If I write a review of an exhibition I haven’t seen, what is the writing doing to the exhibition? And what is the exhibition doing to the writing? And what’s the effect in all this of acknowledging that I haven’t seen the show?
At the moment I’m working through lots of documentation of work by Taey Iohe, a London-based Korean artist who asked me to write about her current site-specific installation at the Seoul Museum of Modern Arts. Since I can’t visit before it closes in January, I’m working with the artist to build up an idea of both the work and what came before the work was made. I’m replacing a live experience of the work with a retrospective, non-live reconstruction of the circumstances around it. This isn’t a good or a bad thing, it’s just a fact about my encounter with the work.
But I do have to meet the work on some level if I’m going to write about it, which means I’m going to have to create my own live encounter. As I seem to be repeating almost every time I think anything lately, “better a live sparrow than a stuffed eagle”. It’s no good trying to fake an encounter that I haven’t had because it won’t work. If I can’t meet the exhibition, the text will have to do it for me, and I think this means the encounter can only happen on a textual plane: the encounter will have to be invented by the text.
The final review I wrote for the Kultur Fabric blog was about an exhibition which I invented as I wrote about it. Or rather, I didn’t write about the exhibition, I wrote it. In an earlier review I pretended I’d trodden on a slug because I wanted to attach the sensation of its body resisting a bit and then giving way under my foot to accompany the experience of Christina Mackie’s The Large Huts. And in another review I pretended a friend had come with me to the Serpentine and for diverse reasons had to walk around the gallery in muddy socks. At the end of the final review – the one I’d made up entirely – I put “This exhibition is imaginary”. Any inventions in other reviews went unacknowledged. I’ve never knowingly invented changes to real works or exhibitions.
How about: “This exhibition was encountered only inside the text.” With Taey’s work I’m setting myself up as the author of my encounter with the work. It can’t be otherwise: I can’t write an exhibition I haven’t seen without faking it. I don’t want to fake it, so I have to write the seeing of the exhibition. To keep the seeing from being fake, it has to take place only within the text itself, and make no claim to be real outside of it.