Look! There are objects, people, and situations that compel me to do just that. It takes some effort, though, to make me look longer than a moment, that blink of an eye Germans call “Augenblick.” It is an effort and commitment that I have to bring myself to make, and whatever or whoever it is that commands me to look must warrant my sustained attention, must conquer my resistance, must provoke, charm, or seduce me to engage me in an exchange.
“Look!” is a command that rarely fails; but, apart from performances that define the intended or desired duration of that look, few sites dictate, implore or recommend just how long I am to keep looking. Do I circle once around this sculpture? Do I give that landscape the once-over, the twice-over or the over-and-over? How long do I need to look until I see something that rewards me for not looking away sooner? Not every instance of looking turns into a spell of lingering, loitering and longing for more; and nothing is more effective in making me avert my gaze than being told what to look out for and how to see things. This is the reaction I had looking at David Garner’s exhibition Future Tense, currently on display at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre.
Garner uses found objects to make more or less—and mostly less—compelling statements about a grab bag of social and political issues: production and consumption, education, unemployment, and postcolonialism. His work hinges on a pairing of visual and verbal puns (such as “Wooly Learning/Dysgu Gwlanog,” a school blackboard with felted wool surface and wool text) or clichés (like “Beware when the gloves are off,” a row of ten Porcelain glove moulds mounted on an oak panel and suggesting a fascist salute); most of these pairings are too obvious in their single-minded double-meaning to startle, let alone enliven a discourse. Often, as in “Sheep in Sheep’s Clothing”—a taxidermied sheep wearing a coat knitted from its own fleece—the found object is stripped of its mysteries, its woolliness—its indeterminacies and ambiguities—spun instead into a readily solvable and as such instantly dissolvable puzzle.
Unlike Duchamp’s perennially stimulating Fountain, Garner’s found objects are given a final resting place in a self-contained junkyard of a performance that rewards only those who are content to discover an artist’s meaning and who, unlike me, accept that meaning as final; such hermetic hermeneutics leave no room to respond other than “Got it. Next!” There is none of the wonder, the awe—the sheer thrill of looking—that I experienced staring at Maurizio Cattelan’s Allat the Guggenheim Museum earlier this year.
The only truly gripping sight in Garner’s Future Tense is not a sight at all but a sound: the sound of a large clock loudly ticking away. I resisted looking at the caption and let that sound transport, envelop, and alarm me; listening, I was, for once, unaware of the time I had wasted looking here but reminded instead of the potentialities of art to move us to the point that we cannot but invest it with our life experience, our anxieties and desires—a potential that is largely unfulfilled by Future Tense, a configuration of readymades whose presence is so much circumscribed by the artist’s foregone conclusions that they have little chance of a future in our imaginings . . .