South London Gallery - Fax - A Review

The South London Gallery is right next door to my new University home and it has many great aspects. Not only does it have some very intriguing exhibitions, but it has a fantastic bookshop and extremely nice cafe. I have a feeling I will be frequenting that airy but cosy cafe alot during this year; the food is just wonderful and the staff are so friendly!
There are two exhibitions on at the SLG at the moment but I'm only going to talk about the one upstairs, above the cafe. 'Fax' is part of the show called Independent Curators International Presents Fax and Project 35 - for now I am most concerned with 'Fax'. The below piece of text was copied from the ICI website and describes the premise of the show:

"FAX is an evolving exhibition that started in New York in 2009, and continues to be reconfigured, expanded, and localized as it is presented—often simultaneously—in venues worldwide. FAX invites artists, architects, designers, scientists, and filmmakers to think of the fax machine as a drawing tool, resulting in an exhibition concerned with ideas of reproduction, obsolescence, distribution, and mediation. Through the infinitely reproducible, yet erratic outcomes of producing works via the fax machine, this show displaces traditional notions of the hand that are still commonly associated with the medium of drawing, and instead foregrounds drawing as a generative process."

The exhibition as it stands in the SLG has a certain intrigue as you enter the room, drawing you in to survey the walls bedecked with reams of A4 paper facsimiles, and the table in the centre of the room with a fax machine atop it and open file binders filling the rest of the surface. [you can see more images here] I, of course, am drawn first to the table and the binders; flicking through them is satisfying, like being let loose in a room full of archival material. 
The retro feel you get from seeing piles of faxes with their distinct headers and footers, reinforces that feeling that this could be items within an archive; old material kept in binders, and yet the binders are new and the plastic wallets that hold the papers are not archival. This ongoing collection of faxed drawings is slowly being curated into files, book-like in their structure, each new artist starts their fax with a section heading, declaring who they are, the title of the piece if there is one, and any contact info; these sections are like chapters building up the narrative of this almost obsolete method of communication. The narrative is disjointed though, some of the artists have quite obviously played on the ephemeral nature of the fax, focusing on the mistakes that can occur, the black and white basic reproduction of the sheet placed into a fax machine, errors that are very similar to that of the photocopier. This play with facsimile hiccups is present in several 'chapters' dotted around the exhibition and for me this provides a kind of narrative that I look for within an exhibition of this kind. 
Visually the room is interesting, despite the very black and whiteness of the work. The room itself has a large window and 3 usable walls, it reminds me of an office space within a converted town house, quite apt for this show I think. The table in the centre looks like it was made especially for the show, bare wood, resembling a drawing or designers table, at just the right height for comfortable viewing of the files. Some of the 'chapters' are pinned to the walls with clear cork board pins, the pages are displayed in varying arrangements, sometimes the artist has given specific direction to how they wish the pages to be hung if their work ended up on the wall rather than the binders. One section runs from near the top of the wall downwards to the floor and carries on along the floor towards our feet; some seem set out in a storyboard fashion while others are just left to right sequential. This variation gives the impression of a kind of research room, perhaps an editorial design office where chapters are pinned up in random ways to help the editor find links and threads of narrative which might determine an order to the whole book. This thought leads to imagining the room as the book, the container of pages of information; the curator(s) as editor. 
Overall I am most interested with the idea of the exhibition, the way it has been assembled, the curation of it rather than the actual content of those sheets of faxed paper. Some of the works I enjoy thoroughly but you have to wade through the ones that seem like scribbles made by an artist who hasn't really had time to engage with the subject of the show. I suppose large group shows are always going to have elements of them that one does not like or understand, and with over 300 artists involved with this project to date that's alot of potential for running into artists whose work does not hold your interest. 


Aine Scannell said...

I read through this wondering if it was anything to do with the project originated by Christian Boltanski , at the SLG a few years back that I participated in - it was based around using collaboration and fax machines. I remember going into my local chemists to send my few pages into the project.

I was writing this on the BAO blog and it was getting way too long so I thought I would come over here and drop by your own place.

- I have only just seen your comment about my book at the end of this post about the QR codes.

I am glad you liked the book - it was far too much hard work and I learned a lot - also the finish was not as perfect as I would have liked it to be - though it wasnt for the want of trying.

Anyway I am hoping you are finding your M.A. in artists books at Camberwell stimulating and enjoyable? It has a very good reputation which I hope you feel it merits - i.e., where teaching is concerned and opportunities as a student. best wishes for 2012.
I have just been doing some posts on my blog for my artists books called

better get back to the large watercolour I am supposed to be working on now - mind you its getting near 'cup of tea' time.

also well done on your getting to grips with making an e book - something I would also like to do.

Abigail Thomas said...

Hi Aine! Thanks for your comment, and yes I wonder if it was to do with Boltanski's project.... something to investigate.

I loved your book, it looks like tremendous hard work and I thank you for it. Mine also took forever and I know some bits could have been better but I guess we all think like that about our work. This time I am definitely going to scale down my ideas...! It's going to be fun though; I really like my title... "Turn Left".. what was yours?

The MA is going very well, I think my life has been taken over by it but thats a good thing. I will take a look at your blog now too, happy new year!