In this section there are three texts, Six afterthoughts on Makeshifts and Endpapers by Declan Long, 2008; Cloud Management, Fergus Feehily, 2006 and David Toop's essay Waiting For Looking from 2005
Six afterthoughts on Makeshifts and Endpapers,
Declan Long 2008
On an unnamed beach, a lone figure watches the world with mounting wonder and lasting bemusement: he is ‘unsure about everything’ but is, nevertheless, acutely alive to the irresolveable contradictions and enlivening complexities of his surrounding universe. His name is Mr. Palomar, and he is the curious, eponymous hero of a densely intricate little book by Italo Calvino — a series of poetically whimsical perspectives on the passing world that might also be a gloriously condensed guide to the cosmos. It is a book which (if I may borrow liberally from Tim Robinson’s thoughts on the philosophy of Blaise Pascal) principally concerns ‘The Fineness of Things’, showing us at certain moments how ‘the further reaches of smallness, like the figures astronomy offers for galactic distances, fade into the abstract, the inconceivable, the incomprehensible’, offering us glimpses of ‘the abysses between which the human being is suspended’. (i) So, then, when we meet this strange, solitary observer, he is staring out to sea, attempting to focus on and follow a single wave: as he sets his eyes on an apt object of his research, it begins to rise and he steadily watches it ‘grow, approach, change form and colour, fold over itself, break, vanish and flow again.’ (ii) For Mr. Palomar, such processes of careful observation have become routine but somehow necessary: he is a man who wishes above all ‘to avoid vague sensations’, seeking to establish ‘for his every action a limited and precise object.’ Yet, as we too would quickly find, this sought-after specificity, this act of singling out and separating a distinct element of the world, is all-too-suddenly subverted by the inexorable pressure of registering the push and pull of other details, other forces, of acknowledging an unending association and dispersal of elements: ‘It is very difficult to isolate one wave’ he concedes; how can we separate it ‘from the wave immediately following it, which seems to push it and at times overtakes it and sweeps it away?’ And indeed, how can we ‘separate that wave from the wave that precedes it and seems to drag on towards the shore, unless it turns against the follower is if to arrest it’? Mr. Palomar senses too the altering breadth of the wave, charting along its extended reach variations in ‘speed, shape, force, direction’; he sees ‘simultaneous’ components, striving for a sure sense of time within this shifting space; he notes divergence and convergence, thrust and counter-thrust and, crucially, acknowledges the possibilities and limitations of his own observation point. It is essential, he insists to himself, to address all these multifarious aspects at once, but, as is inevitable, the task defeats his best, patient efforts. He is only beginning, but he is tense, tired and melancholy; his mind is already elsewhere.
The literary critic James Wood has proposed that in our diverse engagements with art, ‘we navigate via the stars of detail.’ (iii) Invoking the concept of ‘thisness’ (given by the medieval philosopher Duns Scotus to moments of ‘individuating form’), Wood celebrates the type of artistic detail ‘that draws abstraction towards itself and seems to kill that abstraction with a puff of palpability … detail that centres our attention with its concretion.’ Isn’t ‘thisness’ of this very kind an appealingly complex characteristic of Fergus Feehily’s paintings and uncategorisable ‘assemblages’? For these are artworks that often lead us towards the loftily abstract, only to haul us back into the world, perplexing or delighting or disturbing us with unpredictable, referential figures. Feehily’s strategies as an artist so often seemed shaped by a peculiar need for specificity or uniqueness or simplicity of form and presentation (the most appropriate way of capturing this principle of course slips instantly from my grasp); his work striving at times to maintain a strong reducing power: regularly paring back to often inscrutable ‘basics’, proposing that we attend to a series of oblique particulars. Indeed such efforts, such actual processes, seem themselves possessed of a potent, practical ‘thisness’: no programmatic, fixed method seems possible, but rather a shrewdly individual approach appears to emerge from each fresh and studious encounter with things, ideas or experiences — as if, maybe, we have a rare and exacting application of a ‘curious notion’ once proposed by Roland Barthes: ‘why mightn’t there be, somehow, a new science for each object?’ (iv)
But to be drawn to any specific detail, as Calvino has reminded us, is to know the necessity and seduction of further detail. Feehily’s art has long played on the creative ambiguity of exactness in this regard: focusing carefully on what William Blake called ‘the minute particulars’, but remaining drawn inevitably and unceasingly towards what Feehily himself labels ‘overlap areas’. Something in this simultaneously serendipitous and highly considered process of discovery recalls Gabriel Orozco’s interest in ‘the liquidity of things, how one thing leads you onto the next’: this is a fascination with ‘concentration, intention and paths of thought: the flow of totality in our perception, the fragmentation of the “river of phenomena”, which takes place all the time.’ (v) For Feehily, as with Orozco, there appears to be an enlivening charge provided by proximity — by exploring manifestations of unexpected, but still-restrained and unspectacular, connectedness. Such enthusiasms can make possible very suprising physical juxtapositions of material elements — a technique that has allowed low-key sculptural configurations to become a strong feature of Feehily’s recent exhibitions (presentations which have also involved a high degree of attention to the tense relations between, as well as within, individual works) — but in forging connections, Feehily also emphasizes overlaps between ideas, attitudes, sensibilities. He self-consciously combines painterly diligence, intelligence and sophistication with an astute insouciance, the result of which is a compellingly scrupulous imperfection: formal rigour meeting playful, chaotic looseness; intensive, elegant abstraction merging with cryptic, ingeniously disruptive elements of representation.
A comment once made to the photographer Stephen Shore indicates accidental correspondences —unlikely connections — with Feehily’s tendencies as an artist: ‘Some people might think your work is entirely formal. Yet you have a tremendous interest in the multiplicity of things. There’s a tension: to be a formalist you must exclude a lot to find your idea of what makes a picture. Another side of you wants inclusion.’ (vi) Feehily is a strenuously selective artist but at the same time he painstakingly seeks to include much that a painting practice with more purely abstract ambitions might determinedly exclude. An anxious layering of disparate elements allows for discovered sympathies or productively discordant effects: some of his most intimately restrained small paintings, for instance, can also have a raw materiality, a resistance to ‘preciousness’ that suggests an unfailing openness to the world. At other moments, a sense of quotidian assortment is also evident: elements of everyday clutter make impertinent appearances (a plastic bag; a take-away food carton); or, hard-to-connect pieces of a personal archive — an ‘open inventory’ of photographs, books, notes, objects, newspaper cuttings — come together, sometimes in minimally but artfully amended forms. Confronted with such materials, we become conscious of the special singular intensity of each item, but we search too for hidden patterns of arrangement and see systems of association that take us beyond these immediately present phenomena. Recurrently (and crucially) constellations of possible ‘meaning’ are also created through a careful, widespread scattering of numbers and letters, across differently styled surfaces — each is a largely abstract, if undoubtedly resonant, fragment in isolation, but with additions, and through subjectively established connections we might draw closer to an apparently allusive communicative possibility — or be thrown further still into open-ended interpretative confusion.
Feehily has cited as a valued point of reference the mathematician Marcus Du Sautoy who has sought to celebrate and comprehend the paradoxical manner in which ‘the fundamental objects on which we build our order-filled world of mathematics should behave so wildly and unpredictably’. (vii) One strongly representative (but ‘weakly’ representational) painting entitled Eight (2003) might be tentatively ‘understood’ as an intuitive demonstration of this disorientating feature of our modern mental universe. Its simple, unprimed surface (and it is worth associatively recalling here that Du Sautoy’s comments are from a book called The Music of Primes) shows a repeating, reforming, altering figure of eight that seems to echo outwards from the centre of a small piece of board — each further iteration of the number becoming less obviously ordered, the lines loosening as they are remade, while at the same time, this icon of endlessness (orientate 8 horizontally and we have, of course, the symbol for infinity), comes up against inevitable physical edges, becoming imperfectly ‘finished’ and more structured within these limits. Other equally meticulous and similarly worried works involve other more or less related examples of looping repetition or unsteady accumulation. In Country (2008), for instance, a series of connecting black, red, and blue, painted lines gradually construct an expanding and simultaneously collapsing system of triangles — and yet these basic shapes from practical geometry (rendered with subtly unscientific vulnerability) are also strangely coupled with a reversed found frame, clamped tightly into one corner: its black, scraped surface (marked over time in such a way as as to create a curious map-like shape) positioned as a densely distracting, almost violent disruption of the surrounding, faltering design. The tension that builds here, and within all the fraught forms of organisation in Feehily’s work, is between bounded and unbounded possibility — and it is therefore a tension (as we surely sense in moments of still-darker signification, such as when a more occult geometry is implied through the spectral outline of a human skull) that heightens our awareness of the essential dialectic between the vital multiplicity of life and the unavoidable finality of death.
In his series of essays Six Memos for the Next Millennium, published in unfinished form after the writer’s death in 1985, Italo Calvino paid tribute to the encyclopedic interests of his fellow Italian, the poet and novelist, Carlo Emilio Gadda, a man whose life’s work was, we are told, an effort ‘to represent the world as a knot, a tangled skein of yarn: to represent it without in the least diminishing the inextricable complexity or … the simultaneous presence of the most disparate elements that converge to determine every event.’ (viii) Gadda’s writings offered to Calvino a way of thinking about the novel ‘as a network of connections between the events, the people, and the things of this world.’ In this regard perhaps, there are to be found here useful lessons and further possibilities applicable to all our most ambitious and rewarding forms of art. In such exemplary work, Calvino proposes, ‘the least thing is seen as the centre of a network of relationships’ and the artist cannot fail to follow the discovered leads, ‘multiplying the details so that his descriptions and digressions become infinite. Whatever the starting point, the matter in hand spreads out and out, encompassing ever vaster horizons, and if it were permitted to go on further and further in every direction, it would end by embracing the entire universe.’
(i) Tim Robinson, ‘The Fineness of Things’ in My Time in Space (Dublin: Lilliput Press, 2001), p.220
(ii) Italo Calvino, Mr. Palomar (London: Vintage, 1999; original Italian version, 1983), p.4. All further references are to this edition.
(iii) James Wood, How Fiction Works (London: Jonathan Cape, 2008), p.52. All further references are to this edition.
(iv) Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida (London: Vintage, 2000; originally published in French in 1980), p.8
(v) Gabriel Orozco, ‘On Recent Films’, in The Everyday ed. Stephen Johnstone (London/Cambridge Mass.: Whitechapel/MIT, 2008), p. 134
(vi) ‘Stephen Shore interviewed by Lynne Tillman’ in The Everyday ed. Stephen Johnstone, p. 138
(vii) Marcus Du Sautoy, The Music of Primes: Why an unsolved Problem in Mathematics Matters, (Fourth Estate, London), p. 45
(viii) Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium (London: Vintage, 1996), p.106. All further references are to this edition
Originally published in Makeshifts and Endpapers, 2008, 32 pages.
Neuer Aachener Kunstverein, Aachen. ISBN 978-3-929261-35-6
© NAK and Declan Long
Fergus Feehily 2006
The rain gently strikes the window as early evening arrives. I roll down the shutter on the outside of the window, hoping, as usual, that it doesn’t jam, and stop mid flow. In the middle or near middle of the outside of this shutter, pale grey in colour, someone has written in magic marker, ‘hard to stop’. Nearby, on the pavement, someone else, or for that matter the same person has chosen to spray in a lime green spray, ‘alone’. One day I walked outside to find a small sparrow, lying dead, feet up just below this green word. Alone.
I walk down the hall to the kitchen and past a pile of books that I have been reading over the last while. Sitting near each other, implausibly, a study of Black Metal, ’Lords of Chaos’ where anthropology and Burzum meet, and Daniel Dennett’s ‘Darwin’s Dangerous Idea’. One about death, one about the origins of life.
Dennett writes about philosophy and evolution. He is an important and in some ways controversial thinker. This book was written in 1995 and I have been reading it this summer. It’s detailed and cleverly written. It is clever too. Dennett on complex ideas; often referring to everyday life, also often difficult to understand. He makes out that our previous understanding of the implications of evolution is not really far reaching enough. My feet grow cold on the parquet. If evolution has created our physiology, why then should our ideas, religion, philosophy and art be somehow separate from the implications of and the process of evolution? Or at least I think that’s what he’s saying.
In the kitchen, the early autumn cold is already tangible. Why is the kitchen always the best room? I lift the coffee can from the cupboard and spoon it into the pot, I put the circular sieve-like container into the pot, which sits over the cold water and the screw the top on the pot. Turn on the back ring of the stove and turn to the full-length back door of the kitchen onto the balcony. The rain continues to fall and all around I can hear the sounds of people pulling their shutters, getting ready for nightfall.
I remember the warmth of summer. Walking across the grass and sand. Bull Island.
A raindrop hits the window and rolls gently down, merging with another and yet again separating to eventually move down the entire window. Looking at the trees outside turns my mind to a phrase from an email by Anthony Edwards, a mention - phylogenetic trees. And I start to think about why this particular model is used for information, family trees for example, the so-called tree of life, the branching that you find in evolution.
Steam in the background, that favourite little process is coming to an end; the coffee is almost ready. Milk is put on in place of the pot, foamed, and poured into a glass, coffee next, falling, rising, and shifting in the warming glass.
A pile of drawings sits on the table. Small, A5 pieces of paper that I have been working on for a long time. They look fragile. They are fragile. On many, an image. Images not being something that would always be on such pieces of paper belonging to me. The image, a skull, not one skull but several. Half there, floating in many cases. I put these drawings through my hands, handling each one. Thinking- notebooks, diagrams, paper, drawing. A pen picked up, a note scribbled down.
Thoughts shift. A newspaper, words, a famous writer. These words, not obviously but definitely about death. A meditation on death, a cult of death that formed sometime while we were writing books, making pamphlets, dinner. It seems to cast a long shadow. What has created this cult of death, martyrdom, and self-immolation? What would Dennett say of such ideas and dark philosophy, where one idea is the only idea, an absolute? So absolute that other ideas must be crushed and exterminated? I drink my coffee.
Radio dial, turned, right, on. Sound but no clear meaning. These sounds exist, humming in the background, important but also quiet in a way, just there as I open another book.
Originally published in Cloud Management, 2006, the second publication made in collaboration with Ciarán ÓGaora/Zero-G. It contains drawings, photographs and a text by the artist. 16 pages.
I.S+Zero-G. ISBN 0-9549220-4-2
© I.S+Zero-G and Fergus Feehily
Waiting For Looking
David Toop 2005
There was a coincidence, or not a coincidence, but two experiences that resonated together, to produce a note. Sitting in Fergus Feehily's studio in Dublin, I found my thoughts turning more than once to a particular piece of recorded music. Looking at his work, small and unassuming paintings lined up along one wall, raised questions. These were the same questions that I had asked myself repeatedly in the weeks preceding this visit, after listening to a new CD by a trio of three Japanese musicians whose work I admired.
Good Morning Good Night, by Sachiko M, Toshimaru Nakamura and Otomo Yoshihide, had challenged my conceptions of what was possible. This is an unsettling feeling, particularly when you have already come to accept, with some ease, previous recordings by the same musicians. Despite, or perhaps because of my strong feelings of disquiet and perplexity, I never wrote about this CD at the time, and now I find I am compelled to return to it. This may be because questions posed by Fergus Feehily's work need to be addressed, and all of these questions have come to be linked in my mind.
Finding meaning is the problem, a recurring problem; the wisdom of looking for meaning is doubtful. The likelihood of finding meaning is remote, though it's the meaning that poses the difficulty, rather than its absence. In both cases - music and paintings - there is little on the surface with which we can engage. Perhaps I should begin by trying to describe Good Morning Good Night. The piece extends over two CDs, and documents a lengthy, unedited performance in a recording studio. On first listen there seems to be very little activity at all, though this perception changes after hearing the record at intervals over a period of some months. In other words, what begins by sounding like a lot of silence with a few interventions, somehow comes to sound almost busy.
But encountering the work for the first time, there is a sense of disconnectedness, an apparent lack of form that suggests a lack of consequence or substance. Sounds tend to be brief - the kind of short, harsh, messy sound that happens when dust is brushed off the stylus of a record turntable, or a plug is inserted into an amplifier socket when the volume is turned up. None of these sounds feel aggressive, however, and in fact, references to emotional states such as aggression seem irrelevant. In other words, searching for conceptual, or emotional frameworks, is a lost cause. Sometimes there are long, high tones, which introduce smoother lines into the broken, impact sounds and irregular crackles. Nothing lasts long enough to become intense, or reveal a conscious method.
Despite its length, the piece comes to the listener with a modest agenda. These are individual sounds, made in a room, by three people who have similar aims and a wealth of experience working together. Apparently, there is no composition, other than the accepted norms of listening, response, specificity, and restraint accepted by the three participants. The sounds are set in relationship to each other, even though they rarely overlap. This is because they exist on a time base and are contained within a series of frames: the CD format, with its name, packaging, and time constraints; the act of recording a relatively silent performance within a quiet room without allowing the circumstances of that act to be compromised by interruptions of any kind. The initial impression is disconcerting: this is extreme minimalism without the ideology or attention to process of Minimalism. I can imagine it would be possible to listen to this CD and not hear it as music, or any kind of significant event at all, other than a faint disturbance of the atmosphere.
What does this have to do with visual works made by Fergus Feehily? One answer to that comes from Fergus himself. He listens to recordings by these musicians, and considers their relationship to the practise of visual artists. In this sense, there are similarities, though these become more clearly defined as differences, once the comparison is made. There is, he suggests, a link between the minimalism of Toshimaru Nakamura, and the process painting of the 1990s. Nakamura's method of connecting input and output on a mixing desk in order to generate interference patterns from controlled feedback, can be compared to the way in which a painter like Jason Martin uses comb-like devices to create intense visual movement through the surface of a painting. This is discussed between us, I surmise, in order for Fergus to make a distance from it.
"It's a kind of painting I've thought about a lot," he says, "and perhaps might have begun to make a long time ago, but have very deliberately tried to steer clear of that way of painting. There is no single process, or even single procedure in making my work. That's quite important to me. It leads to more problems, but more fruitful."
But this sound work presents itself with disarming frankness and impersonality. Many of the qualities we associate with group improvisation - cohesion and coherence, interplay, reflection and cooperation, richness and variety of materials and movement - are rejected, or more accurately, they are negotiated in such a way to make the listener reconsider these qualities, even reconsider the act of listening. Is it worth listening, and if we listen to a music that seems as if component parts are missing, how does one sound connect to another? I look at the line of small paintings and suggest that some of them are faint, quiet, almost not there.
"I suppose I'm quite interested in looking," he says, "and how we look, and hopefully some of the work can encourage that looking. Some of them are quite slow. One of the significant things about the paintings I that they often appear to be one thing and then show themselves to be something else. In a faint, or quiet, painting, it can show itself to be quite loud. Or the ones that seem to have been made very quickly, as if the marks are perhaps arbitrary in some way, actually show themselves to be highly planned. The way in which it's made contradicts this idea. It looks like it could be a pencil drawing on the painting, but actually they are masked lines of paint."
When nothing seems to be going on, with the expectation of something, then perception is heightened, focus is intense. "I think there are lots of oblique angles and references within the work," he says. "The fact that I make paintings that can be very dissimilar to each other in the way they look - it's very important within the work . . . the ambiguity that I often play with can lead to difficulties in talking about it. We could sit around for hours talking about using egg cups or paint brushes." Naturally, it is easier to discuss technique when the core seems so elusive. Does anybody inhabit this kind of work? Who is in there? In May, 2002, Fergus wrote this statement in his notebook: "The work is not about me, it is something I have to bring myself to. Something I am not completely in control of."
Some months before, he had quoted the American painter, Terry Winters, in the same notebook: "My approach is to build a series of improvisational responses, a set of procedures." Again, the connection to music speaks quietly in the background, as it does in the development of a painter of central importance to Fergus, Robert Ryman. Having moved to New York in the early 1950s, Ryman played bebop saxophone in the years before discovering his predilection for painting. The unpredictability of bebop attracted him; although the nature of his painting would suggest that free jazz would appeal even more, he was unconvinced. Evident structure was necessary for him, as a boundary to the endless horizons of improvisation.
An ambiguity is present in Fergus's work. Are they paintings or drawings? "This is an interesting thing," he says. "I've always made work that's on paper that I would most often refer to as drawings, and made painting on board or MDF. There was a point perhaps in my work when the paintings were predominantly monochrome. This distinction between the drawing and the painting seems to be between using gouache and oil paint, between making something that was relatively quick, or was slower, in the paintings. It seems that in the last three or four years, the paintings have become more drawing based. There's an odd relationship between the two, because they're all drawings now.
"So I suppose on that level, working on paper, and I haven't been doing it much recently, allows me still to work in a relatively, not necessarily in a quicker way, but in a way where even the thing I'm using is much more available to me out of the supports that I'm working on. I could have many more sheets of paper in front of me. They're not studies for the work, though that relationship goes back and forth between the paintings and the drawings. They do have a strong relationship. I suppose the working on paper just allows me a space that's very, very fluid, and with the paintings, there's much more of a sense that what I'm doing is there, it's going to be there for a very long time."
This is partly a rejection of the idea that painting is necessarily associated with scale, or intensive reworking and heavy gestures. "I've often thought of the scale of my work being concerned with its meaning," he says, "with the experience of it being small, being outside a certain area. I think there's a certain kind of work that's very much about the ego behind the work."
Some of his paintings seem to have come into being without any effort at all. "A friend of mine," says Fergus, "Ronnie Hughes, said, 'I can't imagine you painting, and mixing paint'." This raises questions, along with the elusive nature of meaning, as to how much effort the viewer can be expected to give, if the paintings themselves seem to have been produced effortlessly. They refuse to demand attention, shout, or stop us in our tracks. They are simply there, and the knowledge that such work requires a great deal of concentrated, developed thought, certainty of method, and intuitive clarity, is a counter to the expectation that credibility only comes through incessant physical activity.
Even the way they sit on the wall is open to question. An angle, cut into the edge of the MDF, creates a shadow, a strange floating feeling that underlines the suspicion that these 'thoughtless' works are made in deeply considered steps. "It's something I did for practical reasons, to get rid of the edge of the painting," he says. "I can see now that it could be considered something important, whereas it was intended to get rid of something. The paintings I was making previously, the more monochrome ones, you're not quite sure when you look at it, what you are looking at initially? Is it a sheet of paper? Is it a space on the wall? Is it on aluminium? Is it a canvas but with a strange floating quality. I like all that but I'm quite wary now that it becomes a little bit like those aspects of process painting. I think it's one of the reasons why I'm working on some canvases."
So every step is considered and explored, often followed by a slight withdrawal. There is also an ambivalent attitude to structure. This could be interpreted as playfulness, or some degree of reluctance to commit to a structuring process. Many of the paintings are built up from marks made with everyday utensils such as plastic cups, or cookie cutters, or they begin as found objects, or they incorporate numbers. Each of these devices suggest a developing logic, a rationalism that could become an end in itself, though that point is never reached. The paintings remain quietly amused by the idea, with their calm, pale colours, deviant lines, and wayward systems emanating a thwarted formalism.
"I have an interest in these opposites occurring," he says. "There's an apparent logic to numbers, or writing, that I'm playing upon in the work. In a lot of the work there's apparent structure, yet the paintings are anti-structure. They're very intuitive. They're in this odd place between being quite cerebral and intuitive. I'm not sure if that's an odd place. That's one of the reasons, I think, why the numbers occur in the paintings of late. That they're a way to make that apparent - this play between the intuitive and the logical."
Numbers are also mundane, and so familiar as signs that they have a tendency to vanish. Because of their deceptively calm surfaces, the small size, and the occasional calligraphic allusions of the paintings, assumptions of Eastern influence tend to follow. Perhaps there are strong enough suggestions of the look of certain works by Brice Marden, Agnes Martin, or Mark Tobey, all painters who have been influenced overtly by Asian art. Fergus Feehily's period of study in Japan encourages this interpretation, yet the reality is not so straightforward. His stay in Tokyo had unexpected consequences.
"It isn't necessarily that otherness aspect to Japan that now intrigues me," he says. "It's more the everyday things - the urban side of Tokyo, more than the temples, although Japanese temples and gardens remain endlessly fascinating. The light is one of the things I most miss. The light in Japan is astonishing. That light glinting off train window, or the optimistic sunlight. That's maybe why they can deal with a degree of ugliness. Evening light and long shadows. I think what's quite strange to us is this use of civic space - the fact that people have their laundry hanging over the balcony, the fact that people have plants running across the street, homes flowing out onto the street. You realise when you come back, to Dublin or wherever, it's just so different.
"Being in Japan and making work there, changed my view of my own work. It allowed me to take a more tangential route. Being there allowed me to develop my own work in a way a little bit separate from what's going on here, or in London. That space was a very positive thing. It felt quite lonely, wanting to pop into the Serpentine Gallery, or wanting to see the new show by X. The work matured. It's hard to know sometimes."
In Tokyo, he found himself drawn to the remarkable department store, Tokyu Hands, rather than making the more obvious artistic and heritage pilgrimages. This emporium of hobbyist accessorising provided a number of raw materials that could function as found objects or print templates. I think about the humble materials now used by many sound artists, or the deceptively simple poetry of Robert Lax, who wrote (for Ad Reinhardt):
"Now anybody can be a visual artist," Fergus says. "Michael Craig-Martin has said this." In a context where art is a matter of organising materials, open to anybody, an art emerges which 'looks like art': paintings made for restaurants, selling to pop stars and investment bankers, or conceived as a kind of expensive and elegant interior design. "It looks like art, looks like a painting," he says, "but what's missing is that it takes away the meaning. It's what people almost prefer - the work without the meaning. As an artist, that's something you have to be really aware of all the time. So much has been taken into the general, popular culture all the time. How do you make work that's potent? We live in a culture where everybody has a certain level of slickness around them that they didn't have ten years ago. They have floorboards and IKEA tables, and that may be why a lot of art has become quite rough. It looks like it's almost cack-handed. I think it relates to this issue of how does art survive and still be potent."
At one point in our conversation we talk about the poetry of Raymond Carver, who wrote:
"Make use of the things around you.
This light rain
Outside the window, for one."
"I'm not sure how it connects with the work," Fergus says. "I'm interested in Carver and have been for a long time. Carver's poetry, which I admire even more than his short stories. I find the stories too sad to read now. But what I find in his poetry is how he makes the ordinary extraordinary. I've always found him interesting, because he's written a fair bit about writing, how difficult it is. There's a disarming simplicity. The real work has come through the editing."
There is the quiet murmur, floating just a few finger-widths above the silence, seemingly unfinished, and made from tools that fly into the bin without a moment's thought. There is a set of procedures, and in time, they coalesce into work that waits in stillness, waiting for looking.
Originally published in A Venn Notebook, 2005, the first publication in an ongoing collaboration with Ciarán ÓGaora/Zero-G, an eighty page book featuring photographs, notebook drawings and colour reproductions.
Published by I.S+Zero-G. ISBN 0-95492220-1-8
© I.S+Zero-G and David Toop