Starling conducts art like an Xsport. His efforts are often so extreme they carry the charm of clownish stunts, always involving a skill he has not yet acquired: model-making, boat-building, bicycle construction, chair fabrication, etc.
Starling conducts art like an Xsport. His efforts are often so extreme they carry the charm of clownish stunts, always involving a skill he has not yet acquired: model-making, boat-building, bicycle construction, chair fabrication, etc. These strivings are essential to his intentions, which is why he leaves visible signs of his efforts. Viewers observe scratches, saw marks, and measurements. Refined mastery is ignored in order to provide evidence of the dramatic transformation that produced the object being displayed, indicating the intensity and duration of the artist’s interventions.
Starling helps art historians decipher the significance of these efforts by commenting, “One of the things that I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last few years is this idea of a post-conceptual practice and how it’s possible to take some of the very clear, hard-won models from conceptual work, you know, from the sixties, seventies, perhaps, and to try to re-deploy them in a way, to give them a new life. I mean in a way I suppose the overwhelming sense of a lot of that work for me, while fantastically important historically, is that it became rather too self-referential, monastic in a way. But to me there‚Äôs so much fruitful material there to re-use in investigations of a slightly more outward-looking nature and perhaps a little bit more politicized, if you like -and not only the politics of art production either.”47
a. Starling specifically mentions Robert Barry’s Inert Gas Series/Helium, Neon, Argon, Krypton, Xenon. From a Measured Volume to Indefinite Expansion. 1969.
The text on the drawing reads: “Robert Barry/Inert Gas Series/Helium, Neon, Argon, Krypton, Xenon. From a Measured Volume to Indefinite Expansion/April 1969/Seth Siegelaub, 6000 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood, California, 90028/213 HO 4-8363.”
Here is an excerpt form an interview Barry conducted with Holger Weh in which he explains Inert Gas’s relationship to conceptual art:
“The Inert Gas pieces were an attempt to use material – inert gas – which is an undetectable material, you can’t smell it or see it, and use this material to create a kind of large environmental sculpture, if you will. It was one of the last works that I did in ’69, where I actually used physical material. And so it was a kind of transitional work, in that I was still using material, even though one’s understanding of the work and appreciation really had to be totally mental. One would have to use one’s imagination. I used inert gas – neon, helium, xenon, krypton – because they were, first of all, called the ‘noble gases’. I always thought they were sort of romantic. They were completely unknown about 100 years ago, we didn’t know they existed, and yet we breathe them in and exhale them, we live around them and move in these inert gases.”48
Starling’s interest in this work may seem curious because physical effort involved in material transformations are absent from Barry’s art process and from conceptual art practices. However, Starling seems as intent as Barry to stimulate the mental responses of the audience, instead of purely visual responses. Identify the specific components used by Barry in his Inert Gas Series and by Starling in One Ton that activate cerebral reactions.
b. Starling’s statement regarding the untapped potential of art from the 60s-70s that has the potential of a ‘new life’ can be applied to Process Art. Process Art set the precedent for focusing on the methods of producing an object. The meaning of a process art work is derived from the work’s creation; not the end product. An example of a process art work that could be described as “self-referential, monastic” is a 1961 sculpture by Robert Morris titled Box With the Sound of Its Own Making. Morris inserted a tape loop inside the box which plays the sounds made while constructing the box – the sawing and the hammering. In essence, the box repeats its fabrication history again and again.
Morris imbeds the methods of production into his art work, as Starling does. But the difference between them is significant. Starling’s high-exertion / low-tech labors are not ‘self-referential’. They convey poignant messages about non-art topics. His works address such environmental themes as energy consumption, recycling, introduced species, mining, etc. For example, while Shedboatshed provides evidence of its own physical transformations, it also addresses the nature of ‘work’ in a highly technologized economy. By exerting physical labor where it is not required, Starling delivers a ‘Luddite protest’. He explains, “you know, that idea of destroying the technology that you perceive as taking away your livelihood, your job, and I suppose that notion is somehow…. you know, there or thereabouts in a lot of the work, a kind of controlled aggression towards technology, in a way.”49 Machines change the nature of work by turning humans into automata and can disrupt eco system functions.
Wood is sawed and hammered in both of these works of art. Evidence of this process in Morris’s piece is exclusively aural, while in Shedboatshed it is exclusively visual. Discuss the environmental significance of the fact that Morris’s efforts are linear; they come to a halt when the perfect cube is constructed. Starling’s efforts, on the other hand, are cyclical; the original object is destroyed to make it useful for another purpose, and then it is returned to its original form.