‘After Carl’ discusses the discrepancies around Carl Andre’s ‘Equivalent VIII’ (1966), its description, measurements, provenance and position within art history in relation to new work made by the artists for exhibitions at Exchange Rates, New York (2014), Sluice (2015) and a new publication designed by Keith Dodds and printed by Rope Press. Anneka French interviews the Birmingham-based artists.
André de Jong, Low Sculpture (detail), 2015. Dimensions variable, pencil, plasterboard, wood, screws and filler. Credit: Photograph André de Jong
Anneka French: Starting at the beginning, can I ask you how the collaboration between the three of you developed and what interested you in Carl Andre’s work particularly?
André de Jong: I’ve worked with Cathy and Andrew separately in the past. I guess I’m the common denominator between them. It’s not necessarily that I’m interested in Andre’s work per say but in work of the late 1960s and early 1970s – a time that witnessed a paradigm shift from high modernism to post-modernism. I found an anomaly in Andre’s ‘Equivalent VIII’ in that the work that was exhibited in 1966 differed from that sold to Tate in 1972 because the bricks shown earlier were returned to the brick works. The bricks had to be replaced with a lower-grade set. His practice was centred on precision and a distilled, dialectical approach yet he was willing to supply a lower quality brick as a substitute for the original material. There’s an idea that ‘Equivalent VIII’ is actually a post-modern piece in this sense.
AF: The brick works in New York has since closed down hasn’t it?
AdJ: Yes. I wanted to trace where this was. Through various sources, including Alistair Rider who has written the text in our publication, I managed to tenuously mark the site on Long Island, across from the UN. We were given the opportunity to work in New York through Sluice and I asked Cathy and Andrew to work with me. That’s how we spent ten or eleven days in a bunker in New York.
Cathy Wade: It was in Cypress Hills. It enabled a lot of journeys outwards.
AF: It sounds like a slightly mythical pilgrimage. What were you looking for in New York? How did traces of Andre manifest themselves?
Andrew Lacon: I think we found nothing physically. It’s a completely redeveloped area. There are only hints toward the site.
CW: In Andre’s book ‘Quincy’ (1973) he hired a press photographer to shoot materials in the landscape. This indicates a fascination with ‘stuff’ as it is and stuff that he can utilise. He talks in the book about the point at which materials start coming into the gallery and take on a completely different purpose. I was interested in the potential for material to be artwork. The brick works site is now a commuter park – it’s a really strange place and every single surface has shifted. But there are still railway sleepers present – Andre had a specific interest in these. It’s now a really varnished place yet there are surfaces that can be recorded as traces of moments in time.
AF: Could you talk more about the materials you engaged with on site?
CW: There are a lot of inconsistencies in Andre’s work in the Tate’s archives – mis-measurements and conversations across seven or eight years. There’s the belief that it’s his role to resolve these issues. There are no solutions to the replacement of one set of materials for another. My contribution to the work in New York explored journeys across the River Hudson and back again – a journey that I hope that Andre took himself to get to the brick works. On index cards I took rubbings of surfaces in a very myopic way, to the extent that people walked over me and I become part of the environment, covered in graphite.
AF: Could you expand on the three very different iterations of the project – the works made in New York, those shown at Sluice in the context of an art fair and in the publication?
AL: I made my work for New York beforehand. The screen print came from archival research on the acquisition of the bricks. This included correspondence between Andre and collections staff, and the notorious newspaper clippings on the work. I was interested in the different sizes between the original (destroyed) bricks and the newer ones that didn’t match the dimensions the gallery had. Andre had to come to England to measure and confirm them. The standardised brick has value but as an acquired artwork, the measurements suddenly become really important. My piece is very literally a screen print of the two differently sized bricks. The contemporary press criticised the lack of the artist’s hand in the making of the work so the mechanical screen print process relates directly to this. The frame was made there using readily available materials from a local merchant in the same way as Andre used readily available bricks. My work was left in New York and destroyed. The publication documents this and coming back to London it seemed logical to remake the work with discrepancies.
AF: There’s a new frame too.
AL: Yes, in American Western red cedar. Andre’s early work used cedar. When ‘Equivalent VIII’ was originally installed an amateur painted sabotaged it with blue dye. It’s process blue and also readily available.
Andrew Lacon, After Carl 2015, London. Remade, 2015. Screen print, North American Western Cedar. Credit: Photograph André de Jong
AF: What about the dialogue between the three of you and how that’s shaped the work made?
AdJ: It goes back to the bunker …
CW: Conversations shaped the work, for sure. These made ideas redundant really quickly – ideas from one of us that weren’t going to work but maybe another approach was. If you share a space with someone for long enough you develop a commonality of materials or approaches that swap over. The blue tape that you used for the frame, Andrew, I’m now using as a way of hanging my work. There were lots of visits to 99c stores desperately looking for materials and then being very upset that we couldn’t find them here.
AF: … finding approximate copies of materials as Andre would have done. How have these replications or versions come through in the work you’ve made for Sluice and the publication?
AL: The work was destroyed originally because the gallery didn’t want to waste money on storage for ‘standard’ bricks. As his name as an artist increased and the work re-made, the wrong measurements were recorded – essentially an admin error.
CW: A corrective gesture. Copies and replications.
AdJ: Subjectivity is key to the work we’re making. The two sets of bricks are described in the archives subjectively as ‘bluish white’ and ‘yellowy brown’. Everything we’ve been doing has a jarring irony with his precise practice but has now become a furry-edged, undefinable thing. I used standardised materials in New York to make a grid. If I was to make that anywhere else, a ‘standardised’ length will be different. The ink in Andrew’s new print would have been from a different batch for instance.
AL: The screen printing medium mixed in would be different as the measure is approximated.
AF: What will happen to the work you have here, Andrew? Will that be destroyed?
AL: I’m going to sell it to Tate.
AF: Sounds good. Perhaps we could talk more about materials. The one that sticks out for me, Cathy, is your index cards. These were things you had to hand and they seem to speak about the archival impulse.
CW: Yes and that sense of portable scale. I was interested that Andre’s bricks might just have been returned to use in buildings – materials being materials. In this way I was taking index cards away from their purpose and making them do something they were not designed for. The set I showed as a grid formation in New York were destroyed and that recording came to a stop. I wanted that disposability to come back into the work for Sluice.
Cathy Wade, After Carl, 2015. Digital / mixed media on paper. Credit: Photograph Cathy Wade
AF: Yes, and this comes through via the publication. The perforated strips can be torn off and this free dissemination of your work, Cathy, is something that seems quite interesting in the context of an art fair.
CW: Yes, how do you deal with uncertainty?
AdJ: I found in the archive that Andre was quite obsessive about mapping out his exhibitions with gridding. I used the grid coming out into the space as the work. The grid started doing rude things to the space – it ignored the window and the fireplace. In New York, we were in a domestic gallery space – a kitchen and a front room. We were transgressing on personal space.
AF: How does that grid structure run through the show downstairs?
AdJ: In the publication I re-made a negative of the grid. It ignores the format of the publication, spilling halfway over the spread and refers to Andre’s contribution to the ‘Xerox Book’ (1968), with its accumulating squares. The work for Sluice uses standardised material. It’s partly a functional decision, to cover the electricity distribution board in our space but it’s a ubiquitous building material that connects to the rough fire-proof plasterboard hoardings each of us [four speakers] have been walking though at Birmingham New Street station for months. Gestures of filler sanded back and made good. They’re set in my psyche now. Scribbled on there are the measurements of the two ‘Equivalents’ Andre never made – he could have made the series up to twelve – and each has two versions of itself. This is a completion of the set and a reference back to concrete poetry.
CW: It returns back to the contemporary cartoons of Andre’s work – the references to the skills of tradesmen and artists. The marks are extractions that can be encountered in the street or in the station as a series of abstract marks that are really percussive when you walk past them.
AF: What are your plans for the future of the project?
AL: I think this project is summed up. It’s come full circle. It’s been quite absurd to make work about someone else’s work. The publication finishes it off nicely.
CW: There are some interesting ghosts though. There was a brick manufacturer in the North West of England that had written to Tate to ask if they could borrow Andre’s bricks as they were making an exhibition about brick manufacture. That’s an amazing opportunity for something, especially if that brick works exists.
AdJ: I did have a look on Google Street View and I couldn’t see it.
CW: We’ll rebuild it.
AdJ: I think it’s probably run its course but there is another set of bricks in a Swiss collection that could be worth visiting. It’s open ended. I’ve put my ideas on the table …
CW: Someone needs to step forward …
Audience: The newspaper article from the Daily Mirror [the headline reads ‘WHAT A LOAD OF RUBBISH’] – do you now agree with that? It actually became rubbish didn’t it?
AL: It went back to the brick works.
CW: The newspaper photographs show a real sense of considering the work from different angles.
AL: Its media coverage was really odd. Tate was buying other works equally obscure at that time. What makes sense doing this work now is the current economic climate. At the time, cuts to public spending that replicate today’s, meant that the gallery’s acquisitions were publically announced. This would never have come out otherwise and it became this mythical thing because of its context. It seems right to make these ludicrous works.
Audience: Wasn’t it acquired a couple of years before the article?
AdJ: Yes but it wasn’t on show until 1976.
CW: It was very much about the display. A public encounter with this seemingly incongruous work. I think there’s something really hypnotic about this newspaper front page. Looking back at the coverage from this period, some of the cartoons are really insightful. In terms of critical response, there’s something quite unique about this work …
(First published on this is tomorrow, 21 October 2015)