‘The Rite of the Black Sun’
by Ano Mac
“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”
― Dr. Seuss
This is a man that can’t sit still, continually rummaging around sorting thought into the various machinations of mysticism and meant. He’s the scrutinizer of the stuff that puckers on the top when you scratch the skin of life.
Some time back Andy Wauman replaced pavement with palm trees in his journey to find an implication of it all. Since living in Bali Andy’s art has been more and more about exploring the existentialism of this cut off Hindu culture while at the same time dilly-dallying with their symbolism.
In this, his latest teaching, the name of which Andy adopted from Antonin Artaud’s poem, he’s staked out a snapshot of his fidgety soul. It’s a multisensory exploration of what currently resides. A mesmorising mental flush of his verve, preaching nothing but not keeping quiet about it either.
Would and were to be. Not instantly evident they are truly narrative of the artist over layered with meaning and meant. Flags once were triumphs, flown overhead when kings as they rode into battle. Triumphs also known as Trionfi, a name Tarot wore in another age. Glimpses of understanding. A four dimensional exploration of his id. Autobiographical in title and substance, all of which is hidden here in this gallery… in plain sight.
by Ano Mac
It took a surfboard to crow bar him out of his urban comfort zone and cast him adrift. Upheaval for an artist is good, especially one who questions everything around him. Bali for Andy Wauman has been great.
When the last of the cement finally fell away, Andy’s direction and intent took on changed forms and resolve. Not surprising in a place where high-rise is a palm tree. That’s not to say that the concrete isn’t still there, it’s just travelling in a different direction.
Tropicalization is the white of the black of it. The finding of a new voice in the quasi-rural confines of this, his new home. The social commentary and anti-cynicism stances, his art is known for, persist and are articulated through similar yet very different mediums.
Andy Wauman’s creative muse has long been the street, skateboarding, the city. We’re seeing another side of him through a show that's monochromatic and amusing. Sexual in it’s severity. Bleak might just well be neat.
'Tropicalization' — solo exhibition at deus gallery, bali, indonesia
by Dieter Roelstraete
Andy Wauman is a man of both many and few words. That is to say that language figures prominently in his work, but as is the case with most artists other than the singularly single-minded collective named Art & Language, he does not necessarily feel very comfortable using it – otherwise he would certainly use more of it than he actually does, even though he uses it all time, even though ‘language’ is essentially what his work is made up of. “Words don’t come easy,” as the great FR David once put it with devastating singalong simplicity. Instead, his use of language is usually a matter of keeping things to a crude, bare-bones minimum (without, however – and this is an all-important qualification – thereby becoming Minimalist): “White Sentenced”, “Black Fall”, “Stay in Body”, “Gaze Monologue”, “Cross Fingers”, “Dance”. The two colours mentioned in the first two titles are not innocently chosen, incidentally: black and white are pretty much the only colours available to the viewer in Wauman’s world – very much like the polar opposites ‘art’ and ‘language’ indeed.
The question of art/language reminds me of a studio visit I once had with the artist in Antwerp some time ago – very enjoyable and worth my while, but a rather bizarre linguistic experience nonetheless, during which many of the sinister, gnomic phrases and formulas that people Wauman’s universe suddenly lept to life, nervously voiced by the artist himself. I was afterwards given a publication by the artist titled “Rack Novel”, the first page of which read “Eros the son of plenty and poverty”, followed by “City cement is heaven seduce the shit”, all the way to “Keep the bag packed at all times” – black-and-white concrete poetry, in short, of a type not hindered or bothered by such niceties as regard for basic grammar and the long and hallowed history of the Oxford English Dictionary (though it should be added that there is not a single non-English word to be found in “Rack Novel”). These rhymes, riddims and haikus are pieced together for aural effect first and foremost, and reveal the artist’s informal training in a subcultural realm defined by the global reach of English-language music; such music, after all, has been one of the driving forces behind the process of globalization in cultural terms – the first bits and bobs and pieces of (admittedly pidgin) English I was able to utter were borrowed from a Police song, and here we are, thirty years later, no longer writing in our own mother tongue, but in some strange post-broken English instead. (On a related note: the persisting ‘pop’ fan in Wauman is the one who put the giant pins on the wall, by the way.)
Art & language, then: it is not so much (or not only) the name of a British conceptual art troupe, but the name of a problem instead. This problem (or rather, the relationship between art and the ‘problem’ of language) is rooted in a deep and tenacious confusion that seeks to align art with a form or type of communication. Whereas it is obviously impossible to deny that a great deal of art, and a great deal of great art too, is somehow engaged in the pretty straightforward business of communicating ‘content’, it would be foolhardy to conclude that communicative desire is the driving force behind (all) art, especially when this art makes use of that most dependable mainstay of human communication, language. This refusal to say anything (meaningful) while saying something (meaningless) nonetheless is not only what time and again steers Wauman towards his signature use of stuttering, stream-of-consciousness-style associative wordplay, it also motivates the artist’s proclivity towards negation – to wording things negatively, and hence also wording them in black.
And so Wauman’s World may not necessarily strike us as the sunniest place on earth. But then again is the world as a whole ever that sunny a place? Does it ever really deserve art’s healing ray of light beaming down on it? Many of us rightly think not, and have learned to couch this refusal in the enlightened terms of critique – of/for which art has long been a formidable ally/vessel. In its critical withdrawal from this worldly vale of tears, art can only leave traces, shards, remnants, fragments (anything ‘bigger’ or inclining towards wholeness or totality would be disingenuous: “the whole is the false”, in the depressive words of Theodor Adorno), and the quintessentially fragmented or fragmentary nature of Wauman’s work reflects the dolorous shattering that ‘critique’ necessarily entails: it finds itself shattered by having to confront the world such as it exists, and it cannot respond in any other way than by proposing to shatter this world in turn. The unflinching crack (a spectral shadow cast by Barnett Newman’s ‘zips’?) right down the middle of “Black Fall” seems to symbolize this – and indeed, the artist himself has identified despair as the true subject of this work. The three oversized buttons that adorn the corridor connecting one space of the gallery with the next are titled “Coma”, “Rob Zone” and “The Fourth Reich” (in this last one, the letters that make up this lugubrious word are rendered as the shuddering tail ends of a bar code): one refers to the comatose state in which so much life is inevitably led, another one to a zone (rather than a state) where everything is robbed from us, yet another to the Reich that is either already among us, or that may always already have been with us (insofar as we are not just ‘it’!) – they probably all three speak about one and the same thing: that which we sometimes, mistakenly, call home.
Theodor Adorno, that legendary curmudgeon who transformed his perennial bad moods and attitude issues not just into a way of life but into a philosophy of life as well, would probably have hated being quoted in this context, but what the hell: as he asserted in his late magnum opus Negative Dialectics, “the need to lend a voice to suffering” – even if only the artist’s – “is a condition of all truth”, and both art (say, Andy Wauman) and philosophy (say, Dieter Roelstraete) are in a position of unenviable privilege to voice this exact suffering. Both do so by thinking as such (whether visually or discursively), as “an act of negation, of resistance to that which is forced upon it.”
A stark white vase, full of withered cemetery flowers, in which the leftovers of sudden death swim around: one would be forgiven to imagine the artist a humourless, suicidal sourpuss fretting away in the stale twilight of a bare studio with only a couple of well-crafted nooses to keep him company. Well, maybe he is – but not when we’re around! Indeed, there is (luckily) a truly manic quality to much of the work that energizes Wauman’s variations upon the tried and tested “No Future” theme, and as Brian Dillon’s recent book on the subject has so amply and enjoyably demonstrated anyway, many hypochondriacs are great (if not always intentionally so!) humorists, their endless psychosomatic travails often the stuff of comic legend – probably their irreverent sense of humour is inextricably bound up with their hypochondria. [The bibliophiles will want to know that the title of that book is Tormented Hope: Nine Hypochondriac Lives.] There can be no laughter without the promise of its possible suffocation in the embrace of death – but there also can be no death without the possible disturbance of laughter barging in. And the three giant pins referred to above, for example, are certainly ‘funny’ objects – as are, inevitably, some of the morose phrases greeting the visitor at the far end of the gallery (“In the Nick of Cement”??).
That’s why one of my favourite works of Wauman’s is probably still “Dance”, a sculpture made up of the five letters that form the very uplifting title rendered in barbed wire. It signals both the possibility of the impossible and the impossibility of the possible, as a certain Adorno-authored strand within critical theory would have defined art – and it does so with all the (actual, physical) harshness of true anarchic comedy: dance, but beware; beware, but dance.
'The Quota Copies' — solo exhibition at bourouina gallery, berlin, germany
'Pop Art after the Bomb'
By Gerrit Vermeiren
Andy Wauman (°1975 in Wilrijk, lives and works in Antwerp) is an artist who, on the one hand, flirts with superficiality – the appearances, literally – of contemporary urban culture. On the other hand, his art is about the underlying rhythm and anatomy of the urban context – its heartbeat – in a maelstrom of visual, graphic and linguistic elements. With a certain sense of drama and the romantic, Wauman places the chaos of contemporary signals and eroded signifiers into an almost apocalyptic perspective.
The urban landscape is an evident biotope for Andy Wauman’s activity. The fact that his exhibition ‘Wet Feet Bet’ is taking place at the Deweer Art Gallery, in rural Otegem, brings about a shift which contributes to the show’s meaning. Wauman's works appear uprooted and estranged there, and thereby more iconic. This is favourable for the work: despite his practise, based upon the recuperation of matters which have lost meaning through their frequent use, in his work he shows, in the first place, an engagement with the complex and layered nature of the image itself. Wauman's artistry can be best understood by a term that he coined himself: ‘What I try to do is make one copy out of a trillion’. He makes art after the illusion of originality, but out of a romantic striving for freedom (and for a particular characteristic) he continues to cling to all the attributes of the original.
As with many artists Wauman's artisthood initially emerged as a vague ambition to be a painter. It is interesting that he allows his first major solo exhibition ‘Wet Feet Bet’, to start with a reference to that painterly dream, which is also one of the first works that he made. ‘Porcelain’ (2003) is a porcelain replica of a tin with brushes and pencils in it: a frozen, but therefore fragile fragment from the traditional artist’s studio. That dubious relationship to transience (a procedure that Wauman stole from pop art, from Jasper Johns, among others) is clearer still in the work ‘Oxy-Date’ (2005), a half decayed tin in that literally and figuratively timeless material, bronze. All the other work in the exhibition dates from 2006, and as a whole shows us a singular catalogue of emblems (or are they militaria?) of street culture. Through references to the vestimentary coding of subcultures, to graffiti and to popular symbols, Wauman leads us along the fine line between ‘sexy’ and ‘too hot to fuck’; between a graphic image and its ideological consequence; between the symbol’s sparsity and life’s wealth. Where smoke is, there is fire, and where there is fire, there is ash; revelry and mourning seem interchangeable, and in any case share the same intensity. The puke on ‘Vomited Jacket’ is silver and the wearing down of shoes (by dancing or just because of the city’s asphalt) in Wauman's universe is called ‘soft lick of track’. Such language usage is also important for Wauman; it even forms a separate tenet of his work. In the exhibition catalogue he writes poetic text, in which he alludes to his work through phrases such as: ‘CITY CEMENT IS HEAVEN. SEDUCE THE SHIT. LOOK AT THINGS FROM THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF THE SHOE.’ and ‘PACE INKING THE DISTANCE OF THE LOVE WE NEED. TO EVERY CORNER WITH A LOVER MELTED IN THE AIR.’ Wauman is currently working on the book ‘RACK NOVEL, EROS: the son of plenty and poverty’. That publication will exclusively consist of text by his hand and will be presented in Italy, February 2007, on the occasion of Wauman’s participation in the group show ‘Floods’ in Bergamo.
A central work in ‘Wet Feet Bet’ is ‘Holiday Apocalypse’. In the form of wallpaper that covers the entire gallery wall, we see a camouflage pattern trousers/pants, at the height of the crotch, with the anarchy symbol painted on it. With relatively simple means, Wauman here evokes a character that has all the attributes of the deserter, the punk, the activist, the adventurer and the tourist; someone who almost tragically situates himself in the midst of generalised symbols gone out of whack. The red accents on the wall originate from the series ‘Spit Red’, and deliver something very violent, even though they are poppies, opiates which allow us to forget the loss of identity. Here, the apocalypse is, in any case, a matter of the individual.
‘Wet Feet Bet’ is combined with ‘A Wauman’s Choice’, an exhibition based on a selection by the artist from the stock of Deweer Art Gallery. Such a selection is revealing with regards to Wauman's artistic intentions, but in absolute terms this presentation is especially worthwhile because of a work on paper by Allen Jones, ‘More Little Devils’ (1978).
'Wet Feet Bet' — solo exhibition at deweer gallery, otegem, belgium