Expressiveness without backstory

Following from the previous post, Gego‘s work might be exemplary of an art which is just a sensitive handling of small particulars, when those small particulars don’t necessarily mean anything, or stand for anything, and don’t need a title or other literary supplement to make them grow in our awareness. The other day I spent some time with Patrick Howlett, and one question that arose was whether we can retain any faith in the object. The fact is that there are very many people who are capable of responding to art without an explanation or a backstory. They may bring a lot to their experience which they are barely conscious of, in fact, entire volumes of narrative, but that’s another story. There still exist simple things that have been touched by someone’s hand in a most minimal way, and draw us in because of that. Usually the points that matter are where the parts join. I can’t find anything in Gego’s work beyond that (although I’m open to instruction) and there are plenty of viewers for whom that is enough.

Gego, Drawing without paper 85/12 1985

Yet certain of her pieces do work with the title, specifically the so-called “Drawings without paper.” The title deliberately points to something not there and makes it even more evident that what is missing is still present. The shadows on the wall are drawing and the paper is replaced by the wall, reminding us that a drawing is also a projection, and perhaps always a projection. That missing paper is tumbling around in our minds still, as we imagine the very solid wall in a different orientation to the hanging wire, for any angle is possible, hence any possible drawing. Still, we are staying with the thing, not straying into literature. But then what happens when one feels that a particular work comes up short, as I feel about the one illustrated here? The hairy piece that curves back over the right hand top corner seems unnecessary to me; it feels like a too conscious design decision, along the lines of “this arrangement needs to be disrupted,” or “a curve would contrast with the two (or three) grids,” or something intellectual like that. Aren’t the criteria that allow that kind of judgment also backstory, of the worst kind?

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