Collective Conversations Collection – Critical Critique

Written by: Wan Hang Tsang

Edited by: Natasha Chau

Ricardo Basbaum: The Production of the Artist as a Collective Conversation @ Audain Gallery. October 16 – December 13, 2014

Ricardo Basbaum participated in the Artist in Residence program at the Simon Fraser University School of Contemporary Arts. Displaying his art in the Audain Gallery, Ricardo created the month long exhibit The Production of the Artist as a Collective Conversation. In conjunction to the Artist in Residence program, Ricardo also collaborated with a group of SFU students to create the performance piece that was the focal point for the show. At a glance, Ricardo’s exhibition looks like a very bland show consisting of a single sculpture and multiple drawings, texts, and videos projected on the walls. Despite appearing as a solo exhibition, The Production of the Artist as a Collective Conversation carries the actions of past and present participants.

Ricardo Basbaum. "New Bases for Personality". 2014. Steel, paint. Official NBP Website.

Ricardo Basbaum. “New Bases for Personality”. 2014. Steel, paint. Official NBP Website.

Before entering the gallery, a single metallic sculpture can be seen in the display box. Painted white with a single line of blue on the edge, this rectangular sculpture does not garner a lot of attention as it lays battered up on the ground. With the help of the Audain Gallery’s movable walls, the exhibition space is split into two indistinct rooms. The first room, which is dimly lit, has two video projections running at the same time on adjacent walls. Although it is hard to decipher what is being shown in these videos, it is evident that the metallic sculpture seen at the entrance plays a large role we are unaware of yet. On the central dividing wall, there are several large earphones propped on a ledge, inviting guests to take a listen. Each set of earphones contains an audio track different from one another. While entering the second room, the atmosphere drastically changes. The second room is much better lit compared the first room. With nothing moving in the new room, the audience can leisurely scan throughout the whole space to observe the new setting. The room is empty, except for a set of cushioned seats in the middle of the room. Large text is riddled on the walls, conveying the thoughts of the artist. A large diagram assisted with several small photographs rests on another wall. The entire structure of the second room is very formal. The atmosphere gives off a unique vibe, similar to the ones felt in fancy resort lobbies.

On October 29, 6:00PM, Ricardo and his collaborators performed their “collective-conversation”. Set in the second room of the exhibit, the performers formed a large circle within the room. Most of the audience stood on the sides, but a few of them chose to sit in the cushioned seats in the middle. There were over twenty performers and each of them had their own microphone. The performers stood still while they recited their lines, making the performance completely auditory. The dialogue within the performance was organized but chaotic. It was obviously structured but incredibly hard to decipher. Multiple languages were used and the performer’s dialogue overlapped with one another. The entire performance lasted roughly fifteen minutes.

At a glance, Ricardo’s exhibition would appear as a solo show. But by looking at it in depth, we realize it is actually a large collaboration. The video projections in the first room are evidence that multiple people have participated with Ricardo. An artist collaborating with other artists is a very common occurrence. The main difference between normal artist collaborations and Ricardo’s collaborations is that Ricardo was not collaborating with artists. In fact, Ricardo does not even know with whom he is collaborating with. The only association Ricardo has with his collaborators is the shabby looking metallic structure known as the “NBP”. The “NBP” (New Bases for Personality) was originally created by Ricardo, but was immediately passed to random participants. The participant would document their interaction with the “NBP” and return it to the gallery, allowing another participant to do the same. Interactions with “NBP” vary from person to person. The video projections in the gallery show some people using it as a storage container, and some people using it as a makeshift raft. The audio tracks and the live performance were also related to the “NBP”. The audio tracks in the first room are recordings of previous performances. The “collective-conversation” is indeed a collective conversation centralized on the “NBP”. The dialogue spoken in the performance are remnants of what each individual experienced while they interacted with the sculpture.

Ricardo’s exhibition is a record of his ongoing artwork “NBP”. Similar to Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, 1970, the project is constantly changing. For “NBP”, human hands constantly change the sculpture. For Spiral Jetty, nature constantly changes its form. Once created, both artists allowed their artworks to evolve on their own. Whether it is a collaboration with other artists or a collaboration with nature, these sculptures will continue to change form in the future.

Robert Smithson. "Spiral Jetty", 1970. Mud, precipitated salt crystals, rocks, water. 15x1500 feet. Image from Wikipedia.

Robert Smithson. “Spiral Jetty”, 1970. Mud, precipitated salt crystals, rocks, water. 15×1500 feet. Image from Wikipedia.

Although Ricardo’s show may seem like a solo exhibition, it is in fact documentation for a much larger collaboration. With the “NBP” being the only actual artwork in the exhibition, it is difficult to comprehend that the exhibition is an ongoing process. The “NBP” may look like what it appears at the current exhibition, but its form will definitely change in future events. Like the Spiral Jetty and its creator, even Ricardo would be unable to predict what form the “NBP” will take in his next exhibition.

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