Towards a non-computational ‘digital’ ontology

The game of catch is simple. Someone throws the ball to you. You catch it, and throw it back. In the absence of another person a wall serves just as well – bouncing the ball back instead of throwing it. James Charlton’s exhibition at KARST plays out such a simple game as it explores what it might mean for a thing to be discrete in-and-of itself: What it means for an artwork to exist independently of artist or audience. In such discreteness the thing-in-itself emerges as a digital practice independent of determinate techno-computational narratives. In consider what it means for a thing to be digital it is then not so much the oppositional nature of a call and return transaction of catch-bounce that we are concerned with here. Rather, Charlton stresses the significance of the transactional interval between subject and object that is signaled here in the title of the exhibition by the vertical bar in between catch and bounce. It is in this interval he suggests rather than the material condition of the art work per se that the work-of-art as a differentiated in – itself emerges as ‘digital’.

Such a relational flattening brings together the post-media practices of the expanded field such as those identified by Rosalind Krauss in the 1970’s, and contemporary Speculative Realist/Materialist philosophies that oppose the correlational agenda of post-Kantian metaphysics. The result is a challenging exhibition that – sitting somewhere between interactive installation and conceptual art – asks us to consider the possibility of art in which human subjectivity is not longer a final guarantor. One in which we practice in which the challenge of resisting the correlational impulse – the reflex through which we ‘catch’ or hold objects in human reason.

The central piece of the exhibition is Drop – a kinetic installation of twenty ceiling-mounted, microprocessor-controlled mechanisms. Each mechanised unit controls a basketball connected to a spool of yellow rope. At random time intervals each mechanism suddenly drops a ball from its housing on the ceiling. After a period of inactivity, the ball is then slowly rewound to its cradle where it waits to be released again. The rewinding occurs so gradually that it takes a considerable time. In fact, it is scarcely observable – only when one looks away for a while does one notice the ball has moved. As each unit’s timing is subtly different, the balls seem to fall unpredictably so that at any given time the viewer is always in anticipation of them dropping – caught up in the relationally of the work, they wait for the event of the work becoming.

On the floor amidst the basketball mechanisms three life-size forms of a Labrador dog wait. These static forms have been produced from scans of the artist’s dog and carved out from solid-blocks of Styrofoam using a robotic arm. In each, the pose of the dog is distinctly different – one lying, one looking upwards, one glancing over its shoulder – yet at the same time the dog displays a similar pensive awareness of itself. Waiting in anticipation of what they might become or might have been, each dog – or rather the dog – holds us in the impossibility of its representation that renders it a dog that waits for us.

At the entrance to the gallery three ATM-like machines prompt visitors to ‘swipe their card’. Visitors can use either their own card or the blank cards that are part of the exhibition. Once activated the machine slowly processes their ‘transaction’ by printing out one sentence taken from a longer text on a receipt printer. Each ‘receipt’ is numbered so that it is theoretically possible to piece together the entire text. Despite having this awareness, the visitor is also cognisant of the impossibility of the task, given that text has been dispensed throughout the duration of the exhibition. Instead, gallery visitors find themselves caught up in the ‘performance’ of the text as a relational event.

Extending the exhibition beyond the confines of the gallery, In Hand is centred on an action that occurs each day of the exhibition. While it is presented in the gallery by photographic means, it functions in a similar way to In Receipt, in that it focuses on relationality by drawing attention to unseen events. These events involve a daily practice of catching a pigeon and banding it with a simple coloured leg band. The pigeon is then photographed using an instant polaroid camera before being released again to the wild. Each photograph is presented in the gallery along with the other, already-taken images.