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November 18 - December 18, 2009

Prototype, 2009

Paul Cullen’s ‘Situations’

The first thing that strikes me about Paul Cullen’s ‘Situations’, and I’m thinking here more about the impromptu hotel-room interventions (in Cairo, Halifax, Melbourne, Münster and Stockholm), is the way in which the modus operandi of image and text seem to clash. On one hand, the images are cropped close around the ‘action’ of each sculptural gesture, blocking our view of the broader scenario so as not to betray the work’s cultural and geographical context. Likewise, the materials employed defy specific allegiances to site: they are the height of functional ubiquity, and whether sourced on location or introduced by the artist, immediate viewer recognition of such ordinary objects would be near universal, and no great cause of excitement. In contrast however to the images’ denial of local flavour, accompanying each there is a caption that identifies the works’ whereabouts with a pretty high degree of particularity, e.g. ‘Little Bourke Street, Melbourne, Australia’ (‘Earth, Solar System, Milky Way’ might follow).

It is hard to know the precise motivation behind these site-oriented captions (asking the artist would be far too easy). Common sense would probably suggest that their presence is just as practical as the chairs, telephones and stationery that feature in the works; that this mode of captioning is a simple and effective means of differentiating between gestures which sometimes are indistinguishable. But so too would a numbering system be (à la Martin Creed) – and that without contradicting the images’ desire for anonymity of place. No, clearly a direct confrontation is sought here, for it is not just the disrobing of site which rubs uncomfortably, it is the downright exoticness of the sites concerned. With four continents (and one small South Pacific island) represented in the series, the captions could almost be a boast about the artist’s impressive travel schedule.

The locations’ interestingness, the great swag of culture implicitly gathered together in this collection of cities that we are allowed to imagine, if not view, is something of a distraction from the lightness of Paul Cullen’s interventions, and the familiarity of both their means and hotel-room environments. There is a kind of perversity in the way the artist engenders in his audience a tourist mentality – the desire to be presented with relics of these exotic sites – but then gives us an impression of global sameness: it is a little like taking a garden gnome on a round-the-world trip but leaving the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids or the Statue of Liberty out of the photo. Of course to say this is to ignore the fact of the work’s sculptural interest: in no way do I want to reduce Cullen’s interventions to gnome-status, but they do represent what the artist carries with him (intellectually and metaphysically though, not materially).

In a way, the effect of the confrontation between text and image is that the sites come to be represented by the artist’s presence within them, or rather by his intervention within them. The matter-of-fact tone struck by the captions does make it seem that the gestures, though presented within the very self-contained context of hotel suites, are meant to stand in for the given locations in some way. Collectively, Cullen’s ‘Situations’ evoke a certain sense of ‘I came, I saw, I conquered’, but in a version employing markedly different methods from the usually public declaration of authority by way of some monument, be it a commemorative sculpture or triumphal arch. Instead, Cullen works his practice into these sites in a way that is temporary and private: an anti-monumental approach and a rejection of the conventionally highly-visible venues where one might make one’s mark.

Sam Rountree-Williams, 2009


For all images go to http://www.paulcullen.info/tables/situations

Exhibition Review : http://eyecontactartforum.blogspot.com/ and then use the search top for left for Paul Cullen