You promised me poems
“Matter is pitiful; form is terrible.”1
— Lisa Robertson
The second law of thermodynamics says that things move from order to disorder — an inevitable drift toward indeterminacy or a bend into obscurity. The point of indeterminacy is the dissolution of an edge between presence and absence, inside and outside, dream and mind, formed and deformed, subject and world. Tim Silver’s latest body of work, You promised me poems, is a collection of sculptural and photographic works that capture the instability of form in varying degrees of permanence and impermanence.
Working with materials that change over time, Silver’s work forms a poetics of decomposition, an entanglement with rupture and destruction as processes of making, where decomposition is figured not as the antithesis of composition but as an aesthetics of (dis-)organisation. The gesture of destruction is visible in the series of photographic images that comprise Untitled (Oneirophernia). The images are portraits of time-based sculptural works that Silver has previously made, in which castings of his own bust are filled with bread, before being sealed and baked. As the bread rises, it breaks through the weak points of the cast, producing a series of deformed portraits of the artist. This poetics of decomposition is further developed in Untitled (Trouble with Lichen), a new work that depicts a rock crushing a head. Silver has recast the sculpture out of Forton MG (a sturdy, plasticised white plaster), a move that renders the moment of destruction fixed. The work registers tensions between permanence and impermanence; the certainty of ageing and destruction is juxtaposed with the fixity of the aesthetic form. The work’s title — a reference to John Wyndham’s 1960 science fiction novel — points to the conflict between preservation and destruction, representation and process that defines much of Silver’s work.
You promised me poems continues Silver’s ongoing exploration of the generative potential contained in the passage of time. Time is present in the work in the gesture of making — as a temporary capture of an (always) unstable present — and in the prolonged duration of deterioration and transformation Untitled (Husk) a copper cast of a figure that hangs, suspended from the gallery wall, deals with the instability of materials and their transformation over time. The figure evokes iconic forms from the history of western art, and yet its casting out of copper – a material that transforms in colour and quality from shiny and polished to tarnished and oxidised –welcomes mutation into the sculptural form. Time is present as a dialogue with history – in Untitled (When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d), Silver produces a series of porcelain busts of himself reproducing Bruce Nauman’s iconic Self Portrait as a Fountain (1966-67). Silver’s reference to Nauman, which is in turn a reference to Duchamp’s iconic Fountain sculpture (1917), extends a conversation on the history of contemporary art between artists across different time periods, locations and contexts. The busts have then been tagged and graffitied by different groups of ‘youth’, a moment of collaboration that indexes the modern public bathroom as a site of anonymous mark making and a playful meditation on the history of conceptual art and the status of the readymade. The trace of time is also present as a haunting, as in the photographic images of absent sculptures that comprise the Untitled (Oneirophernia) series.
The show’s title, You promised me poems, gestures toward a promise unfulfilled. Addressed to an unnamed other, the you that hangs obliquely might be imagined as the artist talking to himself, or to the various histories that are in dialogue with this body of work, or to the viewer, or to someone else entirely. The promise of a poem — that which is recognisable via its formal properties or through the act of self-identification — is the promise of form itself. Silver’s work is a poem that cannot stay formed, refusing to remain fixed and refusing to acknowledge a singular focal point. Yet Silver’s work is also decidedly poetic, its transformation over time constitutes a kind of “rational counterproductivity” in which instability is revealed as the only recognisable order.
1. Lisa Robertson, Nilling: Prose Essays on Noise, Pornography, the Codex, Melancholy, Lucretius, Folds, Cities and Related Aporias, (Toronto: Book Thug, 2012), 43.
2. Like the promise of a poem that ends up delivering something altogether more desirable, Silver’s work draws the viewer into a space of dynamic intimacy that conditions and complicates thought and action.