Baths, sharks, floating doors. There is a sense of the subverted real - being "inside the mirror"- in the third instalment of Modern Art's Oxford year-long Kaleidoscope exhibition.
The artists are again a collaboration of past and present, with returning work from Karla Black, Dan Graham, Daniel Buren, Sol Lewitt and Yoko Ono, and new (at least to MOA) pieces from Dorothy Cross, Ibrahim El-Salahi, and Amy Sillman.
A fascinating peculiarity about the Kaleidoscope exhibition so far has been the manner in which the gallery has laid open the practicalities of exhibiting. The dissembling and reassembling of instalments have (on the whole) been available for curious bystanders to view.
This open mediation of the artist/curator relationship is brought into the exhibition itself. Sol LeWitt, the father of conceptual art, - and the artist from whose comments the title 'Mystics and Rationalists' is drawn - is particularly influenced by the instructive. His Wall Drawings (originally exhibited in 1973 and now recreated for MOA) were constructed following "strict instruction", giving aesthetic credence to the 'idea' just as much as the 'completion' of the piece.
The Wall Drawings are fascinating, somehow reminiscent of a geometric fairy ring. They look inherently structured and aligned to some immaterial a priori mathematical formula, but are manufactured through a highly personal method.
Dorothy Cross's Eye of Shark (2014) takes up the majority of the upper gallery, an army of baths claiming the room. Austere and uncanny, faucets gape and rusty pipes hang useless. Gold-sprayed rims masquerade as a murky reminder of dirty water. Cross utilizes the relationship between nature and man-made material, repurposing objects to play with the strange resonances of juxtaposition.
Ibrahim El-Salahi and Daniel Buren have been placed together in the middle gallery. Buren's Coloured Shadows (2016) glint and reflect upon El-Salahi's The Tree (2001-2) almost impeding upon the individual interpretations of the pieces. And yet it simultaneously reinvigorates the ethos of the exhibition, the mystic here meets the rational in the spectral encounter of geometric and line.
Moving between the two middle galleries, Dan Graham's Performer/Audience/Mirror (1975) and PastFutureSplitAttention (1972) offer a stark contrast to the rest of the gallery. At first glance, they're distinct in terms of medium (videos). But the concept, too, initially seems disparate in comparison with the other pieces. The videos are self-reflective, and comment upon identity, language and solipsism.
Performer/Audience/Mirror sees Graham describing his own sight in a mirror to an audience sitting behind him. PastFutureSplitAttention shows two performers speaking: one is describing his day, and the other forecasting the first's future actions before he speaks. The conversation quickly breaks down into nonsense. These performative language games act to reveal the fragile basis upon which encounter and communication lie.
At odds in many ways to the object-based surrealism of the upper gallery and first middle gallery, Graham's works tend towards the more frightening side of uncanny, perhaps slightly akin to Beckett, Lynch, or even vaguely Larry David-esque. But as you wander into the Piper gallery, and take in the viscerally bright Stills from 13 Possible Futures: Cartoon for a Painting (Amy Sillman, 2013), the pieces, though visually heterogeneous, coalesce in concept. Both works act to eviscerate the causal links between idea and completed work: Graham, by reducing language to stumbling blocks, and Sillman, by displaying the thought processes themselves. The cartoons are set without frames; simply pinned into the wall. The heat of the summer has warped the paper, and the movement of air in the gallery means that the misshapen pieces are constantly wafting. The standard relationship between audience and painting (that is, framed, demarcated, sacrosanct) is fully broken down and splayed across the room.
And this transition of thought again echoes the transitional nature at the heart of Kaleidoscope. This element of instruction that that pervades Mystics and Rationalists is experimental; creative as opposed to didactic. Like Yoko Ono's comment on her small but powerful Painting for the Burial (1961), "I'm trying to suggest what you can do to create what you want to create."