Thingness? is the latest exhibition to emerge from the Cooper Summer Residency. The Cooper Gallery hosted an interesting group this year, with Joseph Fletcher being the first philosopher to be invited to the residency, to work alongside artists Anouchka Oler and Oliver Braid through discussions and explorations of Object-Oriented Ontology – the privileging of nonhuman objects over human existence. This meant the artists worked back-to-front to the model most recognised in contemporary art making; the art began with the working hand and the theory was teased out from there.
The school of thought is a heavy one, but don’t let that put you off. Although the air does feel thick with thought, one of the first things that strikes you upon walking in is an overwhelmingly playful vibe. The face of Oler’s installation is a pair of inviting, glittery pink lips, and her delicate ceramic cigarettes and broken bowls can only be seen when leaning in between them. Behind that wiggly wall, the viewer is greeted with a cabaret of a living space, where t-shirts are stretched over gym balls for seats, mimicking comically the all-too-familiar symbol of a generation growing in front of a television screen. You can tell that Oler is primarily a sculptor; her film is perfectly constructed, and the language reaches out. She has brought her experience of Fletcher’s “making first” philosophy and lain it on the table with a monologue which is more like a dialogue, reflecting with herself on the process of work during the residency. Her title “Are You Willing to Participate?” makes the work feel like a loaded question, as if she is asking us what we are willing to give up.
With Oler’s exuberant fabrication of a living space dominating a third of the gallery, the rest may feel quite empty, until you are blasted with a poppy dance song that fills the gallery, the only clue to where it came from being a massive wire stemming from the floor to the ceiling where a laptop balances on the beams. Braid has definitely succeeded in his quest to “express the maker”, but through presence; you are constantly expecting him to appear. His mark is tangibly left throughout the gallery, with precise squares of White-Tac bringing the walls of the white cube out to greet you. Ten little door handles, moulded into the shape of a small bust, are lined around the gallery, continuing the invitation of Oler’s title, but also conveying a sense of precariousness. The sculptures are white, small and delicate; the title of phew.gives very fitting because you notice them just in time.
The exhibition keeps you on your toes, but also perfectly mirrors what the artists have learned throughout the process – the danger of the objects’ positions show they are now secondary. Oler’s mother’s terracotta pot and Braid’s laptop, both items that seem to hold much personal value, sit ready to fall to the ground, forcing the viewer to take on a role of responsibility, forcing them to engage in dialogue with the objects instead of a pamphlet. However, true to the form of Object-Oriented Ontology, the pamphlet comes after the work. Joseph Fletcher published the theory side in an online format, keeping the separation of work and theory in balance and making it as easily accessible as the work.
Fletcher’s presence in the residency has been described as “confounding”, but the creation of debates and focus on his area of work in the “community of object” was very successful. Oler’s installation feels like a cinema in which to observe ourselves, and a dialogue is formed between Braid’s subtle sculptures and all those who come into contact with the exhibition. The title Thingness? poses itself as a question, with Fletcher being the ringleader of a debate which Oler and Braid continue with the viewer through the most important theme in the whole Residency – their objects.