Meeting Absence

To many urban minds the sight of empty store fronts, sign boards and transit vehicles bereft of passengers is disconcerting. Conditioned to seeing streets full of vehicles, stores stocked with all sorts of merchandise and homes crammed with clothing, personal mementoes and gadgets, it’s hard for many to imagine life without them.

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And when blank expanses are met, the encounters initiate confusion. None of the expected content is present.

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‘How to comprehend these places?’ is a question that surfaces when there’s really no image or text to capture one’s attention, supply information, play with our emotions or reinforce our expectations.

For some these sites invite defacement; for others they are to be avoided.

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Apprehending the unique the visual qualities of these abandoned places doesn’t usually factor into the equation. But taking time to look – perhaps even considering these non-sites as works of art – changes our relationship to them.

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Some artists, in fact, exploit these characteristics in their work. They hope people take notice of the work’s shape and scale and things like the colour, shape and texture of the materials and how the selected components have been framed by the location.

It is well worth looking at the wear and tear, the anonymously applied alterations and the way they relate to their surroundings, as well as ponder their past and potential future uses and the ways they might affect the places where they have been sited.

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Given their attributes, one could – quite facilely – consider them more Robert Irwin, than Jeff Wall, which says next to nothing about them.

Their appearances also call up the unpopulated places depicted by artists such as Edward Hopper and Julian Faulhaber.

For the mind open to prospects, these mute spaces intrigue and counter the idea of non-occurrence, for they present a unique set of precepts.

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These glitches in the stream of visual information that bombards us offers an alternative.

Their identities remain ambivalent: equipment or art / equipment as art / art disguised as equipment.

They offer no clear answers. Like monochrome painting, they can be appreciated for their emptiness. The eyes and mind can also adapt and appreciate the unique qualities of these materials. As to their exact meaning, it’s a matter of shifting perspectives. Ultimately they evade precise interpretation.


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