Exhibition Essays

2004 Reviews

December 2004

Floored by Katja Fabig and James Keene

Jessica Reid

There are few places outside galleries that such a banal piece of architecture as the floor has such significance (it's interesting to note that gallery talks are often called 'floor talks', when what's being talked about is just as likely to be on the walls.) The floor of Enjoy gallery is a tortoise-shell patchwork of different colours. Pieces appear to have been added and removed, some gaps filled with a caramel-coloured putty while other cracks and gaps remain. A portion which has never been varnished is muddy and dull, the rest of the boards have been polished to deep shiny amber. There is a small concrete block inserted in the floor against a wall, which I guess was once a fireplace. I've ruined a pair of stockings by having them catch on a loose, stray nail in a floorboard. Some parts sound hollow and some parts sound solid. The floor creaks, but only in certain places. There are paint drips and scuffs and scratches. It's a floor with history; the product of its age and the number of functions the space has had over the years. I describe the floor to illustrate the impact it has in the day-to-day exhibiting of the gallery. And yet, as an architectural feature it is something I have previously given little consideration to.

The exhibition Floored by Katja Fabig and James Keene, conceptually fitted neatly into the series theme of L E N G T H. A project which could run simultaneously to other exhibitions in the gallery, quietly building up the grime and marks of the gallery audience, showing the traces of this history. Robert Rauschenberg's white paintings worked under a similar concept; that it was the stuff of everyday life, inadvertently reflected on to these works, which was equally as, or even more, interesting than the work of art itself. However, what interested me the most were the work's formal qualities.

The first time I saw the work Floored, it was halfway through the five months of the first part of its production/exhibition. I noticed the work because I was struck by the creamy pale colour of the wood of the hallway and foyer floor. It stood out, it didn't quite look right, or maybe it did look right and the floor in the rest of the gallery didn't. It was its formal qualities, the very qualities which one expects of a floor, which drew my attention to it. Its flatness, smoothness, uniformity and visible wood grain. Its painted-on, faux grain appeared more like wood than the wood in the gallery. This fake floor was more convincing a floor than the 'real' floor, too perfect an imitation, it was almost a simulacrum of a floor. So as a documentation of the marks of the gallery viewers, how could it compete with the longer history of the floor in the gallery space proper?

Later, when this floor was ripped-up and hung on the gallery walls, I became more and more interested by what I was standing on. In the hallway I noticed its absence; the dull misshapen pieces which were now revealed felt different and moved more under the foot.

The outlined created on the walls were also interesting. A large abstract jigsaw piece it also had a resemblance to a handgun or perhaps a haircomb. Like reading tea leaves or imagining objects in cumulus nimbus, I had a desire to see reason in this arbitrarily decided figure. To the unsuspecting gallery visitor, a tension would have been obvious; a carefully considered shape had been created but its surface was neglected and the reasoning behind this shape was unclear. Perhaps even someone unfamiliar with the space would have soon made the connection and started looking at the floor in the gallery and hallway. Perhaps then they would have noticed that the curve at the bottom of the shape could have fitted in with the curve of the bottom step leading to the next storey. Perhaps they would notice that the long strip could represent the hallway and that it jig-sawed together with the piece on the other wall representing the foyer. Maybe they would have examined the existing floorboards on their way out.

I think this is where the success of Floored lay; in bringing the viewers attention to the small details of everyday life. Floored highlighted presence and absence, how we notice things sometimes only once they're gone. It made me appreciate the small intricacies and idiosyncrasies of the space's architecture and, by acting as a metaphorical mirror, it made me note the history, age and wear of the very thing beneath my feet.