Ceal Floyer’s latest exhibition shares the jokiness of her previous works, yet it engages with questions of perception and representation
THERE’S A LOT to Ceal Floyer’s exhibition, Things, at the Project Arts Centre, and at the same time there’s almost nothing to it. It’s a single sculptural installation, and the list of materials used includes wood, cables, speakers, adhesive tape, CDs and a CD player. Yet take a glance into the gallery and you quickly realise what she’s done with all these materials is, in a sense, to make them disappear.
The room is occupied only by empty, white-painted plinths, 50 of them. Usually, plinths have a function. They provide a platform for sculptures or other objects, and whatever the objects might be in this case, they are clearly missing. Except that, as you make your way through the gallery space, bursts of sound emanate from an embedded loudspeaker in each plinth. The sounds are all abbreviated snatches of songs containing just one word: “thing”.
The sound is a substitute for what’s missing from the plinths, a means of planting a picture in our minds of the absent object. Or objects.
Linger a while and the sheer number and variety of the truncated sounds together generate a sense of a space occupied by lots of things.
There’s something quite humorous about the work and Floyer has established a reputation as an adroit maker of conceptual one-liners.
Bucket, which she made in 1999, seemed to consist of a bucket on the gallery floor catching a drip from above. But when you looked into the bucket, you found a speaker broadcasting the sound of dripping water.
Monochrome Till Receipt[White], also from 1999, seemed to be nothing at all, until you made out a till receipt pinned to the gallery wall. When you scanned the receipt, you found that every purchase it listed – including flour, milk and salt – was white in colour. For Nail Biting Performance in 2001 she strode onto the stage of the Birmingham Symphony Hall, which was set up for an orchestral concert, stood on the podium and bit her nails for five minutes. Droll, very droll.
Yet, as a conceptual artist, Floyer is more closely aligned to the classical, relatively austere branch of conceptualism that emerged in the US in the late 1960s and 1970s than to the flippant, consumerist variant that was part of the Britart phenomenon in the 1990s. Like many of the Young British Artists, though, she attended Goldsmiths College in London (she was born in Karachi, Pakistan, in 1968, graduated from Goldsmiths in 1994 and is based in Berlin).
For all Floyer’s jokiness she engages with questions of perception, representation and language. There’s an obsessive, relentless quality to her thinking.
By being insistently literal about meaning she throws up doubts and uncertainties about what we assume to be perfectly obvious in our understanding of the world. In all this and more, the artist she is closest to is her near contemporary Martin Creed.