Solo exhibition at CCS Bard – Center for Curatorial Studies and Art in Contemporary Culture, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. April 19 – May 25.

Curated by Mireille Bourgeois.

Show included a selection of existing works plus a stereo version of Microhole. See details in curatorial essay “Revealing the everyday” below.

CCS Bard page with link to exhibition brochure here.

Revealing the everyday

The quotidian can seem to encapsulate everything that is experienced in a day, when in fact it is the particular redundancies of life, which make up the every day. Things like sweating, salivating, identical words that exist in multiple books in our library, sticking out a tongue, telling our age out loud, and so on and so forth. The everyday in art is not so because it has touched on a subject that is regularly mediated in our day to day. It is more precisely art that has taken a very pointed consideration of the occurrences of life, which happen on such a small scale as to not even attract attention. Why bring awareness to the small gestures of our everyday? This can be seen as non-art, not only turning away from the aesthetics of art objects, but to “indicate”, “intervene”, “document” what is closest to the artist, in hopes of understanding the most basic foundations of life.

Toronto-based multidisciplinary artist Christof Migone has been making artwork since the late 80’s, originally focusing on poetry and radio. He gradually crossed the boundaries of various mediums using electronics, video, audio, performance and text as tools of investigation. Migone’s practice can be difficult to navigate; he is an artist, a curator (at the Blackwood Gallery in Mississauga, Ontario), and an academic (holds a PhD in performance art). What is specific in his work is the concentration on the banal habits of a daily routine — only experienced in the somewhat undocumentable of the individual. The artist’s practice can be broken down into potential concerns with the body, language, and the mundane. However these sensibilities are not mutually exclusive. Each repeats its overarching examination of the obsessive, trying to achieve an understanding of how each artwork gesture endures physically or mentally, translates from one sense to the other, or is reordered through circling in place. Migone challenges the process of translation, and how it can be applied to other forms of communication such as bodily senses or linguistics (for example). He uses microphones and video cameras to document the workings of the body, reformulates language through dissecting text and reordering the words in new configurations, and spends days, weeks, and sometimes months on a single obsession.

A disco ball has lost all its mirrors. It revolves fixed in the CCS Bard gallery space as a marker for the obsession of circling ideas. Piece by piece Migone picked the mirrors from what he calls a “death star” — a Star Wars reference that does make you wonder whether its suspicious silent motion will eventually devastate everything in the space — and after 12 hours (spread over 3 days) of picking at the mirrors the ball was bare. It still has all the parts accessible to register it as a disco ball; its information has simply been reordered.

Here fixation is also connected to the slight shifts between ideas; disco ball turns into Disco Fall (2008). The object is in motion and constant transformation as it turns, building a slow momentum. Is the exhibition revolving around this Disco Fall or is it the other way around? A similar process of deconstruction is used in Migone’s 2008 Single text piece, where he’s gathered the lyrics of 45 “classic” songs in alphabetical order. Repeated words are not allowed and the lyrics are then printed seamlessly on 7” x 7” white record sleeves and hung in a row on the gallery wall. The resulting text is more like a collection than a serenade: gathering words that may constitute the essence of each song.

In Foursome, a 2007 audio piece originally conceived for a Tate Modern Resonance FM radio broadcast, Migone engaged four dance choreographers to view Samuel Beckett’s Quad teleplay. In the teleplay, four hooded individuals enter a mat shape on the ground resembling a boxing ring without its ropes. Each character engaged in a kind of wordless, private dialogue, is assigned a metronome-like tempo, and the choreography advances with the build-up of a drum-circle type beat. The Foursome participants were to recall the teleplay from memory and describe it in their own way, whether it was through the vocal description of emotions, imagery or interpretations of the piece. Will the individuals revert to a descriptive analysis of the video? Will they point out colors or sounds as the foregrounding element? Or will they resort to a complete emotional reading of what they see? Perhaps it is the viewer who will describe Quad through their reading of Foursome.

The 840 razorblades in vex jut out of the gallery wall in a single row and are the remains of a 14-hour (840 minutes) long performance the artist undertook in 1995. The piece was based on Erik Satie’s “Vexations” in which the composer added a note to the score stating “To play this motif 840 times in succession, one would do well to prepare oneself beforehand, in the deepest silence, with serious immobilities.” During his version of the performance, Migone made 840 edits with 840 razor blades of a prior recording of him counting to 840 while a vinyl record with a closed end groove repeated the last note of Satie’s composition 840 times. Two copies of the recordings were put on reel-to-reel tape and the edits were done by taking from one into the other. The resulting 27-minute audio — heard throughout the gallery space emanating from a single bare speaker sitting on the floor aside to the razor blades — combines both tapes and records a meditative passing of time, even the body’s exhaustion over the 14-hour period, and irritation engraved on tape.

Migone abstracts the final stages of his artwork sometimes making it impossible to identify the source material. The work can be read as a kind of trompe l’oreille disguising itself as white noise or a sensical narrative. For example in Migone’s 1998 Crackers the artist placed an ad in the newspaper asking volunteers to participate in a series of tapings where their cracking joints would be recorded. Most of the 7 tracks on Crackers record the in-between space using its own materials as the medium of documentation (sound, muscle, fluid, flesh). The final tracks are manipulated, pulled, cut, and only subtly recall documentation of such a personal space, creating a disturbing voyeuristic closeness.

Migone’s interest in the body often leans towards or results in shame or embarrassment. The body presents many opportunities for this: flatulence, secretion, contortion, aggression, immodesty are among a few scenarios that Christof plays with in the exhibition space. He also uses the body as a vehicle to bring the ordinary outside of its comfortable surroundings. Experiencing and marking the progressive effect of this discomfort is part of Migone’s use of endurance in his performances. In Evasion or how to perform a tongue escape in public (2000) the artist has video-taped a close shot of his mouth where he sticks out his tongue “as far as he can, for as long as he can”.

The tongue in Evasion is a visual allegory representing language, communication, sensuality, and is simultaneously a limb of aggression, of necessity, and repulsion. The tongue is also in the process of attempting a kind of impossible rupture – dividing the fleshy muscle from the idea of language – all the while knowing it cannot succeed. At 9:02 minutes, the artist is fixated on enduring the physical exhaustion from forcing a cluster of body parts to pull together and produce a simple action. Migone’s originally strong and straight tongue in Evasion eventually quivers, drips saliva and loses (face) control trying to fight the need to recoil.

It is evident that the artist contributes time and energy that is consuming and at times physically demanding, often using his own body as the measuring tool for the duration of his performances. Microhole are examples of this. Microhole has been reproduced on-site and for the first time in stereo for this exhibition. Holding a microphone and recording the sounds Migone has repetitively hit a wall until a hole broke the surface in two locations at stereo distance. The recording is then attached to two speakers affixed behind the holes and the microphones left impotently on the ground. The repeated gesture of hitting until the wall and microphone both are damaged challenges the endurance of the materials he uses, but also measures the impact between the mic and wall through sound. The duplication of the “performance” extends the damage to the artist’s body, the audio recording the artist’s exhaustion into the track.

As part of an ongoing project titled Pastime that will eventually involve fifty participants, Migone enlisted the help of 14 volunteers between the ages of 10 and 60 to repeat their age out loud in front of a video camera. The participants are then paired in two-channel video projections; Pastime: 27-57 (2008) and Pastime: 20-50 (2008) are shown together in this exhibition.

In the visual component of the videos the youngest participants are slowed-down to the length of the older participants’ age (i.e. twenty seven years old to 57 minutes), and the reverse for the other participant (i.e. fifty-seven years old to 27 minutes), while the audio is played back in real-time causing the two to be off-synched.

In the same room is P (2006) a white animated letter jumping and bobbing on a black background. This study lasted 149 days as the artist recorded his voice at various pitches and tones stating “p” every time he urinated, which we hear to the appearance of the letter “p” in the video. The passing p’s seems like memories passing as quickly in our minds as the actual occurrences of the action. The pairing of Pastime and P observes the mundane within the everyday, and also steps back to look at the banality of passing years made up of such accumulated banalities: from microscopic events meaning nothing in the grand scheme, to the redundancy of life itself.

The two line-drawings printed in this catalogue are logs made for the participants of Pastime; 27-57 each line representing every year of their life as they repeated it in the recording. Migone often creates secondary documentation of his artwork that reappears in other projects, like in Pastime with these drawings, in Microhole where the microphones that have caused the holes in the wall stand as documentation of the action, or with the band wrapping this brochure extracted from his P log adapted for this exhibition text. This secondary material also exists as a kind of specimen, gathered after a study.

How do we come to terms with knowing what these banal representations of our everyday mean to us, if anything? Perhaps there is an unknown, a new, or a different to be found in our quotidian rituals. But how many studies will it take to bring resolution (revolution?) to the everyday? We might not understand what makes every day gestures in art so radical, but we know that it somehow involves all of us, which can be a little unsettling when encountered in the gallery space. The slightest piece of hope is left behind that by looking at the quotidian in art, some artists may have recoiled so deeply into the everyday, so as to be on the verge of some kind of great reveal.

Mireille Bourgeois
April 2009