Peter Coffin, untitled
Posted By: Jenevive Tatiana
Arriving into a gallery space–even one as nomadic and unexpected as the WORKs–the viewer comes laden with a kaleidoscope of expectations and experiences that gives his or her particular viewing experience a singular, subjective quality. Any image, texture, phrase, smell, sound and perhaps even taste, encountered in an art installation might conjure any number of memories. More abstractly, our knowledge of contemporary art and art history, and any concomitant opinions, provides a filter through which we interpret and judge what we find before us. Beyond these practical registers mediating the experience of art is a primary form of anticipation. We expect to encounter some arrangement of objects and ideas. The encounter will encompass confrontation, engagement, reaction and evaluation. Perhaps we will stand in front of something, circle it and contemplate it. Perhaps not. While colored by the aforementioned subjective factors, this set of mental and physical behaviors is what we expect to bring to bear. And it is the raw material of this anticipation that artist Peter Coffin sculpts in his untitled work.
The piece consists of an agreement to participate made with the gallery attendant, who proceeds to trace a chalk circle around where the participant happens to be standing. These graffiti orbs pile up and intersect, resolving into a twombly-esque cacophony of form. As the work progresses the ability of each circle to trace a record of unique attendance is lost to the sheer multitude of such markings. Lines are broken, smudged by foot traffic. What emerges is a palimpsest of spectatorship. These chalky wreaths register the presence of the viewer as viewer. Each circle is a necessarily incomplete record of the thwarted encounter between art object and spectator: a trace of what that encounter is if the object is vacated and we are left to ourselves. They encompass, quite literally, the personal space of each beholder, and all the emotional, cultural, intellectual and perhaps spiritual registers of that mobile territory. This might be understood in the language of institutional critique, or equally, in that of new age appropriations of the mysticism of early astronomy and geometry. The artist’s interest in these motifs is evinced in his extensive body of work, which has in the past included imprints of art work, sculptural stand-ins, photographs of auras and crowd-sourced formulas for sneaking into museums. Here, we find ourselves vividly in the “no such place” of the gallery, and are thrown back into that dense web of expectation we brought with us (and perhaps, that brought us in).