Read More - Issue 3 | Jul 07 - Claude Closky, Love and Fear

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Love, Lust and Fear Iliyana Nedkova

Do you want love or lust, asked Claude Closky in his work under the same title in 1997 and kept the answer suspended through a seemingly endless quasi-psychological quiz. Ten years later this haunting question resurfaces in his work Love and Fear (2007) with a new degree of intensity, absurdity and further satirical twist. The qualities, which persist are Closky’s ongoing affection for the primacy of the word in contemporary art, his site-considered approach to place, his tactical deployment of pseudo-random operations, and his disarming bravado when exposing controversies and dualities in life. Underlying it all, a marked ambivalence between two fields of recurring reference in Closky’s work – contemporaneity and art. The almost romantic, love-hate relationship, involving simultaneous or alternating emotions of love and enmity, is at the formal and contextual core of Love and Fear. The word, or rather the individual letter or number is often a fundamental ingredient of Closky’s visual grammar. In Love and Fear the artist marries media and meaning by employing an entire alphabet – each letter assigned one of twenty-two flat screens. Arranged in a row, side by side, the screens become the hosts for the letters. The multi-channel installation holds out the potential for varied cinematic scenarios, or important announcements. Swapping places and rolling over within each screen, the flickering letters remind us of the arrival and departure boards once prevalent in railway or airport terminals. With a slightly nostalgic air, Closky’s work appears native to the open architectural ‘concourse’ of Threshold artspace, carrying the semiotic authority and immediacy of public signage. Letters and words are signs. That is a truism to a semiotician, but their visual presence in Closky’s work makes them work as spatial indicators, marking the way. Arguably, text gives artists the opportunity to be more direct than they usually are with images. Likewise, in the brain of the viewer, the cognitive primacy is with the words. Love and Fear picks up on the subliminal and pervasive role of the road sign, by giving its viewers directions: ‘be alert’, ‘pay attention’, ‘do as you are told’, ‘go where you are directed’. Although none of these traffic control messages appear in writing in Closky’s work, the positioning of the alphabetical signs in the space primes the viewer for an imprint of an imperative mood. The rapid-fire edit of the letters verges on the iconography not only of the road sign but the fruit machine, too. Closky is hardly a novice to the culture of gaming and gambling, which underpins much of his oeuvre. From Going for the High Score (2000) and his Wish Card (2003) to Me 2 (2007), the artist has explored the fissures and banalities of games, often remixing and deconstructing iconic moments of popular culture. By substituting letters for the patterns of fruit symbols, Closky subverts the traditional appearance of slot machines. The artist points to the notion of displaced cultural energies as exemplified in Thomson and Craighead’s Trigger Happy (1998) – a remake of the earlier arcade game Space Invaders where the player ‘shoots down’ a philosophical text by Michael Foucault letter by letter, word by word.

With a cinematic zest for suspense Closky carefully choreographs the moment when the cascading screens of Love and Fear would stop and the alphabetical roller coaster -metamorphose. This is the climax in the build-up of our expectations for a reward, albeit not of the kind that constitutes the average casino win. The artist brings the frenzy to a halt with an abrupt move towards a freeze frame and silence. Paradoxically, at this point the viewer becomes a listener. The sound of silence makes for a retrospective awareness of the ambient audio, which accompanies the first part of Love and Fear. The non-discernible roar of a crowd, reminiscent of an exhibition preview night or a public gathering, echoes the rather frantic visuality and ‘quiet’ bombardment of letters. It also fills in the aural environment of the large and airy Threshold artspace, amplifying what appears to be intrinsic background noise generated by the visitors’ own voices and movements. What accounts for the ‘invisibility’ of Love and Fear’s sound is also the fact that when ‘on’, it is being transmitted from the underbelly of the building by under floor speakers, allowing for a visceral, corporeal effect on the listener.

ISSN 1755-0866 | Online