Gavin Turks 9” Roller in Bronze

Roller, bronze powder, glue & paint in glass top vitrine

1995

A paint roller made to look like bronze and displayed in a glass vitrine.

Having recognized white emulsion paint as the background canvas – the theatre backdrop of contemporary art – the Artist then put his mind to the tool that is used to apply the paint. The first piece was a wooden museum vitrine made in 1995 called ‘Paint, Two Rollers and a Brush’. This was a homage to the cultural significance or archeological importance of the gallery decorator and his tools. Displayed in the cabinet were several used objects straight out of the recently repainted gallery exactly as their title suggests. They are fresh and curious in their isolation. Looking at them through the imaginary eyes of an alien they appear angular and precise. Specialised tools for a specialized job.
The most angular and specialized of all is the paint roller. A bent and twisted mark-making tool that covers a wall in white faster than you can blink. Cast in bronze – the traditional material of ‘Great Sculpture’ – the tool then becomes heavy and significant, instead of light and useful, allowing the viewer to study the detail of the everyday object: the tufts of the sheepskin roller, the ingeniously designed bent handle.

Essays

  • Brand You - Alnoor Ladha SHOW

    Brand You - Alnoor Ladha

    “Starting today you are a brand. You're every bit as much a brand as Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop. To start thinking like your own favourite brand manager, ask yourself the same question the brand managers at Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop ask themselves: What is it that my product or service does that makes it different?…Take the time to write down your answer. And then take the time to read it. Several times.”
    - Tom Peters, “The Brand Called You” in Fast Company, Issue 10

    As a culture, it sometimes seems that we value the image of people more than we value people themselves. In response to this, we are inundated with frameworks for “identity management”, self-help advice, and the language of personal branding, while the concepts of success and status in the modern era have increasingly become inextricably dependent on the image we create of ourselves. Wealth and power are predicated on a well-honed ‘brand-you’ to use the unsettling language of management guru Tom Peters.

    Beginning with the Enlightenment cult of the personality, which saw characters such as Lord Byron come to personify an early notion of celebrity, as new technologies

    breakdown the barrier between the public and private, the concept of personality as brand which can be edited and shaped to suit the image of ourselves we’d like to project has pervaded our culture and consciousness to the point where we are so accustomed to it that we have appropriated it into our common vernacular, applied it to ourselves and the people around us, and in some cases elevated it to the supreme arbiter of success. Regardless of inclination or occupation, our collective merit system awards on the basis of fabricated personas rather than authenticity of self.

    A number of myths have arisen around the notion of Brand You which seek both to justify and celebrate it as a rational and pragmatic response to a fast paced, attention-scare mediated world, where the power of the image is supreme. Think you are immune to Brand You? Think again.

    Myth One: We are all brands

    This first assumption is the most perilous. Defining our individual personalities, complexities, and nuances in the simplistic language of branding is not only a misapplication of the definition of brands ; it is a distortion of our identities. The

    key distinction between brands and personalities is that brands are built top-down; they are collectively decided upon by brand-managers, their values are considered and measured by committees, they are formalized in board rooms and ad agency sofas over cappuccinos and over-priced catering. Personalities are created bottom-up. We are products of our unique histories, our experiences, our relationships, our geographies, our circumstances, our genetics, our world-views.

    We lose the organic nature of our identity when we inverse the natural order of how we come to be.

    One only needs to look at the plethora of social networking sites to see the extent of our manufactured identities. A generation of youth have internalized the lessons of ‘brand-me’ and rigorously apply them to these ‘identity incubators’. They are thinking about, manipulating, and editing who they are and what image they want to portray before they register their first digital profile.

    The great irony in the common (mis)application of brands to personalities is that while individuals stamp out the genuine and natural elements of their identities, brands are desperately trying to become more like humans in order to create stronger emotional bonds. Brands have been

    humanized, empathized, and personified in the hopes we will choose them over their less human rivals. They have evolved from the old-school notion of the ‘unique-selling proposition’ towards a more complex, multi-dimensional narrative. As brands become more like humans, humans have tried to become more like brands – self-edited, pruned, hyper self-aware – resulting in shallow identities that are often not even as interesting or nuanced as the brands contrived in marketing laboratories.

    Myth Two: Personality brands help us navigate within society

    In extolling the virtues of personality brands, we are taught to believe that clearly delineated identities not only help us determine who we are; they are sign-posts for the outside world to know what we represent. In practice, when we consciously fabricate our identities, in a social arena of other pre-fabricated identities, we collectively reduce our interpersonal relationships to commoditised transactions.

    The people we spend our time with, who we are seen with, whose pictures occupy the precious real-estate of our social networking profiles, are vetted not by our genuine, altruistic desires for friendship, but the symbolism they emit to the outside world.

    The other inherent

    fallacy is our belief that we determine decisions about our identity in complete isolation. This forgoes a fundamental truth of identity: we are formed not for people but because of people. Our identities do not exist independently of concomitant actors in a social world, but because of exposure, interaction, and interdependence.

    The transactional nature of relationships and the artificial belief in our independently created identities corrodes our intentions towards each other. We relegate treasured relationships to curated accessories that either hinder or augment our personas. Once we start treating each other like joint ventures in a branding exercise, we start denigrating the very edifice of human relations.

    Myth Three: Creating personality brands differentiates us

    In the collective race to find the thin layer of identity that represents us, we are constantly barraged with the same stimuli. What is considered aspirational in one social circle is the result of cues and cultural reference points targeted by the media to that very audience. Paradoxically, as we forge our brands, our identities look strikingly similar to the person next to us. The clairvoyant investment banker, the billionaire real estate mogul, the aspiring hip hop artist,

    the stay-at-home mom turned novelist are all reinforcing their archetypes (or more accurately, stereotypes) rather than differentiating themselves from the mould.

    When everyone is applying the same aesthetic strategies, with the same props, affected by the same trends, in hopes of appealing to the same audience, we homogenise the personalities that should be the source of creative variety in our culture. Even the dissidents of our counter-cultures have veered away from their once idealized purpose of subverting the mainstream; they evaluate their success by the cultivation of their brands, their commercial prowess, and their popular legitimacy.

    As our mavericks are muted, the rest of us look around at our generic brands and find ever more novel ways to stand out. Our increasing exasperation leaves us feeling alienated and ineffectual, as we replace our identities for attention-seeking stunts, distinct idiosyncrasies, and peculiar behaviours that will have us remembered by others, but forgotten by ourselves.

    What must be done? Does it even matter?

    As language philosophy suggests, the words we use to articulate our world are reflections of our societal values, and they propagate those values in a powerful way.

    As Wittgenstein famously remarked, “Like everything metaphysical, the harmony between thought and reality is to be found in the grammar of the language.” The words we use determine our behaviour and ultimately culture. We cannot talk about identities as brands without reducing our behaviour to brand mimicry.

    The creative industries that play a formative role in culture creation, in defining the grammar of language – from art to journalism to advertising to entertainment – are co-authors in staking out our collective values. They can help champion a return to embrace what’s beneath the social veneer. But there is also an onus on us as individuals, as consumers, as identity-generators, to become conscious again of how we come to be. We must recognize that who we are is a result of the communities we are a part of. And the quality of those communities is a direct result of our contribution. There is a fluidity and flux, a give-and-take, that defines our social fabric. The narcissism of brand-me must give way to a broader social purpose.

    There is no easy way out of our current situation. The idiom of brands as personality is well entrenched. However,

    we can start to question the values it dictates – we can foster a consciousness of the effect of fabricated identities and the misapplication of branding to personalities. After all, recognition can be the strongest form of rebellion.

  • Museum Vitrines - Martine Rouleau SHOW

    Museum Vitrines - Martine Rouleau

    “Do not touch” must be one the first thing anyone learns inside a museum. So much so that the museum is where one is likely to first get acquainted with the fact that there are some things in this world that are meant to be looked at but that can not be engaged with in any other way. It's a favorite pastime of mine to see how long it takes for someone to run up to me or yelp as soon as I extend a hand towards anything that hangs on a wall or sits on a plinth. I never aim to damage anything of course and I rarely actually do touch a piece, but I just want to determine how aggressively touch is evacuated out of the experience of the museum as I believe it is indicative of the degree of seriousness with which a culture defends its boundaries. In certain Italian and Greek museums, I've been known to lay a furtive yet respectful hand on a marble foot or a copper head for long uninterrupted minutes. In Britain and America, I have yet to touch as much as a velvet rope without dire consequences. Regardless of my location

    in the world, the objects in glass vitrines are always the ones I wish I could handle the most. There is something about the vitrine that almost taunts me. For some reason, the encased objects appear more precious and more interesting specifically because they can be seen but they can only be handled by the precious few who hold the appropriate authority and set of keys.

    Although it is now taken for granted that museum collections are not meant to be touched, this has not always been the case. There was a time when a visit to the museum was not ruled by vision but involved a lot of touching and handling. Indeed, in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, nascent European institutions didn’t have the set of rules that we are now so familiar with. At the time, touching was considered to be an integral part of the museum visit and the whole experience had more in common with visiting an acquaintance kind enough to give a detailed tour of their home. Writes Constance Classen in her essay “Touch In The Museum” in “The Book Of Touch”;

    “The curator, as gracious host, was expected to provide information

    about the collection and to offer it up to be touched. The museum visitors, as polite guests, were expected to show their interest and goodwill by asking questions and by touching the proffered objects.”

    By allowing visitors to touch the collection, the curators were merely following rules of hospitality. It is perhaps pertinent to observe that the museum audience of that time was by no means comparable to, say, the visitors that one would now find on a rainy Sunday afternoon at the National Gallery or at Tate Modern. This experience was made possible mostly because fewer people frequented such institutions and because conservation had not yet evolved into the paranoid science of degradation that we know today.

    During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century in Britain, museums became involved in a national effort to educate and civilize the masses migrating to urban centres in order to take advantage of the plentiful work opportunities brought about by industrialisation. It was believed that museums would be a great alternative to less reputable establishments for workers to while away their newly found leisure time. This consecutively led to a greater number of visitors but also an audience that

    was not educated in ways of the museum. Museums responded with the imposition of order and rules. No longer were the objects displayed there available for touch but quite the opposite. They were now regarded as sacred and removed from ordinary human interaction. In turn, this increased reverence brought about heightened concern about potential damage to the collection accompanied by intensified programmes of conservation.
    By increasing visibility with better lighting and modes of display, modern museums aimed to promote visual access while discouraging any perceived need for touch. Gradually, the picking up and handling of objects gave way to a public space meant to structure an historical and distancing space between the audience and the objects. Barriers or cords were introduced in the first decade of the nineteenth century as a response to the increased interest in exhibitions and they became a familiar feature of picture galleries in the course of the nineteenth century. Writes Robert D.Altick in “The Shows of London”;

    “In the 1820s in Britain barriers were introduced to keep the expanding middle class audiences at a safe distance. In particular large paintings depicting contemporary events had to be railed off, such as David Wilkie’s Chelsea Pensioners

    Receiving the Gazette Announcing the Battle of Waterloo (1822), which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1822.”

    These obstructions were meant to increase the distance between the spectator and the work of art as a way to make the works of art more accessible to a greater number of people. They also meant that the engagement with artefacts and works of art was becoming more visual and less kinaesthetic. Glass vitrines acted in a similar way to railings but pushed the distancing process a little further by blocking access in every way but visually. They also allowed for groupings of small objects from a similar historical period or of a similar school or form, especially the ones made of the most fragile organic materials such as ivory, bone, fabric and wood. Handling of such objects has been known to cause infinitesimal damage such as traces of moisture or grease which can culminate over time in the object’s destruction. Certain restored works composed of separate parts, veneering or inlaid elements will most often also go behind glass.
    Today, museums find themselves in the specific predicament of having to protect things that may be damaged by touch while granting

    the widest possible access. Although for many people, significant engagement with an object is most likely to happen via touch or some form of manipulation, the museum with its tantalising arrays of glass vitrines and velvet cords will always provide temptation.

    As Wittgenstein famously remarked, “Like everything metaphysical, the harmony between thought and reality is to be found in the grammar of the language.” The words we use determine our behaviour and ultimately culture. We cannot talk about identities as brands without reducing our behaviour to brand mimicry.

    The creative industries that play a formative role in culture creation, in defining the grammar of language – from art to journalism to advertising to entertainment – are co-authors in staking out our collective values. They can help champion a return to embrace what’s beneath the social veneer. But there is also an onus on us as individuals, as consumers, as identity-generators, to become conscious again of how we come to be. We must recognize that who we are is a result of the communities we are a part of. And the quality of those communities is a direct result of our contribution. There is a fluidity and flux, a give-and-take, that defines our social fabric. The narcissism of brand-me must give way to a broader social purpose.

    There is no easy way out of our current situation. The idiom of brands as personality is well entrenched. However,

    we can start to question the values it dictates – we can foster a consciousness of the effect of fabricated identities and the misapplication of branding to personalities. After all, recognition can be the strongest form of rebellion.