The morning I visited Ceal Floyer’s exhibition it had been raining heavily for 12 hours. A trail of rainwater snaked across the concrete floor and pooled in the middle of Lisson’s first-floor gallery. There was something very Floyerish about this.
It brought to mind her early Bucket (1999), a standard black plastic bucket emitting the intermittent sound of a drip landing in its base as though the pail were collecting the water from a leak in the ceiling. In fact, there was a CD player inside playing a recording of the sound. Without an actual leak, the bucket became its own sound system, timer and sounding board for your assumptions. And yet, the form of Floyer’s art always pays lip service to the rationality it is set on subverting. It has a brand identity: black and white, lab-clean, hard-edged. Against this elegant foil contradictions intrude.
The incidental rainwater at Lisson was lit up by Facsimile (2010), a shadow tracking down a broad screen from top to bottom and back, and a whirring, clicking soundtrack. The video is an image of a blank sheet of paper being printed by a fax machine. The filming of this mechanism and its remote projection tautologically reflects the reproductive process itself.
Floyer likes to play on the ambiguity between the functional real object and the minimalist art object. She dismantles something familiar and arranges it in the space so that it relinquishes its identity and becomes sculptural decor. Removing all the struts from an aluminum ladder except the top and bottom—Ladder (minus 2–8), 2010—she has produced something between a Cady Noland barrier, a lightweight Richard Serra “prop” and a stairway to heaven that only angels can ascend. Matches (2010) puns on its title. Three white matchboxes are placed along a chrome shelf, requiring us to spot the difference, to discover whether or not they “match.” This is facetious, Conceptual art lite. Floyer’s familiar tropes—the title pun, the disabling of a commercial object—can become repetitive. Her earlier work exposes the mysteries of perception more concisely. Light Switch (1992) uses light on a wall—a projected photographic slide—to create a haunting illusion of the fixture which produces it: an image of a wall switch. By comparison, the designerish Matches is a flaccid collection of signifiers.
Things (2009) consists of a crowd of identical chest-high white plinths with speaker grilles on top. Apparently at random, although one at a time, they play snippets of pop songs in which the word “things” is intoned, the rest of the track edited out. The singers might be naming the upright objects ranged around the gallery like a chorus of anonymous figures. Appearing like a generic minimalist installation, Things recalls William Carlos Williams’s pert 1944 encapsulation of Imagist poetry, which might double as a definition of the Minimalist ethos: “No ideas but in things.” Sometimes the string of sound clips resembles a medley, off-key and plangent. It is a black comedy of the sampling esthetic, opening, in brief fissures, onto the bottomless abyss of pop culture.
Photo: Ceal Floyer: Ladder (minus 2-8), 2010, aluminum ladder, approx. 9 feet high; at Lisson.