The following is what should be considered an excerpt to a far deeper examination on the documentation of Michael Asher’s works and the subsequent way it has shifted the view of the works in space to being works on display.
The first couple of times I encountered works by Michael Asher I was entirely unaware of who he was as an artist and that I was among and looking at “work”. The first was encountering the alterations students had made to a 19th century gallery at LACMA as Michael’s contribution to LACMALab’s “Made in California: Now” exhibition. The second was/is the operational water fountain in the Stuart Collection on the campus of UC San Diego, which constitutes one of two permanent public works Michael has ever made. Discovering both Michael and the work at a later date brought a question: Precisely when did I (or anyone) first encounter his work?
I had had the opportunity to be in the vicinity of two works installed but at the time did not have my perception attuned towards interacting with artwork. I was able to take the LACMA piece as an institutional (re)arrangement of a gallery space and the water fountain as a place to drink from. My comprehension and consideration of these works among multiple others Michael has been creating for the last forty years came in the form of researching the documentation and through it beginning to recognize the swing of each individual work through its impact in the form of that documentation. I would be unable to look at much of Michael’s practice without this documentation and yet yielded from a spatial experience of the work, or, with those two blind encounters, experience it through the retrospection of unawareness.
With the opening of the installation at SMMOA I have now had my spatial experience coincide with my considerations of it. To have these components, essential to any of Asher’s work, happening simultaneously comes with a viewer prepared this time to negotiate, but to negotiate a lineage observed pictorially.
Photo of Michael Asher, SSMoA by Michael Buitron
Approaching Asher’s work in the Santa Monica Museum is like approaching the very layout of the walls Michael has had reconstructed for the exhibition; the process of negotiation is based in a relational logic brought on by the intersections of display within a space. Whether that space is the lineage of temporary walls built during a ten-year period or the manifestations of Michael’s practice, both are constituted through a framing which one decisively steps into upon entering the SMMOA gallery space.
The simultaneity of the spatial and considerate reads lead nowhere without approaching the installation as though you were there to document it while also taking the time to develop the images (in mind’s eye) that you may subsequently see in future publications.
The documentation is the component above all else that specifies the work. Problematically, in having to consider the spatial arrangement of the installation as document one is already dealing with something he/she can move through as though it were something, which has already come down.