As long as art is seen as creation, it will be the same old story. Here we go again, creating objects, creating systems, building a better tomorrow. I posit that there is no tomorrow, nothing but a gap, a yawning gap. That seems sort of tragic, but what immediately relieves it is irony, which gives you a sense of humour. It is that cosmic sense of humour that makes it all bearable.
(Robert Smithson in Lucy Lippard, Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object)
Robert Smithson (1938â€“1973) is looking into the half-distance. Resurrected, having emerged from an underground car park into a 2009 suburbia and wearing an exceptionally bad wig, he contemplates post-minimalist art with his equally glacial buddies Gordon Matta-Clark (1943â€“1978) and Dan Graham (b. 1942). In a landscape of greys and blues the trio slope around, deadpanning theory and journeying into a reverie of architecture and cinema.
A beguiling oddity, Redmond Entwistle’s short film Monuments stood out as a highlight at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. A thoughtful, funny, sad film. A film with a bibliography. A film about New Jersey. ‘New Jersey was where my grandparents settled and lived after moving from Poland,’ Entwistle explains. ‘It is the counterpart to the visible New York. New Jersey feeds the city with materials, construction and invisible labour. At first New Jersey was the working-class suburbs of the city, then it became the white-collar suburbs, and now it’s something else. It’s a new hinterland. It’s a corporate park.’
Overlapping in time spans, all three artists created seminal works in New Jersey: Graham’s Homes for America photographic series was largely shot there; Matta-Clark carved up suburban houses with a power saw in Splitting and Bingo; and NJ-born Smithson’s Monuments of Passaic essay was a journal of a trip he took there, creating a series of photographs along the way. ‘In it, he talks about the cinematised landscape,’ Entwistle explains. ‘The landscape in New Jersey for him is already a filmic landscape.’
Monuments echoes what Entwistle sees as an underlying structure within their work. ‘Even though it’s sculpture and exists in that kind of space, it felt like there was an underpinning of narrative to their work. The narrative I recognised was this movement out to the fringes to collect material that you bring into the centre, as a means of authenticating society again. The way they’re going out to these environments and using raw materials, I think to some level there’s a reiteration of that narrative, of modernism, where one goes and finds the authentic materials and brings them back to the centre again, and that relates to their interest in context as well.’
Formerly a projectionist at the ICA in London and currently based in New York, Entwistle cuts a serious but restless figure. He has been making moving image work for 10 years, often switching between cinema and gallery exhibition. Paterson – LÃ³dz (winner of Best International Film On-Screen at Images 2008) is an expanded sound piece for a seated audience in a cinema and Belfast Trio (also shown at Rotterdam) consists of three short films that were originally displayed in a gallery but also screened in three cinemas simultaneously in Belfast – each one a short staged scene that doesn’t necessarily relate to the dialogue on its soundtrack. ‘None of the pieces sit comfortably in a cinema or a gallery setting. They’re always between,’ he states. ‘I’d say neither space is adequate, so it’s partly a process of trying to provoke some sort of dialogue about the alternative ways of showing and making work. The cinematic experience has not always been a fixed one, it’s been one that’s open to new possibilities of screening. But I wouldn’t say that the works I’m making are defining what that should be. They are not just critical, but they do construct a certain way of viewing.’
For now though Entwistle has a pressing concern, how the very-much-still-alive Dan Graham will respond to the adventures of the zombie-esque photocopy of himself in the film. ‘I was concerned how he would react to it. I didn’t want to ridicule him. I think maybe it’s slightly unavoidable. He has his persona and I’m ridiculing that persona in some ways.’ Entwistle recalls the post-screening Q&A at the IFFR premiere: ‘I think a couple of people felt that I was mocking the artists’ work. But I really feel that if there is a humour in there it’s directed rather at the industry around the artists. Their mythic status isn’t of their own making, it’s something that’s happened as a process of a cultural industry around their work. I wanted to separate their work from this hagiography that developed around it.’