Eyeline - number 42 autumn/winter 2000
'There's a Starman waiting in the sky, he'd like to come and meet us but he thinks he'd blow our minds......"
There is a particular and specific moment in the formation of one's world view that takes place at a point in early adolescence, which, at least for me and my friends, was triggered by the reading of science fiction stories. You are there with your book lost in an involving narrative set in the far future, with characters crossing the unimaginable distances of intergalactic space, and, all of a sudden, you realise, heartbreakingly and poignantly, that this will never happen to you. The space and time in which the story is set will be forever beyond your experience: you will never ever know whether 'it will be like that' or not. Never. The distances in time are just too vast. And you realise that this is a judgement that is without appeal, no matter what you do, or how hard you yearn, access to this future is forever denied. This realisation is more than the nascent acknowledgement of one's mortality, for that is set within narrower parameters: this is more absolute, it talks of the brief flicker one one's consciousness against the timelines of the universe. Of our heartbreaking insignificance set against the unimaginable vastnesses of time. It also seems sort of unfair that you're going to be locked out of this fantastic future, no matter how hard you might desire to be there.
In an article about Surfers Paradise in Broadsheet (learning from Surfers Paradise Broadsheet Vol 25 No 1 1994) Scott Redford quoted himself: 'Our Goal must be nothing less than the establishment of Surfers Paradise on earth: AD 5062'. Later this figure re-appears in a work of his, laser cut out of steel like a totem, a marker, a signpost, pointing through time rather than geography and made to be placed in a public space ('Study for All the Time in the World 5062AD'1996/7) This enigmatic minimal tracing of a far distant future has deep resonance, it is a suburban version of the obelisk rearing out of the African savanna at the start of the Kubrik movie '2001 Space Odyssey'. Redford likes dates. Another work is a surfboard with 7066AD boldly emblazoned on it ('Perpetual Abstraction 7066AD' 1997): initially this looks like some maritime identification number, but no, it's another identifiable unreachable future point. We have to ask ourselves whether the board, in its trajectory, will itself get there - some archaeological relic for the future, - if it's an attachment to the Silver Surfer or whether this is some alien artefact that's been mysteriously beamed down to us. These datings are an ongoing series of works, and each time Redford makes a work the date will get later, so it looks as if we will never find ourselves even closing the distance between ourselves and these other futures.
For the notes of his exhibition Love and Pride in 1986, Redford used the liner text from Roxy Musics first album. 'Piccadilly 1972: Taking a turn off Mainstreet, away from Cacaphony and Real-life relics, & into the outerspaces myriad faces & sweet deafening sounds of Rock'n'Roll. And innerspace...the mind loses its bearings. Whats the date again? (Its so dark in here) 1962? Or twenty years on?.....' (From Simon Puxley Liner notes 1972). In their initial manifestation Roxy were the first music group to fully articulate the sci-fi fascinations of British pop art, as articulated through Eduardo Paolozzi or Richard Hamilton (who Bryan Ferry briefly studied under in Newcastle upon Tyne). They were consciously removed from the everyday, media savvy, art literate - their inaugural concert was at the Tate Gallery, London - glamorous and androgynous. They wrote songs of swimming pools and fin de siecle passions, they were icons of some fictive modernity: a sci-fi future that was expressed through european understandings of american dreams. It was also about a rebellion that was not couched within terms of the class system, but more through ideas of polymorphous sexuality, louche difference, a removal from the present through becoming a creature of the future. Similarly, David Bowie used the images of science fiction to construct his various alter-egos, be it the Space Oddity, Ziggy Stardust, Aladin Sane, or the persona of the Man Who fell to he was using whilst recording Low.
Much of Redfords work share qualities with, and recognises the power of, such approaches: (certainly quotation from rock and pop music is a constant trope), but it is crucially mediated by a recognition that perhaps these transformations are now not possible for us. That we will never get to the future. That indeed we will not become Bowie or Ferry no matter how strong the identification may have been at one time in our life. This has the effect of building a self awareness, almost a nostalgia, into the work whereby not only a yearning for the possibilities of translation and transformation is expressed, but the works become elegiac of a time that we considered such transformations possible. In this matrix the constant use of images of people such as Brad Pitt and Keanu Reaves by Redford is not only as icons of desire, but operate as references to a time in ones development where one would, as a matter of course and for reasons more various than solely the sexual, have similar icons torn from magazines pinned up onto the bedroom wall. A work such as Photo the Pizza boy 1995 makes such concerns overt. The two larger texts in the work read : 'The pizza boy doesn't deliver anymore', and, 'And the Motorcycle boys never coming back'. The first text references a common mise en scene of the porn movie (gay and straight) with the delivery boy, handy man, who over bring unexpected genital delights to the inhabitants of the home, a scenario problematised is the era of AIDS, and the second text extends this into a wider sense of loss, perhaps with particular reference to the manifold and complex outlaw, rock 'n' roll and sexual constructions of the biker. What are you rebelling against? what have you got? (Can we still rebel?)
In later works sharing a similar formal expression, 'loss' further mutates into intimations of mortality. In (Perspecta piece title?) as in some of it's companions (eaf piece title) a small group of small goods is assembled: tins, household goods candies. At one level these reference scatter art but at the same time they serve as grave goods. Possessions to provide nourishment for the departed in the after life. In a 1996 work -' Why do I have to die/Keanu (for Felix)' we are presented with a cropped photo of a sexy looking but battered Keanu Reeves in a crumpled grey T shirt, with a cop car behind him, looking left out of the frame at another, hidden person. His hands are in his canvas trouser pockets, and the muscles of his arm are highlighted between the cloth of the t-shirt and the trouser, On the upper part of the bicep Redford has sprayed two red dots. These look like gun shot wounds or stigmata: more specifically they refer to the scarring occasioned through Karposis sarcoma seen by the artist on the arm of a person in his local gay bar. The work effortlessly combines homo-erotic sexuality with the memento mori in a way that is neither trite nor overdetermined, but presents us with a beautifully composed image of eerie melancholy.
There is something almost of an Elizabethan or metaphysical undertow to the work in this combination of sex and mortality, and Redford shares with the Metaphysical Poets a playfulness in these articulations, as well as the combination of the structures of desire and those of spirituality. Also, like them he is able to animate reflections on seemingly disparate subjects: abstraction, minimalism, with the substance of the mortal and the eternal.
Scott Redford's relationship with American modernism and minimalism: so often referenced in his work, has often been couched in terms of geographical distance - the Tillers take if you wish - ideas of the center and the provincial, the colonial and post colonial. I am not entire certain that these approaches tell the entire story here. A level which should be explored more is how, for those roughly of Scott Redfords generation, hard edge abstraction and minimalism represented, especially at the time when first come upon (late teens?), the perfectable, the future, the modern - ideas linked only tangentially to geography although intimately to modernism. They become emblematic, are weird utopian icons, and, as happens with the iconic, become shorthand for the sublime. Redfords metaphysical minimalism aims to insert a skull beneath its flawless skin, and this he achieves through the use of text and chemicals. This is exemplified by a work like 'Untitled (pushed into a corner)' where the stencilled text on the painting of a red rhomboid on a white ground reads 'pushed into a corner acrylic mixed with AZT'. The combination of beauty and mortality has its linkages with, say, Andrew Marvell's 'And yonder all before us lie/Deserts of vast eternity./Thy beauty shall no more be found;/Nor thy marble vault shall sound/my echoing song.. (To His Coy Mistress).
The pantheon of the beautiful, the damaged and the dead was enlarged in April 1994 when a disturbed and strung out singer and writer 'joined that stupid club' (as his estranged wife said) when he blew off his head with a shot gun in his house in Seattle. During his life Kurt Cobain had made an awkward stand for a sort of painful honesty with an angry and truculent music which he felt was further and further compromised by its popularity. One of Niverna's last recordings was a sad and beautiful reading of David Bowie's 'The Man Who Sold the World' with the refrain 'Oh no, not me, I never lost contol..You're face to face, with the man who sold the world.' According to the note he left behind, the gun was a way to prevent any futher erosion, any further compromise. Redford has named works after Nirvana songs ...'Lithium', for instance, and recently has made works featuring Cobains name. One is a laser cut wood column, consisting of four letters which read K,U,R,T, (KURT). Another is the same letters composed and cut to form a large simple rectangular shape on the floor. 'We are the language (Kurt)' Obviously linked to some of Redfords other icon text works - for instance 'Untitled (Keanu crying for River)', where the words Keaunu and River are stencilled on a wall in a way that it looks as if they are emerging from the ceiling and the floor respectively - the referencing of Cobains name ups the ante as regards the levels and reading of complexity and loss considerably. Despite the cool and considered finish on the works, their stylish minimalism and seeming reserve, these are, I think, some of the most direct and heartfelt work that Redford has made, combining as they do all the concerns of surface, desire, loss and beauty with a direct positioning of Cobain as a person, or form who not only reflects meaning (and looked great), but contains meaning - no matter how various, fractured, and partial these meanings may be. This is re-inforced through the artists reproduction of the liner notes form 'Insecticide' (previously the Pitts and Reeves of the work have remained mute, reflecting the gaze) which is a message of blunt humanism from Cobain 'At this point I have a request for our fans. If any of you in anyway hate homosexuals, people of a different color, or women, please do this one favour for us - leave us the fuck alone! Don't come to our shows and don't buy our records - Kurdt (the blond one).' Perhaps, in using this Redford is suggesting that, although we may be denied the vast translations promised, and which once seemed possible (and which served to end Cobain s life), there remains the possibility of incremental shifts that offer avenues of transformation and change even in the danse macabre of the dialectics of desire and loss.
Let all the children boogie. (D Bowie Starman)