Metacognitive Artefacts

Both Christina Mitrenstse (Greece) and Emmanuel Dundic (Belgium), whose work forms the exhibition ‘Metacognitive Artefacts’ installed on two floors of Galerie Nadine Feront, Brussels, have opted inter alia to display book sculptures either shot by an air rifle, in the case of Mitrentse’s Wounded Book series, 2013, or perforated fastidiously as in Dundic’s pieces. To be confronted by the hard evidence of such unethical treatment serves as a reminder that the contemporary art gallery can be an unnerving post studio space closely related to the library, office and even department store, but one that allows a freer visualisation of ideas, functioning as an outpost of individual practice, sometimes generating a frisson of strange beauty. In short by granting Mitrentse and Dundic a kind of poetic licence in its smart town house interiors, Galerie Nadine Feront verifies its credentials as a risk taker, or promoter of “norm-defying artists”.

Spaced out flat on tables, the injured paperbacks in Wounded Books have the solemn air of bibliographic relics, ex-books laid to rest after their absolute removal from circulation, codexes whose yellowing pages support content that has become epistemologically outmoded and fossilised. Here a bullet hole is as telling as an ISBN or shelfmark. Their ‘deaths’ also indicate that the book be it fact or fiction, stitched or hot glued is a foot soldier in the never ending war of ideas by means of which humanity evolves. Such work certainly presents a challenge both in terms of content and scope. Indeed Wounded Books themselves have become the battleground for a critical skirmish between bloggers Anna McNay (art-corpus) who conceived the bullet holes as “stigmata”, and Stephen Alexander (Torpedo the Ark) who ridiculed this analysis, but likewise fell into the trap of anthropomorphising books, referring to them as “mortal things”, “as complicit with evil as any other assemblage of power-knowledge”. This is to grant too much influence to the printed page, for as discerning readers we can take or leave books, similarly choose when we do indulge to keep a distance from their intellectual content. So shooting holes in paperbacks under licensed conditions is just an off-hand way of registering this detachment, and freedom from any type of symbolic authority residing in books.

The other pieces in Mitrentse’s suite of works at Nadine Feront certainly provide any newcomer to her polymathic practice with a useful index as the installation features the building-blocks of her repertoire: drawing, screen print, book modification, skoob sculpture, and the trademark Googlespeak ‘Add To My Library’. Standing alone in a room all by itself Skoob Tower after John Latham, 2013, is a 200cm tall construction built entirely from books, dictionaries and maps that evokes British born artist John Latham’s guerilla towers from the mid 1960s. Mitrentse in effect is providing a variation on the theme of the original book hypocausts, perhaps lamenting our present day authoritarian culture of health & safety that would make Latham’s ceremonies at the Law Courts or Senate House, University of London hard to carry out, since there is little unregulated public space left in cities, or great appetite for literal re-enactments. Here her Skoob tower has an elegaic quality: a mobile, temporary structure.

Other elements in the subtly lit para library at Nadine Feront are the drawings on paper Palais de Tokyo, 2013, and Contemporary Brussels Museum, 2013, both of which employ pencil, graphite, and gold pastel. The former utilises the book cover strategically, in a way that only R. B. Kitaj in his In Our Time series has really done before now. The imagery derives from carefully selected jackets that add an interrogative gloss to the meaning of contemporary power house visitor attractions such as Palais de Tokyo, Stonehenge or Tate Modern (the latter being examples of from the same series). In Palais de Tokyo the Mona Lisa stares out from the cover of André Malraux’s Le Musée Imaginaire on one wing as if an anime witness to Bernini’s St Teresa off the front of Georges Bataille’s El Erotismo on the other, the former’s make-up free face slyly bemused by her baroque counterpart’s intense orgasmic state. Graphic quotation narrates a fresh enigma, suggesting that the art palace as a site is less a given than a subjectively constructed ziggurat of knowledge, and how here ‘Metacognitive Artefacts’ as the catalogue succinctly puts it achieves “a reflection on the forms of knowledge and the re-configuration of its modes of transmission”. This trope is continued in Contemporary Brussels Museum, 2013, a grimmer Le Corbusier type structure that acts as a reminder of the way museums are hubs of instrumental rationality, a state of affairs Mitrentse is trying hard to unsettle through esoteric research methods and a species of transgressive ‘librarianship’.

Bibliophile I & II, 2013, return us to the quieter waters of the scholar in their study, an emblem dating back to Jan van Eyck’s 15th century oil painting of St Jerome. With its gimmicky dog-eared corners the collage Bibliophile II references pre-Gutenberg manuscript culture, a historical epoch when there was still a premium attached to close reading, and the explosive impact of the printed word was yet to occur. This emblem has been adopted for the exhibition’s invite card, implying a parallel between the unstable logistics of both scriptorium and internet, where copying errors were and can be transmitted virally. For nearly 600 years in between though, the hallowed physical book has reigned supreme, monopolising academic and popular culture, only now assuming a different sort of role in response to digital literature. As if in response to the challenge of cyberspace, the history of the book has also emerged as a new discipline, the beginnings of a specialised and hugely fertile archival recapitulation of the phylum.

‘Metacognitive Artefacts’ as the catalogue asserts, is a visual arts platform by which “books suddenly appear in all their alterity”.

‘Metacognitive Artefacts’ was at Galerie Nadine Feront, Brussels, Belgium, 5 December 2013- 1 February 2014