False Finitude?

glenn tries to get a print from raquel's whiteboard

Here’s a curiosity. The above image is a rather blurry photograph I took in the MCA gallery, showing the title wall label for Raquel Ormella‘s artwork in the In the Balance exhibition.

The work, entitled “Poster Reduction”, consists of an electronic whiteboard with two marker-pen drawings: on one side, a majestic Tasmanian tree in the forest, and on the other, a depiction of the offices of The Wilderness Society (the nerve centre of that organisation’s campaign to save the forest). Gallery visitors can view each image in rotation, by pressing a button on the whiteboard control panel.

Here’s Glenn the curator pressing the button:

glenn tries to get a print from raquel's whiteboard

glenn tries to get a print from raquel's whiteboard

The other thing that the whiteboard does is to produce “thermal fax paper” type print-outs of the image on the whiteboard. By what miraculous scanning process this works, I am not sure, but it’s pretty cool.

This work has been exhibited elsewhere (notably, at The Performance Space in 2005), and in its previous manifestations, it spat out lots of this thermal paper, which built up in a nice dishevelled pile underneath the whiteboard.

At the MCA version, however, gallery visitors are invited to make a print-out for themselves, by pressing the “print” button on the whiteboard control panel. On the sign adjacent to the whiteboard, the finitude of this paper resource is foregrounded:

raquel whiteboard closeup

As I understand it, this message is partly designed to make visitors “think twice” – do they really need a paper print-out? There’s an ethics of action invoked here – “if I print out a page for myself, that’s one less page available for someone else” and so on… And also a connection between the subject matter of the artwork (the finitude of the forests) and the materiality of the artwork (paper being made out of wood etc)…

But on the day that I tried to print – a few weeks ago – the fax paper was already finished.

Here’s Glenn, having tried to print himself a page, indicating that the paper has run out:

glenn tries to get a print from raquel's whiteboard

In fact, Isabel the curatorial assistant informed me that it ran out very quickly (within a week or so of the exhibition opening). However the latest news indicates that the MCA is – shock horror! – considering popping in a fresh roll of fax paper

While this hot controversy has been brewing, Raquel has been out of town – exhibiting in Japan and Melbourne – and she’s just returned. Glenn, the curator, has also been away – in Korea doing research for an exhibition next year – and he also has just returned to Sydney.

Last Thursday in the gallery, they both visited my audit office. They asked me to make space here on the Audit blog for a discussion about this aspect of Raquel’s work. It seems that the two are not, shall we say, in perfect alignment vis-a-vis the title text describing the issue of the purported finitude of the fax paper.

So here it is.

I’ll say no more, but allow our two protagonists to debate it out in the comments below. Keep it clean, team!

8 thoughts on “False Finitude?

  1. Probably the first thing is to point out that the decision to only put one roll of paper in was a curatorial decision- and by that I mean that Glenn made the decision without asking me, which is ok, as the MCA owns my work. But I guess by doing so it raises a couple of the un-resolved questions in my mind about how this work functions in it’s current context and how it will age.

    I will write some more about my reservations, but at a later point- as I have some other more urgent things to do today. I feel a little like my time has been high-jacked Lucas!

  2. Yes it was my decision to put in only one roll and I realise now I shouldn’t have made it so quickly! I have apologised to Raquel and said lets talk about it on the blog. The work brings up a lot of questions about curating a show like ITB and what the audience and my colleagues in the museum might expect from a work like Poster Reduction when it is in an exhibition about environmental issues.

    Firstly, and in no means in my defence, I think I made the decision ( ? I am suffering from mental haze due to the last minute sprint into the exhibtion opening as detailed in an earlier post by lucas…)after a talk to volunteers and staff where it was brought up how much paper was being ‘wasted’ in this work when it was shown earlier. I could see the point that in the context of a show like ITB just having people freely able to print away could be misconstrued and perhaps wasn’t the right ‘message’ to be sending BUT this conflict could be integral to an understanding of the work.

    A number of people who would print the work out on the white board probably do so to see if it works, and because you can, which is a perfectly valid response to the work (I have always felt that I respond to it because of this aspect and the works relationship to printmaking and multiples as much as to its engagement with green and environmental politics…its ambiguity is what makes it such an engaging work). When the work was last shown at the MCA in the 2008 there was a wall text that was with it that said something similiar to the current label (I am chasing up the exact text…) but it was surprising how many rolls of the fax paper were used (I am also chasing up the exact number of rolls to!).

    Hence my recollection that when the work was discussed in the context of ITB that it was the volunteers and VSOs who brought up the printing issue as they would know how the public were using the work. To be honest though I never thought it would run out of paper as quickly as it did!

    I would have thought that in the context of an environmental exhibtion people would stop and think a little bit about printing from the board and choose not to do so. We have discussed with Raquel the current situation and agreed to add an extra roll now and then sort out our next step using this blog as the forum…I think this is correct and maybe Raquel can confirm but the paper we have purchased for use in the work is actually the last of its type (?) – whcih is another element to think about in terms of the longevity of the work! AND maybe an extra incentive to be saving paper!….

  3. This one doesn’t look like it does, but a lot of those machines have USB or SD card slots now. Perhaps a more sustainable version of the work would be to allow people to save the image digitally onto one of those – although I’m not familiar with the work yet so I’m not sure how that would change its meaning. And for those who came unprepared, the MCA could even broaden their merchandising to include MCA branded USB drives…the profit margin on those things is huuuge.

    I’d buy one of those for sure.

  4. Actually I just realised that it would change the meaning of the work completely. So feel free to disregard.

  5. yes, interesting ideas hugh. i don’t know about the USB functionality of that whiteboard, but as you say in your other comment, you’re right, the work’s “ethics of interaction” do depend on the gallery visitors having to make that decision (to print or not) for themselves.

    the mca could do a good line in branded groovy re-usable coffee cups too…

    i can’t believe we are workshopping marketing ideas. sigh, how the (high and) mitey have fallen…

  6. It’s a pro-bono marketing consultancy exercise Lucas. We can claim internet access as a tax deduction now.

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