Office Baroque is pleased to present Malamud, the second individual exhibition of Becky Beasley at the gallery. Becky Beasley was born in the United Kingdom in 1975. Her work was recently exhibited at Kunsthalle Basel and will be featured in the exhibition Slow Movement at Kunsthalle Bern from January through March 2009.
The exhibition Malamud consists of a series of new photographs, sculptures and drawings that propose an uncanny reading of language, literature, design, the body and landscape. The works in the exhibition reflect upon various sources including the dry-wrought writings of American novelist Bernard Malamud and a series of photographs of uncertain provenance from the 1940’s or 1950’s, that were discovered by the artist in a flea market in Berlin. What these various sources have in common is a very banal conception of the everyday, constructed from a heap of broken bones of literature and art history, and offering an archaeology of a most common object, a wooden plank.
Becky Beasley’s work moves between sculpture and photography and originates in both personal and more universal encounters. Its subject matter is largely composed of autobiographical recollections mediated through literary references. Aesthetically it engages in a questioning of the relations between hand made objects and their (re-)presentation as photographic objects. The language of her practice is at times noir with oneiric , dream state images in a low key sfumato, but bears equal references to surrealism and minimalism. Beasley’s work deals with death and fear using elements from the visual and the literary realms to allow meditations on issues of personal fate and destiny.
A key element in understanding Beasley’s work is still the concept of the “cadaver” as articulated by Maurice Blanchot in The two versions of the Imaginary. The cadaver is understood by Beasley as a hollow absence which nonetheless resembles itself more than ever . Throughout Beasley’s practice it appears as a play with documenting and presenting constructed or assisted realities as states of loss, or instances of muteness or death. Throughout Beasley’s works the cadaverous appears in numerous guises, both as a photographic concept, and in sculptural objects.
For the exhibition “Malamud”, Beasley has realized two large, new series of works. Plank 5 through to Plank 8 (2008), are the titles of a series of sculptures that were realized in black American walnut veneer and MDF. Figure 3 through to Figure 8 (2008), are a series of large gelatin silver prints based on the first works in the series of walnut plank sculptures. These first plank objects, were horizontal and fabricated in sections – for Beasley “a way of unnecessarily fragmenting a whole word” – which were then reordered, like pieces of a puzzle, for the photographs. Planks 5 and 8 were made after, and in response, to the photographs. The artist describes the plank objects as “fictions” and was especially drawn to the plank’s inert status as a primary object on which to produce an extended series of vertical and horizontal works. Included in the exhibition are 4 large standing Plank sculptures and 6 large color washed prints from these series. Beasley for the first time incorporates color into her black and white photography, using brown and green acrylic glass to combine color and image without physically toning the prints.
All sculptures in the exhibition are realized in black American walnut veneer, a material with a history both in design and in construction. The patterned detail in the surface of the wood paved the way for a simplification of forms and a loss of ornament in 18th century furniture design. Walnut was also abundantly used by early American colonists for rudimentary things as split rail fences and millions of railroad ties were made from walnut since it resisted rot in contact with the soil. Beasley’s planks are a gesture aimed at making the familiar – the plank as a basic construction unit – appear as a constructed presence. The installation evokes a surreal landscape, or a fenced garden, with only one or two minimal objects rising above the horizon of its scarce visual panorama. The individual standing or lying images demarcating a grim territory, rather than actively occupying a place in it.
Headbox is an ovoid sculpture, at once a head and a box, intended for the Austrian writer Robert Walser, who died while out walking in the snow in 1956. In photographs one notices that his hat had blown off. Aerial View and Base View are two drawings that were made using the actual sculpture as a mould to make a pair of tracings that offer a different yet absurd view of the head/hat objects’ top and its invisible (but identical) bottom. The drawings are made from photographic materials, chinagraph pencil, used for marking photographic surfaces and glassine, a protective tissue.
Where much of Beasley’s previous work was indebted to existing references, be they everyday objects or domestic scales, the planks produce another stage of resistance to language. The concept is further explored in a small series of geometric wall based sculptures titled Figure Letter A through E. It consists of five hinged shelves made from solid black American walnut. Each identical strip measuring 90 cm was cut in two or three different parts that are connected with brass hinges. These small objects propose a still life, reduced to its support, the shelf. As an installation, they introduce a form of indecipherable writing into the heart of the exhibition.