Driving in to a lorry park in what felt like the dead of an autumn night wasn’t where I expected to be. “But that’s where the blue dot says we have to go” – referring to the directional bible on my illuminated screen. Not deterred by the lorry park I insisted we had to go that way, despite all advice to the contrary! It was the dim light through an open door at the other end of the stationary lorries that made me think this must be right – and knowing that this particular artist was drawn to large empty warehouses! We had arrived at the V22 Excelsior Works in Bermondsey where artist Maurice Carlin was showing his latest performace publishing work.
Maurice explains his work as an “exploration of structures and processes” – which is exactly what it is. Maurice maps out the floor of the cavernous warehouse through a series of print “rubbings” that reflect the surface of the floor below, each one quite unique as the floor is never uniform and so varies in tone and colour to reflect those anomalies. Using the standard colour printing process referred to as CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and key [black]) and standard sized sheets of paper (A2 or bigger) he pulls a screen printing squeegey applied with one of the rich CMYK inks over each sheet. As he works his way across the floor over his herring-bone placed sheets he makes a decision as to which ones he will apply the current colour to with his squeegey, in a purposeful and methodical way. The process is very silent, save for the bang at the end of each application as the squeegey is hit against the floor and amplified across the warehouse. Where he lands seems quite arbitary to the viewer, so that one sheet may have one layer and an other a multiplicity of layers. Carlin’s “process” references a very ancient Chinese publishing technique that used stone or brass in a similar way to make official records.
It’s an exhibition that explores a published record of the bulding’s floor which in turn transforms the large grey empty space in to a new environment with a colourful floor map. It is mutli-layered on many fronts with a combination of Maurice’s own performance to create the prints with the CMYK printing process, the mixture of historical record and ancient practice set within a modern industrial space to create a contemporary art installation. It’s both simple and complex – a layered visual “story”. Is an art work ever “just an art work”?
Maurice doesn’t confine himself to the physical space he is working in. He constantly communicates the unfolding story through video streaming and daily live broadcasts via google+, socialising the concept and pushing outside his physical boundaries to a virtual reality for a more global audience – with whom he can interact. The slight whine of the video monitors are the only other audible sound – a reminder of this external transmission. He has more than one webcam set up around the large warehouse so different perspectives are constantly available. It’s this combination of physical and digital, ancient and modern that combines to create an art work that is compelling and intriguing. The more you understand it, the more fascinating it becomes both as a whole and as individual art works.
Meeting Maurice for the first time was the result of an invitiation to join a discussion group on “shared ownership” where we explained our experience of The Collective and how we worked together buying and sharing contemporary art. Maurice himself wished to explore his plans for the distribution and shared ownership of 135 relief prints from a 3-month live art performance within a 750 sq foot old furniture warehouse in Salford, using the same techniques we witnessed in Bermondsey. When we met Maurice again he explained his latest plans for the project and how “temporary custodians” were being sought who can invest £1000 for a ten year lease of each print. It would be
“ an alternative to a simple act of ownership over a work of art, custodians instead become participants in the life of the artwork. They are invited to help us explore methods of sustainable artistic production and an alternative means of ownership through their act of shared, distributed ownership. This collective investment will support our creation of a new and permanent space devoted to large scale works and collaborations at Islington Mill.”
At the end of the 10 year period, the temporary custodians will be invited back to discuss the future of the relief prints, and possible ownership. In the interim, the collective investment of all the custodians will go to a project that helps other artists. It was difficult to find a reason not to take up this particular art experience – right at that point. But as a Collective member the decision did not just rest with one household – it would be a discussion in itself, and a decision by the purchasing panel.
And what would we be considering? A print with a rich multi-layered story in its making and a “collective” experience of a very different kind to our own: we would be extending our “custodionship” to a conversation beyond the boundaries of our own homes. We left Maurice as he continued to publish his floor prints and slipped out and back through the lorries, with plenty to think about.