When Christine Swintak and Don Miller were invited to be artists-in-residence this summer, they began by asking me for a task that could lead to an exhibition. Their process is guided by improvisation on a given set of materials and a proposed opening verb or first action. I offered them the job (and starting point) of cleaning the art gallery sub-basement, nicknamed by staff “the Bunker,” and bringing its contents upstairs for the production of a work. Aside from some possible usefulness to us, this task had the potential to bring to visibility some of the history of this institution, and the objects behind the scenes of an exhibition: crates, plinths, books and slides, signage, framing materials, and other detritus from nearly 50 years in the life of a gallery, some still used, but much of it now accumulating dust as it outlives its usefulness. By building a work out of these materials, they would be able to refer to the frameworks, words, labour, and conditions of storage that underpin any artwork, exhibition or collection. Ultimately, however, they withheld or scrambled much of this information, undermining its easy assimilation into conventional modes of evaluation by concentrating on the latent physical and aesthetic qualities of the things they found.
Swintak and Miller saw themselves as reanimating these objects through their actions, and they set upon the task of making a tower that would reach the ceiling through the simple expedient of stacking without fasteners. The artists analyzed objects in a playful twisting of the notion of research. Instead of examining them for their ostensible content, they chose and placed them on the basis of their strength under compression, their potential as building materials for the skeleton of the tower, as well as their aesthetic qualities, literally squeezing unexpected information out of them. The building of the tower followed a constantly shifting process rather than a planned structure, set of instructions, or system. Rules were created, only to be broken as conditions changed. At each level, the situation was reexamined, until finally the parameters were fixed by the height of the ceiling. The resulting “Tower of Babble” is a record of Swintak and Miller’s frenetic process, in which material and structural considerations were in constant, swirling dialogue with action and reflection upon a set of charged objects in space.
Pan Wendt, curator