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Pelzer, Birgit
Interpositions. The work of Louise Lawler

Louise Lawler. Every Other Picture, 1990

The work of Louise Lawler is presented in an ostensibly clear program, as work on the conditions, procedures, instances of presentation, framing and circulation of works of art. She photographs art and its spaces, but to disturb her skillfully channeled economy of attention span and attachment. Her photographs, her diversified interventions, are defined by defocusing the viewer’s attention on the works and drawing it to what surrounds them: an ensemble of set or supple relationships, both persistent and inconsistent, which, although unnoticed as such, in their opaque, elusive interactions, full of contingent contiguities, nevertheless point to specific types of authority and institutional power. This is an area in which the constellation of circumstantial influences and the ripple effect engendering both “celebrities” and values harnesses the channeling/capitalization of the attention given and taken. Surreptitiously, this thematic program inscribed within the joint horizon of “institutional critique” and so-called methods of “appropriation” nevertheless stems from a much more basic question: the doubt about what ties us to others, to their different places.

Louise Lawler. Blue Face Cloth Anniversary.

It is this basic yet irresolvable doubt that encircles the photographs of Louise Lawler. Her photographs’ troubling sharpness is the result of their intensifying – like arrangements of arrangements – the ambiguity in the mode of enunciation chosen. By immobilizing operations of inclusion and exclusion, of reunion and breakage, the pictures reveal the way that Louise Lawler has of relating to the works of others in order to make a production of her own. Detail, which takes on an incongruous nature, plays a crucial role in the appropriation, a doubtlessly cruel play on identification. If the system is anchored around such reversible elements, what credit can it be given? These photographs cut out the established meaning. They feed on the supposition of knowledge, a type of knowledge that has already been acquired, classified and coded. What does she show us? In a universe defined by continuity in relations, her photographs isolate climes and, in the classifications, assemblies and “in-betweens”, show places and works of art (furniture, showcases, labels, signatures). Arrangements are always tied to social conventions, to systems of subordination, coordination or alienation. To focus on detail is not to seek anecdotes. Anecdotes mislead, while Louise Lawler’s photographs are focused and play upon the fixedness of the established code by introducing a heterogeneous element into the ensemble. It is the detail that counts. The detail is on the side of what’s supplementary, on the side of an added gain. As compared to customary understanding, well-informed connivance, or conventional interpretation, on a rebound, her photographs introduce a slight departure. In the power system with its complicities, its memberships, its constitutive recognition, her photographs mark a departure, a side step. Her photographs, her many interventions, what’s more, are always on the side of the in-between, of the beyond, at the intersection: between two paintings, between two designations, between two labels, two authors, two beats. But this empty interval that it captures, these details which are as hidden as they are insignificant, details that are found, ticked off, discovered, put into interactions in the landscape of contemporary art and its phases, forces one’s thoughts to turn.

Louise Lawler. Postcard, 2000

And it is at this unnoticeable shifting point in the in-between, when slipping across the boundaries between meaning, convention and contextual confusion that something begins to take root. Something undetermined comes to shake these scenes that are too full of meaning. In the end, what hits us is the ungraspable overbearing of something that insists without persistence. The impression pervading the work is one of sophisticated grace, of absolute elegance, of poignancy. The method behind these subtle, paradoxical, taut, keen, light interventions is much like that of a knight on a chessboard: barely moving forward a step, a brusque sidestep is taken over to the sidelines to observe and rerecord the distance taken through a symptomatic separation, a sardonic distance. In this defensive move, discrete in these times of cacophony in exhibits and unusual for the various types of anesthesia found in modern-day art, the tone is maintained, a pertinent tone, an impertinent tone, governed by epigram and fable. Louise Lawler’s evasive centering conforms to what is cut and dried rather than to resentfulness and a will to place confusion and feeling at bay. Beyond calling into question power, systems and authority, there is a unique place that these cold analyses confer to a one-of-a-kind way of viewing, sensibility without pathos, nostalgia or deploring, without militancy, that does not propose rallying behind any position but rather a vision full of perplexities, a functional contrast of the new management of symbolic affairs, fragile adventures in a relationship with the present marked by a gap. (…)

Translation from French: Beth Gelb

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