhibition is an anonymous 1599 engraving of a natural history museum. Even stylistically the Dada tradition is apparent; part of DAVE HULLFISH BAILEY’s elaborately titled installation ‘When there was nothing left to see, we looked for a place where we couldn’t be seen doing that’ resembles Duchamp’s ‘Boîte-en-valise’, or portable museum in miniature.

More of DAVE HULLFISH BAILEY

All too often the art world is insecure; it frantically layers itself with impenetrable meaning in order to justify its importance/ethereality/hefty price at auction. But just because you don’t have that eureka moment where an artwork suddenly clicks into place, it doesn’t make it completely meaningless. I actually quite like the idea of just basking in the glory of ambiguity for a bit.

‘For the blind man in the dark room looking for the black cat that isn’t there’

INSTITUTE OF CONTEMPORARY ARTS, until 31st January

Free


Text: SIOBHAN LEDDY

Photography: CHUN P. LIN

 

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