Richard J. Butler & Robin Shepherd
“If the pierced and tattooed body has become the canvas, how should art confront a body already presented as art?”- Robert Morris1
It is with this question in mind that the work presented in Size Matters, a collaborative effort between Richard J. Butler and Robin Shepherd, began life. Taking the simplest measurements, height, width, arm span, etc. as the work’s starting point, Butler and Shepherd have transcribed these simple idents onto the objects, sculptures and paintings that make up the exhibition; with the intention of evoking the presence of the artist’s absence.
The cramped restrictiveness of Shepherds corridor provokes a consciousness in the viewer of the reciprocal relation between bodily movement and spatial articulation. There is a resonance with Bruce Nauman’s early work such as Device To Stand In (1966) and Performance Corridor (1969). In Anne Rorimer’s words, Nauman “Erased the distinction between the physical space of a work and that of the viewer as a bystander rapt in contemplation before an object.”2 By returning the viewers gaze back towards the finished object (presenting a sculpture rather that just a corridor) Shepherd further complicates the relationship between the two. But by only painting the interior of the sculpture, the place where the performance has been acted out, does he return to the predicament of Rorimer’s sentiments and to the idea of the finished object. Through presenting a complete structure but at the same time only a half painted sculpture does he reference the absence of his own body and questions the viewer’s positioning in relation to the work.
This is mirrored in Butler’s work Column for Standing. Seen solely as plinth for placing sculptures, Butler has appropriated it as a pedestal for his own body in a attempt at creating a column within the space; thus transforming it into a sculpture in it’s own right. When stood upon the work Butler completes the space, bringing the floor and ceiling together. Because the act is only presented as a past event, with the aid of photographic documentation, the piece reverts back into being just an empty plinth; the white paint atop revealing any trace of its former use.
Throughout the history of what one might term ‘Body Art’, the artist’s body presented as the ‘artwork’ by physically situating the body in place of the already fetishized art object and demanding the attention of the viewer in a confrontational manner, has been treated, more often than not, in a candid and explicit way. The work presented here replaces the aforementioned ‘body’ in favour of the lost object in an unobtrusive and minimal way. With the works quiet and subtle presence the body is eluded to through its very absence. It is precisely because the body is removable in the work that it exists as the supreme synecdoche. There is an echo of a physical intimacy where distance in time or space renders such intimacy impossible, “…an absence whose presence and generality supervenes the physical object.”3
1 Robert Morris, Have I Reasons: Work and Writings, 1993-2007. Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2008, p.121-22.
2 Anne Rorimer, New Art In The 60s and 70s: Redefining Reality. Thames & Hudson, London, 2001, p. 85.
3 Morris, Ibid. p. 127.