…McAteer refers to her installations as ‘site specific’ work, but points out her differences in relation to the ‘site specific’ work done a decade ago. She prefers minimal interferences and aims at achieving a sparse image.
Installations are difficult to document, nevertheless she took me through a series of slides from the Reading installation called: ‘Less than warm, more than cold’. She chose a living room, emptied of its history. Along some walls she ran new skirting boards, with accents on non-function: the skirting boards stopped before they reached the door frame. On two opposite calls she placed two framed images - produced by words printed on calico: one said cold, the other comfort. She chose italics, to remind the viewer of one of the ‘R’s - writing. She told me that she intended to evoke the link to school, to childhood. From slides alone, I could not make up my mind whether the association would be resonant with the title of the piece, I.e. the typical state of indecision, like one described by Ibsen in Peer Gynt. Like him, do we need to provoke our imagination to live better? Are we going to squander that gift as fit for children only?
That she was after something rather more sinister than a childhood memory became obvious when I saw the three thermometers, places in mid-points on the walls which did not have a fireplace in the present or the past. The wall which used to have fireplace had it bricked up, forming an ’absent fireplace’. The sign that there was one, double row of floor tiles, some cracked, signalled the rule of memory, imagination even more. What was not there was more significant to this visual statement than all that was there together. The role of absences has already been mentioned [in relation to another artist]. Maybe the young generation of artists are going through a smilier network of concerns, as young Rothko and Gottlieb used to.
There is no manifesto yet, but there are numerous works of art which challenge the others strong strategy in contemporary art, as represented by Damian Hirst and Jeff Koons. It is that compassion which formed the complex decision of Hans Haacke to break the floor put into the national pavilion by Hitler’s government . The presence of that floor is simply not tolerable any more. If presences are not tolerable, if the pain they give you is too much, the most natural move is to replace them by absences.
The absence of the source of heating in a piece of work which deals with ‘temperature’ is rooted in dadaist or surrealist philosophy of art, but McAteer transgresses the historical reference by making the statement in a living room, somebody’s front room when this somebody is also absent. The removal of the person with an absence of fire reaches the edges of Promethean myth, which explains the accessibility of the process of making art. Art , in a way it is made or in the way it looks, often provokes such displeasure among those who are always present. I do not think that installations are ‘genre’ - I think of them as of an ebauche in the case of painting. The finishing glaze is not there, and I, as a visitor, am allowed in at an early stage of the process. Such an encounter is capable of telling me something about my type of consumerism, what I fill my living room with, what price some absences are these days. The lesson is - the fireplace will abandon the room. Room without fire, a bulb which does not work, the skirting board with gaps, framed prints which are words - it adds up to an image of a living room, a domestic situation, I would rather not choose.
Rejection of the proposition wholesale would be the shallower of the possible responses. I believe that the impact of the absences and the deviation from the expected as they affect my consciousness is a better target. They are blessed with the power of change.
From “Presentense: An Exhibition of work by 11 artists” Catalogue essay by Dr Slavka Sverakova