Brett Levine

The Slow Fire

Site specificity.  As a term, has it now reached the limits of its applicability, at least in the ways in which one currently understands its constructions?  And if so, is there an alternative, one that deserves consideration?  As Campbell Gray noted recently,

Installation art refers to the same gestalt that [Robert] Morris refers to, within the same semantic concept.  Thus it is not site-specific, but space-specific.  Simply, it is the contiguous location in space of discrete forms, each one being used as a metaphor, the constellation of which is allegory, and, as a form, it is selected as the most effective method of articulating the complex meanings being dealt with… In more complex forms, it is multi-levelled, multi-relational, exploiting the discourses of material and form, and naturally incorporating the space of presentation in the same way that Minimalism does.1

Space specificity.  With apologies to Rudi Fuchs, this is not a bad name.  For in this approach, as Gray points out, one finds the centre of the initial interrogations of the minimalists.  In the 1960s Robert Morris observed that “the better new work takes the relationship out of the work and makes it a function of space, light and the viewer’s field of vision.”2  Did this mean it was site-specific?  Well, no.  What Morris was positing was that a work, particularly one with unary form, would be contextualised solely by the space which contained it, and that the relationship between the two would be synergistic.  I do not believe Morris’ comments foreshadow “the realisation of the inessential nature of the object.”3  Instead, what I believe truly asserts its inessential nature is the particular space of exhibition itself.  This is because Morris’ comments on space, light and the viewer’s field of vision did not suggest that the work could not be seen anywhere else, only that the phenomenological experience of viewing it would be specific.  Think here of Craig Owens’ comment that the works of Marcel Broodthaers stand “as an acknowledgement of the role of the container in determining the shape of what it contains.”4  And the container does have a role, but not a primary one.   Site specificity, which is of course not synonymous with installation art, can be best read through Richard Serra’s comments on Tilted Arc (modified slightly), “To move the work is to destroy the work.”5   Yet this is not the construction Morris intended.  Morris’ primary concern was with the perceptual manifestation of a gestalt, with a perceptual relationship in which the triad object/viewer/space operated as a whole to establish the visual experience.  He does not, at least in the Notes on Sculpture, assert that there is in some way a relationship between object and field that is more permanent, more integrated, than the one he posits above.   It is this thread, the notion of space-specificity, which I wish to follow.

Many installation works in the late twentieth century, and, one must assume into the 21st century, explore materiality and its relationships to space, to place, to culture or economy.  One finds a transcendence of boundaries, with techniques of painting, sculpture, sound, theatre, environmental art, earthworks and happenings applied.  One could consider here Craig Owens’ writings on allegory:

Site-specific works are impermanent, installed in particular locations for a limited duration, their impermanence providing the measure of their circumstantiality.  Yet they are rarely dismantled but simply abandoned to nature; Smithson consistently acknowledged as part of his works the forces which erode and eventually reclaim them for nature.  In this, the site-specific work becomes an emblem of transcience, the ephemerality of all phenomena; it is the memento mori of the twentieth century.6

Owens’ construction of site-specificity stems in part from his readings of the works of artists known for constructing earthworks and land art.  But if one is to make a case for space-specificity, if there is to be a concept which is something other than merely a semantic adaptation of an existing term, what will that term mean and what will the limits of its application be?  Will it be the interventions within spaces of works which are “neither painting nor sculpture”?  Or will it be the residue of objects and experiences once one realises the possibility that site-specificity is inessential?

Here I want to acknowledge that there are actually a number of terms operating, and that their definitions, which have not emerged simultaneously, share common ground only to the extent that each establishes what it is not.  Is there yet a workable definition of site, specificity, space, installation, or object?  Instead, what we might then term identification by denial has a long history, for Donald Judd noted in 1965 that “half or more of the best new work in the last few years is neither painting nor sculpture,”7  as if by knowing what it is not we might somehow discern what it is.

And, one might question how the construction of space-specificity can be applied to Brad Buckley’s works.  Don’t they contain elements which by nature establish their identities as site-specific.  Doesn’t Buckley himself state that “I make a particular work for a particular site that I have chosen to work in.”8  At the same time he asserts that “I don’t actually talk about my work as being ‘site-specific’ and that   “I would be inclined not to use it because I think it renders [the work] in a particular, limited way.”9  Here one should consider these two separate processes: that of the inscription of a text or work within a site and that of the act of colonising a site.  Colonising the site refers to Buckley’s painting of the site, his uses of colour and the ways in which that forms a “second skin” within the site.  Inscribing a site is the process of linking text and site in the processes which take place after the site has been appropriated.10  Yet what still seems more applicable, more real, is the assertion that Brad Buckley’s project is not site-specific at all.  For what exactly is the site in question?  Buckley has, over the years, appropriated precisely those strategies of advertising and dissemination that make it impossible to position a true space of exchange or intervention.  Through his use of catalogues, interventions (and this term is used pointedly in opposition to installation), invitation cards, advertisements, and reviews, Buckley has created a praxis which is truly multidimensional and multi-sited.  What exactly is The Slaughterhouse Project?  And where might one begin to site the work?  Does it exist in the documentation which surrounded its appearance in Sydney, and if it exists both within and beyond this ephemera, where is its centre located?  If the work is multi-sited, and therefore at the same time siteless, just what can this mean?  How could the signifier site-specificity in any way encompass the project?

Clearly, it cannot.  So in this shift to space-specificity one finds a discourse in which both the work and its supplement, its remainder, can circulate.  Here one might recall Benjamin Buchloh, writing on Marcel Broodthaers:

The tools of dissemination, namely the catalogues and announcements, the posters and exhibition materials, generally perceived of as ephemera, are considered as essentially distinct from the “real” artistic objects.  Whereas artists of the late 1960s thought of site specificity as a critical reflection analyzing primarily the external architectural and institutional overdeterminations of  contemporary art, Broodthaers, by contrast, seems to contemplate the innate forms of mediation and mediatization of the art practice (i.e. the ephemera) as the discursive “sites” to which his work is inevitably bound…Since it has to change its tactics and strategies at each turn of its cultural reception, it will depend upon acts of cunning assimilation and deception, and it will therefore inevitably acquire the very features of those systems of domination that it contests.11

This, then, is where to begin.  Buckley’s project is rendered meaningless within the confines of the traditional discourses of site specificity.  For despite sharing similarities and concerns with many artists of the 1970s and 1980s who pursued this line of inquiry – one could consider here, particularly, Daniel Buren and Hans Haacke (to the extent that each of the three has explored the implications of a political intervention at the socially determined site of cultural exchange, the museum) – this is, as is outlined above, not truly Buckley’s project. 

But space specificity and its implications will not comprise the totality of our investigation.  For within Buckley’s works, both formally and conceptually, one finds what could be termed a strong content of intentionality.  The term is used reservedly, for it is all too often regarded as passé within postmodern discourse12 .  But it is impossible to reconcile Buckley’s positioning of his project, in short, his assertion to claims of authorship and cohesion, without a notion of an author who at the outset loads a text with referentiality and intentionality.  Buckley speaks of his project as being:

an uninterrupted or seamless project that has concerned itself for the past decade and a half with an interrogation of the cruel, the corrupt and those who would undertake to persecute or build a regime of enclosure whether moral, social or intellectual.  By reformulating the question of morality in terms that one could consider as the moral summit and linking it with a discourse of the site and the eroticisation of space, a transgressive field begins to operate.13 

And, as I will consider later, Buckley’s manipulations of both space and viewer are calculated to seduce, to create this eroticisation which is at the same time loaded with transgressive content.  It is this limit, in the space between the erotic and the transgressive, which Buckley invites the subject to consider.

There is then a final issue to consider.  What are the implications of installation’s tendency towards allegory?  Does it impact on Buckley’s works, and if so, how might one consider this term?  Think here of Craig Owens’ seminal essays The Allegorical Impulse:  Toward a Theory of Postmodernism, Parts 1 and 2.  In each, Owens outlines a space in which allegory, as the external manifestation of a multifaceted practice, asserts its identity.  For Owens,

the allegorical work is synthetic because it crosses aesthetic boundaries.  This confusion of genre, anticipated by Duchamp, reappears today in hybridization, in eclectic works which ostentatiously combine previously distinct art mediums.  Appropriation, site specificity, impermanence, accumulation, discursivity, hybridization – these diverse strategies characterise much of the art of the present and distinguish it from its modernist predecessors.14

One could of course discard this whole discourse in favour of a formal analysis.  How many times, for instance, does a chair, or at least its trope, appear?  What does it symbolise at any given time (a question which will be considered further later)?  What of the history of the chair in art and its historicity for Buckley’s project?   The possibilities for furnishing this history are endless – Van Gogh’s chairs, Warhol’s Electric Chairs, the chair which Benjamin Buchloh describes as appearing in a photograph of Malevich’s Black Square, perhaps the ür-chair of modernism.  In these chairs one finds a metonymic construction for domesticity and all it entails.  Perhaps the nostalgia for this existence is a transgressive act in itself.  Or, on the contrary, is it merely an allegorical manifestation of precisely those aspects of lived existence that Buckley seeks to explode, to transgress?  For these reasons I am intrigued by the irruptions of the domestic which appear across and through many of Buckley’s earlier works.   But this historicity will not take us far enough.

Before one can consider the specificities of Buckley’s project, one might explore the influences of not only the cross-media performance artists of the 1960s, but also their predecessors.  In Buckley’s case one must consider Samuel Beckett not for his nihilism, but instead for his radical reconfiguration of performative space, and by extension space itself.  For Beckett tells us that

what I am saying does not mean that there will henceforth be no new form in art.  It only means that there will be a new form, and that this form will be of such a type that it admits the chaos and does not try to say that the chaos is really something else…To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now.15 

Consider Retained.  It is described in the following terms:

Perhaps the most bizarre piece, and the most problematical, is Brad Buckley’s “Retained”.  Buckley has sealed up his gallery, creating an anti-environment.  Windows have been covered with black plastic, and the doorway has been filled in with tree branches and soil packed into a wire frame.  There are two peepholes in this wall that encourage the viewer to investigate the black void beyond it.16

What can Retained possibly mean?   What, for example, is an anti-environment?  Is it merely a space from which the viewer’s physical body is excluded?  And if so, is it an anti-environment in part because its exclusion removes the bodily experiences we associate so closely with space?  What of the tree and the peepholes?  In the tree one finds the whole notion of original sin, the tree as signifier of the limit which encloses, or retains, the serpent who entices Eve and Adam to evil. And in the peephole one finds the opportunity to experience the primal scene.  In these two elements, one finds both the invitation and the opportunity to transgress normal values, to peep, to glance, to cast a desiring gaze towards the Other.   

And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.

Genesis 3:7

Against this consider Buckley’s 1982 Historical Place as Condensor of Memory.  Here (again in a constructed black room) two video monitors are set into a wall.  They show a naked man and woman respectively, each seated with their legs wide apart.  One finds that their genitals are reversed through the use of smaller monitors between their legs.  A soundtrack, which can only be heard if one stands close to the wall, plays an intimate conversation which could perhaps be the voice of lovers.  It is the inversion, this transference of sex, which is most integral.  For in this conspicuous displacement, Buckley subverts two basic tenets of the Freudian field: that man, as the possessor of the penis, has a thing which woman as other lacks; and that through the observation of this lack, man establishes his identity as other to woman.  In this deeply disturbing work, Buckley inverts this completely.  Man becomes what Laura Mulvey terms the “bearer of the bleeding wound17 ”, and woman, as possessor of the penis, is positioned as the Other who lacks not.

These two works signify Buckley’s initial explorations of the transgressive field.  In both instances, the viewer is invited to gaze upon a subject.  In Retained, what is most surprising is that the peephole does not contain the true object of desire.  I say this only because after Marcel Duchamp’s Étant donnés what else can one expect?  Through using the peephole, doesn’t Buckley tap into the prior expectations of the viewer that the revealed Other is what will be seen.   And (in some senses) isn’t this an affirmation, an overlay, which asserts that the gallery condones all the practices of the viewer, both as viewer of the art object and as s/he who looks for fulfilment.  Yes, one is still caught in the act of peeping.  This is a double negation of desire, in that the viewer is both denied visual fulfilment and humiliated by being caught at the keyhole.  One need only remember what Rosalind Krauss writes of  Duchamp:

…he consistently refers to the beholder who will be positioned at the viewing point of the spectacle – the peepholes drilled into the assemblage’s rustic door – by a very explicit term.  Voyeur, he says. Not viewer.  Voyeur.18

Krauss continues,

It is as this pinioned object, this body bent over the keyhole, this carnal being trapped in the searchlight of the Other’s gaze, that Sartre thickens into an object, and thus an outsider to his own eyes.  For in this position he is no longer pure, transparent intentionality beamed at what is on the door’s far side, but rather, simply as body caught on this side, he has become a self that exists on the level of all other objects of the world. […] And it is a self that is defined by shame.  “It is shame,” Sartre writes, “which reveals to me the Other’s look and myself at the end of that look.  It is the shame…which makes me live, not know the situation of being looked at.19

So Buckley exploits the realisation that it is both in the peeping and in the being seen that the viewer experiences the frisson of  visual experience.  Here I would argue that in the gallery space it is not through shame that the viewer lives, but through the jouissance of sharing an experience which would be taboo if it were seen outside the gallery framework which condones it.  But because we are supposed to know what Etant donnes reveals, and by extension we should know the content of every peephole based installation, how could it possibly shame us?  Yet in Retained the work is doubled again.  For in Retained  there is no primal scene to be revealed.  It is only in the oscillating relationship of viewer/being viewed/viewer viewing that the true nature of the scene is revealed.  As Krauss also observes, the implications of the act are not contingent upon the sight of the Other being fulfilled.20  Instead, one need only look to fulfill this desire for the Other, and in the look the act becomes its own fulfilment.  It is this realisation which Buckley exploits most fully.

In Historical Place as Condensor of Memory, Buckley shifts the semiotics from that of the peephole to the peepshow – a contained, darkened space characterised primarily by its sexualisation.  Here, for the first time, one might find an explicit eroticisation of space signified by the inherent invitation to gaze.  Here the invitation stems from the expectation that the lack will be revealed, and it is that expectation, in part, which is mesmerising.

Buckley (and many of the writers who have considered this issue) has acknowledged the voyeuristic tendencies of viewing any work of art.  But I do not believe that one may easily describe the role of the viewer in Buckley’s works, or any other, as one which is passive.21   Yet after Historical Place as a Condensor of Memory, Buckley does not create conditions which truly pinion the viewer/voyeur again for a number of years.  It is not until the Auckland intervention of The Slaughterhouse Project in fact, that one finds the explicitly transgressive image again.  Yet by this time Buckley has transvalued the space of intervention, for he has made it both sexual and textual, and this revaluation is significant for other aspects of Buckley’s project.

But to move forward one must acknowledge that the arguments between site and space-specificity are not Buckley’s.  Though he speaks of site-specificity, it is a site of excess which is contextualised by interventions which eroticise the space. Through this intervention Buckley transforms the space from one of contemplation to one of participation in which the viewer’s subjective desires are transposed onto the visual lures which the works present.  And in this discursive relationship between viewer and work one can apply a single term only:  seduction.

It is a common enough theme in writings on Brad Buckley’s works to make one wonder if there is something more.  First, Tony Bond, on Buckley’s DREAMS (…the clock had just struck four, and the blue shadows of the evening were already falling) & OTHER SIGNS: “Buckley insists on the artificiality of the theatrical set, thereby avoiding easy identification with the installation as object yet he employs various means of seduction including, on occasion, the arch symbol of modern consumption, neon lighting.”22  Or John McDonald: “he equates seduction with the neon glow of the advertising sign.”23    Nick Tsoutas also refers to it:  “A red light, apparently left on, providing a womb like warmth, emanates dramatically from the doorway, implies a presence that attracts and seduces the viewer through its sheer force of absence.”24  Or, finally, a review in Entropy from 19 May 1993:  “…I found Buckley’s work seductive enough to sustain this lay person’s interest.  Seductive like fast food.  Seductive like a hospital, an airport.”25  At times the intention is veiled in different terms, but it is seldom absent.  In its recent manifestation one finds that “[b]ehind the veil of red paint, text fragment, and image in the artist’s painting installation for HOTEL ON FIRE lies the “beauty” of the question that, like Parrhasios’ painting, lures the spectator towards the “reality” so that the question may be re-posed again through art and audience discourse.”26

Buckley himself has stated that “I see seduction as the snare, trap or bait that ties the viewer to the work, perhaps creating dependencies between the work and the viewer…I think that there is always something sexual in these works.”27

But one must wonder both what the implications of seduction are, and whether or not it is proper to seduce the viewer?  Is seduction a wholesome practice?  As Jean Baudrillard has noted,

Seduction does not have its moment, nor is there a time for seduction, but it has a rhythm, without which it would not happen.  Unlike an instrumental strategy, which proceeds by intermediate phases, seduction operates instantaneously, in a single movement, and is always its own end.  No cycle comes to a halt in seduction.  You can seduce this one in order to seduce the other, but also seduce the other for fun.  The illusion (leurre) that leads from one to the other is subtle.  It is seducing, or being seduced, that is seductive?  Yet being seduced is still the best way of seducing.  It is an endless strophe.  There is no active or passive in seduction, no subject or object, or even interior or exterior:  it plays on both sides of the border with no border separating the sides.  No one can seduce another if they have not been seduced themselves.28

Isn’t seduction that which “leads astray, as from the right action, or wins over attracts or lures.”  So what does one make of its application in the realm of art?  Is it possible to question the appropriateness of seduction as a strategy, or to consider its implications? One need only recall Marcel Broodthaers’ famous enticement, “We hope that our formula, “Disinterestedness plus admiration” will seduce you,”29 to know that seduction cannot be anything other than the assertion of power.  Still, in viewing an object, does the complicity of the viewer negate this act?   But Baudrillard’s thesis implies that the relationship between seducer and seduced is totally indefineable, that there is no way to determine who is actually doing the seducing.   This suggests what we might term participatory seduction, a conscious erotic exchange between author and viewer existing in a fashion similar to that of transference in psychoanalysis.  Here I would recall Jacques Lacan who tells us that “the transference is not, of its nature, the shadow of something that was once alive.  On the contrary, the subject, in so far as he is subjected to the desire of the analyst, desires to betray him for this subjection, by making the analyst love him, by offering of himself that essential duplicity that is love.  The transference effect is the effect of deception in so far as it is repeated in the present here and now.”30  So in the seductive exchange, one finds both the desires of the author (and despite the fact that Lacan says that the transference does not occur in this fashion,31 the author’s presence in installation is by necessity in absentia) and the desires of the viewer. What begins as an apparently symbolic exchange between author and viewer, in which the author fashions a seductive possibility into which the viewer is lured and seduced by choice, (thereby participating in their own ‘leading astray’,) is transformed into an exchange in which the viewer, through his or her participation, seduces the author to reveal a need (or, love) for them.   So in this participatory seduction, the positioning of each of the parties must turn in upon themselves, must oscillate between having and fulfilling desire, must be both the desiring subject and Lacan’s objet petit a.32

Seduction, while it may not have a time, takes time.  In their interiority, one might draw a parallel between Buckley’s enclosed spaces and the spaces of the Arcades.  So for viewer, instead of voyeur read flâneur.  Buckley’s installations are often characterised by a journey through space, through the peripatetics of the viewer.  But (except when constrained by an existing architecture, as in the confines of the stairwell in DON’T MISTAKE (-) THEIR OPPRESSION FOR YOUR EROTICISM), there is usually no preferred path, no one way that a viewer might construct a narrative, and this is not merely because that dominant narrative does not exist. 

Think first of The Savage Eye, A Work About Desire.  Here, as George Alexander so clearly enunciates, we find “a never ending truce between the anxiety of falling and the exhilaration of never hitting bottom, between a longing for freedom and a will to weakness, between disconnecting the other and incarnating the other.  It’s the old lover’s dilemma: to become one…but which one?”33 Think then, as Mark Jackson does, of the sirens.34  For DON’T MISTAKE (-) THEIR OPPRESSION FOR YOUR EROTICISM, Buckley’s project for the Internasjonal kunstmonstring in Lista, Norway, explores precisely the intersections between the primacy of participatory seduction and the implications of space and site-specificity.  Odysseus must negotiate Scylla and Charibdes, yet he knows that no man hears their songs and lives.  By lashing himself to the mast he allows himself to be both seduced – to be driven wild with desire – and denied, in that his instructions deny the total possibility of his seduction’s fulfilment.   In Buckley’s works, there is this double possibility.  As Tor Gamman explains, “The lighthouse can be in effect compared to a siren because it is active at night and sends out signals which contain something both beautiful and perilous at the same time.”35  But this doubling itself is doubled again.  For in Don’t Mistake (-) Their Oppression for your Eroticism Buckley inscribes his text on the lighthouse’s interior.  It is not yet visible on the outside, not considering the public face of the space in the same way that it will manifest in Vigilance.  In this earlier work, one must wonder what the site really is.  Do its implications arise merely from the physicality of the lighthouse or from the text which is inscribed and maps the journey that the lighthouse keeper must make?  There are two journeys which can be mapped here: that of the arc of the lighthouse and the pattern of flashes which identifies it as the particular manifestation on the horizon.  In this sense, the lighthouse writes a particular visual text which does not change.  Against and upon this, Buckley has inscribed a text which maps the subjective journey of the person charged with re/writing this static text.  This is a doubling in which the two sides bear no identifiable relationship.  One might think here, architecturally, of the notion that at times spaces wear on the outside some signifier which portends what takes place within.

In its architectural/spatial manifestation, a space or site is defined by its structures and surfaces.  Yet in its theatrical/performative manifestation, as it were a space removed, there is an argument that what goes on “within the within” does not follow the spatial prescriptions of the spaces themselves.  It is here that the notion of space-specific versus site-specific might best be considered.  First, alter the terminology.  Think, instead of site-specificity, of a location for a work, of performative spaces, of spaces which facilitate seductive interventions. 

This strategy of seduction is most evident in Buckley’s ongoing series of works The Slaughterhouse Project.  Its title may be evocative of the entire history of B-grade horror and slasher films, but the project itself is best contextualised by considering Bataille’s Encyclopedia Acephalica.  In defining the use of the term slaughterhouse Bataille writes in part that

The slaughterhouse is linked to religion in so far as the temples of bygone eras (not to mention those of the Hindus in our own day) served two purposes:  they were used for both prayer and killing.  The result (and this judgement is confirmed by the chaotic aspect of present-day slaughterhouses) was certainly a disturbing convergence of the mysteries of myth and the ominous grandeur typical of those places in which blood flows.  In America, curiously enough, W. B. Seabrook has expressed an intense regret; observing that the orgiastic life has survived, but that the sacrificial blood is not part of the cocktail mix, he finds present custom insipid.  In our time, nevertheless, the slaughterhouse is cursed and quarantined like a plague-ridden ship.  Now, the victims of this curse are neither butchers nor beasts, but those same good folk who countenance, by now, only their own unseemliness commensurate with an unhealthy need of cleanliness, with irascible meanness, and boredom.36

One could think here too of Hegel, who reminds us of “the slaughterhouse in which the happiness of peoples, the wisdom of states, and the virtues of individuals are sacrificed.”37 But how do we read the slaughterhouse?  Does it not have, in its very definition, a doubling, a space in which it is both a site of veneration and one of condemnation or dismay?  By choosing the slaughterhouse as the allegorical space of the project, doesn’t  Buckley say from the outset that what appears within its walls will share this difficulty.  One can think here only of Plato’s Pharmacy, of the construction of the pharmakon.   For does an installation transcend a site or merely transform it?  Does it become the site or merely inscribe itself within it?  Like a plinth, which in its interventions within a space is all too often both necessary and invisible, both transforming the object and being subsumed by it, installation itself must be an undecideable practice.  Perhaps The Slaughterhouse Project is best thought of as a Nietzschean project, one in which Buckley seeks a “revaluation of all values”.  And isn’t the Nietzschean “revaluation of all values” the predecessor of Bataillean excess. Buckley explores specifically those aspects of social and cultural expression that transgress accepted paradigms, as did Nietzsche in Twilight of the Idols:

…this time they are not just idols of the age, but eternal idols, which are here touched with a hammer as if with a tuning fork:  there are altogether no older, no more convinced, no more puffed-up idols, and none more hollow.  This does not prevent them from being those in which people have the most faith; nor does one ever say “idol”, especially not in the most distinguished instance.38

And this history, this lineage, manifests in the title of Buckley’s 1990 installation The Angels spoke of love but they dreamt of EROS (fearing the hammer) mistaking the mirror for love. Yes, perhaps the angels did speak of love, and perhaps too they mistook the mirror for love in precisely the same way that Narcissus mistook his reflection for the manifestation of absolute beauty.  But it is the space of speech, the spaces in which the voice operates, that bear closer scrutiny.  For if one maps the history of the voice in Buckley’s works, what is most conspicuous is its tendency towards absence. In the beginning was the word, and it is there too in many of Buckley’s earlier works.  One finds it as a crucial element in Recollection is an Elemental Phenomenon where what one overhears (and that is a key term) is “intimate chatter, indecipherably low, [which] was taped during a dinner party the artist gave while living in New York.”39

What can it mean to overhear?  Isn’t it exactly the same as aural voyeurism – eavesdropping?  In this instance is it not the transgressive action of active hearing without invitation?  It it is not the complicity between listener and speaker which is at issue here.  Instead, what comes to the fore, and what becomes subsequently absent, is the voice itself, in speech, or, the word.  Speech is that aspect of communications which, since Plato, has been considered superior to writing.  Consider Slavoj Zizek on the sound films of Charlie Chaplin:

The voice introduces a fissure into this pre-Oedipal universe of immortal continuity:  it functions as a strange body which smears the innocent surface of the picture, a ghost-like apparition which can never be pinned to a definite visual object; and this changes the whole economy of desire, the innocent vulgar vitality of the silent movie is lost, we enter the realm of double sense, hidden meaning, repressed desire – the very presence of the voice changes the visual surface into something delusive, into a lure[.]40

Isn’t voice a double-bind?  Does its presence actually prevent the viewer from taking the lure?  Buckley describes his interventions within a space and the accompanying formal visual characteristics as being lures themselves.  So doesn’t the voice become a lure within a lure?  This doubling occurs in Recollection is an Elemental Phenomenon.   There, the viewer is trapped by the concreteness of the voice. 

Simply, voice extends space.   Within the confines of the gallery it is common to hear a work before one sees it, much in the same way that one can, in the theatre, hear something which happens offstage.  So most aural interventions within spaces transcend the spaces themselves. What becomes imperative in considering the presence or absence of voice is its implications for locating the “Name of the Father”, the Lacanian term for the symbolic voice of authority or Law.  In Buckley’s works one witnesses a shift from speech to text, creating a space in which the primacy of the voice is revalued by the slippages, the elisions, of language.

Buckley’s texts use words such as “I”, “we” and “our”, each, as Rosalind Krauss outlines, being a “shifter”.41 Within a space of experience, within a constructed environment which includes text as an element, the viewer substitutes his or her voice for the authorial hand which has written the text.  Readers do not, usually, rewrite the texts – they read them, and in that act they engage in the practice of speech, at times uttering words one does not wish to say.  Words or phrases may incite disgust, say, or revulsion, and become the “I wouldn’t normally say that” of the viewer. This is a transgressive act in itself, yet one which also contains the seeds of power (say “Uncle!”).   One might argue that there are certain problematic aspects of language and power which appear within many of these works.  Yet actions, not words, apparently govern human actions.  Or, as Zizek reminds us of Kant, “Argue as much as you will, and about what you will, but obey!”42  Yet there is no requirement that the viewer speak out loud, for as Walter Benjamin suggests, “We do not always proclaim loudly the most important thing we have to say.”43  Or, as Krauss notes, “Jakobson tells us, as well, that the personal pronouns are among the first things to break down in cases of aphasia.”44  What does it mean to manufacture a manifestation of aphasia?  How do we map the gradual disappearance of the voice? 

Perhaps what is at issue is the question of the positioning of the speaker.  One might consider, for instance, the fact that the speaking voice is seldom “attached” to a body.  This distinction is one which is crucial.  Here is Joan Copjec, writing that:

In an excellent article entitled “The Silences of the Voice” Pascal Bonitzer makes a distinction, which will form the basis of a great deal of subsequent theorizing, between the disembodied voice of the documentary voice-over  – a voice that remains offscreen throughout the film and thus never becomes anchored to a body imaged on screen – and the voice-over that at some point becomes attached to a visible body…at the moment that a voice is anchored to a body, it relinquishes its apparent omnipotence and is instead “submitted to the destiny of the body”; corporealized, it is rendered “decrepit and mortal.”  The voice, we could say, dies in the body.  In opposition to this, the noncorporealized voice of the classical documentary issues from a space other than that on the screen, an unrepresented, undetermined space; thus transcending the visible, determined field, the voice maintains its absolute power over the image, its knowledge remains unimpugned.45

So how does this reading affect our understandings of Buckley’s works?  From the outset, it is clear that Buckley never makes use of the corporealised voice.  His voices emanate from unclear places.  In Historical Place as Condensor of Memory, for example, you cannot see the heads of the individuals portrayed in the videos, and while one might attribute the voices, those of a man and woman having an intimate conversation, there is nothing which might truly anchor this speculation, nothing which will ground it in the real.  In Recollection is an Elemental Phenomenon, there is a figure who appears to be speaking, but again the connections between icon and speech are not explicit.  In THE SAVAGE EYE: A Work About Desire (an episodic event for lovers) In Two Parts, the female speaking voice is heard in a darkened room – it is of course possible, but unlikely, that the corporealized speaker is there in the room with the viewer, but one must think she is not. 

Again, the question of “who” is speaking is problematised in [A] Gender.  Here, over the course of two minutes, the space changes from a blue (perhaps male, but perhaps also metaphorically a blue movie[xlvii]) to pink (female).  The voice entices the viewer to “come here, come here, come into the corner”, but actually passing through to the speaker is impossible.  The invitation to fulfill this desire is thwarted by the formal arrangement of the elements, so again the viewer doesn’t really know whether or not the enticer is in the space.  Because the true enticer is Buckley, we must already believe that in this instance he (or since it is her voice, she?) is there.

The irruptions of the voice are most uncanny in The reign of the Angels had sealed HER lips (AS IN THE DREAM) when she had a GOLDEN RING in her mouth.  The reference to “sealing her lips” is wholly ambiguous, but if one reads it to mean that she can no longer speak (which is apparently supported by the knowledge that she seems to have a golden ring in her mouth), then at least her voice should never extend into the space of the installation.  In this work there is both the speaker, uttering his or her voice through the text, and male and female voices.  There is also the ambiguity of whether the events described are real or oneiric, whether they have occurred here or in dreams.   But the final, imperative question, must be whether in being able to speak or being silent she ruptures the power economy which is operating.  For against the questions of apparent, evident or decorporealised voices, one might consider Peggy Phelan, writing on the ontology of performance:

In The History of Sexuality Foucault argues that “the agency of domination” does not reside in the one who speaks (for it is he who is constrained) but in the one who listens and says nothing; not in the one who knows and answers, but in the one who questions and is not supposed to know (Sexuality:  64).  He is describing the power-knowledge fulcrum which sustains the Roman Catholic confessional, but as with most of Foucault’s work, it resonates in other areas as well.  As a description of the power relationships operative in many forms of performance, Foucault’s observation suggests the degree to which the silent spectator dominates and controls the exchange…Much Western theatre evokes desires based upon and stimulated by the inequality between performer and spectator – and by the potential domination of the silent spectator.  That this model of desire is apparently so compatible with (traditional accounts of) “male” desire is no accident.  But more centrally this account of desire between speaker/performer and listener/spectator reveals how dependent these positions are upon visibility and a coherent point of view.46

Dreams are a continuous stream of images, and one could argue that Buckley’s works are cinematic, although he rejects a concrete influence of the cinema.  Stan Brakhage speaks of the cinema having an epic horizontality, and in spatial terms this categorisation seems an apt description of Buckley’s manipulations of the viewer.  Much in the same way that an edited film creates a time-based experience, what one could term a continuous play of concealment and revealment, Buckley constructs many of his installations in ways in which the total visual experience – the gestalt  - can never occur.   The 1986 work THE SAVAGE EYE:  A work about Desire (an episodic event for lovers) in two parts consisted of three separate rooms with offset doors through which the viewer could never construct a view of the entire space.  Of the three rooms, the middle one was dark, conveying all the related associations, yet containing a soft female voice – is it the voice of both maternal comfort and desire?  Or when the voice uttered “We are a society of confessors” how did that shift the perceptions of the female voice to other, more spiritual, and at the same time more guilty realms?  So the works create a cinematic field of panning and tracking, of a soundtrack and of text.  If we are to reject the presence of the author doesn’t the theatrical metaphor fall away with the absence of a performer other than the spectator?   One could think here of DON’T MISTAKE (-) THEIR OPPRESSION FOR YOUR EROTICISM. Here the viewer experiences a text only through its unfolding as an inscription within an interior architecture.  One must experience the space to experience the work and as the two are conjoined there are no identifiable differences between them. 

How does one begin to consider the implications of site or space-specificity when identical stimuli occur in different spaces?  Buckley has, on occasion, transposed a text from one site to others.  His text for The Slaughterhouse Project: Those unspoken Tragedies and that Slashed Eye, at Artspace, Sydney, was transposed as a circle onto the floor of the High Court of Australia in Canberra, under the guise of The Slaughterhouse Project:  On the Edge, as a block of text on a window at Franklin Furnace in Manhattan, and as a circle translated into German in Berlin.  Inscribed in a circle, with what appears to be a beginning and an end, the text reads


The building which houses Artspace in Sydney was the site of an historical intervention into popular culture.  Artists and squatters inhabiting the Gunnery were displaced by the powers of a bureaucracy, which then inserted an institution with a similar aim but with a more concrete infrastructure – an organisation which by its very nature and necessity disrupted the anarchy of the space.47  At the High Court of Australia, one may find the “blood” of the dominant culture as it struggles to reposition and reinstate the culture and entitlements of Australia’s indigenous peoples. In each of these instances the text was inscribed into the site. And Franklin Furnace, in TriBeCa, maps and resists a history which includes ethnic displacement, migration and what Rosalind Deutsch and Cara Ryan have termed “the fine art of gentrification.” 

But the texts, when transposed, clearly imply different meanings and elicit different responses.  It is here one finds that Buckley’s installations always demand the complicity of the viewer and that this complicity is not without cost or challenge, either through the transgressive and at times repellent nature of the texts he chooses or the disgust with which one finds oneself attracted to the ideas, images or connotations which might emerge.   It is here that one must wonder if the exchange is truly one of  complicity, or  whether it is instead a manifestation of the Baudrillardian seduction. At precisely the interstice between the two, between the attraction of the pornographic and the assertions of the moral conscience, Buckley’s works find their true expression.  For the question that Buckley really asks is whether or not a visual experience can express the truly horrific natures of our own unexpressed desires.  Can viewers experience The reign of the angels had sealed HER lips (AS IN A DREAM) when she had a GOLDEN RING in her mouth (and one will leave aside here the whole issue of woman as the silent other with sealed lips and a ring in her mouth…) and fail to recall the tribulations of Pauline Reage’s O, subjected to, among other humiliations, a piercing and its accompanying ring.  Here the belief must be that Reage refers to a clitoral piercing and one could read this as a second mouth to the extent that it also has a set of lips.  One might even argue that it is there as a symbol of the excesses of her pleasure. And can one read the golden ring, the symbol par excellence of marriage and fidelity, as this doubled symbol of excesses and desires?  It is precisely this which makes Buckley’s works so transgressive.  One can intellectualise the hypererotic, and one could well consider here Susan Sontag’s essay The Pornographic Imagination, but no amount of intellectualisation will displace the fact that pornography, despite its limited visual and verbal languages, is enticing precisely in the ways in which it presents the Other as something more than an obscure object of desire. 

Buckley exploits this troubled history.  For if he is to speak of his project as one in which a visual field is reconstituted as a space or site of excess, he would then be casting it in terms of Bataille’s Madame Edwarda, the novel in which Bataille first expresses his conception of excess.  And in reading of Simone’s experiences, of the bowl of milk, for example, one finds oneself at the site of exchange in Bataille’s The Story of the Eye.  But are there implications in enticing the viewer into this transgressive field?  Is the experience something more than the complicity discussed above? 

Mark Jackson expresses the field at play very clearly when, in writing on Justine & Juliette (The Reinvention of Love) and Other Silences, he states that

It would be a mistake to consider that the architecture in play is simply that of installed spatial decor, so much perimeter lettering and construction.  I think the Bataillian register points to a more complex accounting for relations between certain spatial constructs, language and themes of laughter and eroticism.48

But how does one experience this expanded field?  Is it merely one in which apart from establishing the complicity of the spectator one may consider the usual applications of postmodern theory on reception theory?  Is that sufficient?  I think not, for within the confines of an eroticisation of space one must also find its sexualisation and in that space its split into a space of inner experience in which issues of gender and power are expressed and experienced differently. 

What contributes to the transgressive nature of each of these works is that sexuality has been reinscribed within the transgressive field.  Artists interested in considerations of the body had found themselves caught by the conservatism of the 1980s, and it was in the space of the double entendre that its reemergence found true expression.  Sexuality is of course the primary connotation of a term like Wet Wound.  It evokes both the entire history of male slang for female genitalia and its obverse – the reassertion of these terms as powerful political signifiers of feminist identity and agency.  But what we are witnessing here is a shift from a visual manifestation – the transposed sexes of Historical Place as a Condensor of Memory with the textual, the allegorical manifestations of textuality in A Grammar of remark [s] and an elaboration on those who would persecut…(e) in which we experience what appears to be a sordid erotic exchange with a violent end:


And it is this violence, this revealing of the true nature of Bataille’s erotics – its focus and fixation with death as the ultimate eroticism – which makes the nature of Buckley’s project so incisive.   But the elicited response in fact stems from a seduction, a ruse, for the text itself is a construction.  Buckley tells us that “it was a completely constructed text, it was arbitrarily taken from different sources and dropped together.”49  And here it is the architecture of language, the arbitrary construction of a syntagm which appears to have meaning, which compels a reading in which the viewer has given meaning, authored, as it were, a text which exists only as a simulacrum.  And this might be the ultimate seduction – the elicitation of a response through the presentation of something other than the real.  This is in part what the entire history of the simulacra has been concerned with.  The reemergence of sexuality, and its appearance in the guise of Bataille, makes the viewer consider the limits to which acceptable representations may extend, and when or if that limit has been extended or, as in the case of pornography or the pornographic, transcended.  Susan Sontag has suggested that

what makes a work of pornography part of the history of art rather than of trash is not distance, the superimposition of a consciousness more conformable to that of ordinary reality upon the “deranged consciousness” of the erotically obsessed.  Rather, it is the originality, thoroughness, authenticity, and power of that deranged consciousness itself, as incarnated in a work.  From the point of view of art, the exclusivity of the consciousness embodied in pornographic books is neither anomalous nor anti-literary.  Nor is the purported aim or effect, whether it is intentional or not, of such books – to excite the reader sexually – a defect.  Only a degraded and mechanistic idea of sex could mislead someone into thinking that being sexually stirred by a book like Madame Edwarda is a simple matter.50

This sexualisation of space exists as a counterpoint to the eroticisation of space.  In each of Buckley’s works the space is charged, eroticised, transformed to a  sexualised space of exchange between viewer and viewed.  In certain instances the images and texts tend towards the transgressive, for “pornographic” is too strong a term.  But one might consider that as Buckley has used Bataille, in certain instances clearly a writer of pornography, a transferral of his texts onto gallery walls is merely a transference of the pornography of literature into the pornography of space.  Were it merely a matter of placing the a book in a gallery, and for all intents and purposes suggesting that the space were a reading room, perhaps this might be the case.  In that instance, the pornographies of literal and visual pleasure might appear one and the same.  But in Buckley’s works this simplistic extension of one medium into the other is clearly not the case. 

So the final element which positions Buckley’s project is its architectonics.  As modernist as it may appear, it is against a construct of spirituality that one might find a thread to weave apparently disparate elements together. While Buckley’s works are not discernibly spiritual, he suggests that they “interrogate some of the same issues which are the subject of other forms of intellectual inquiry or that exist in other bodies of knowledge.”51 Still, one might begin to consider his spirituality from an historical position.

And it came to pass on the third day in the morning that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled.  And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount.  And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD had descended upon it in fire:  and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.52

I begin with fire because that is textually where Buckley begins in (FIRE) fire of love…flame and flesh /can/you/keep/ the/beat/ALICE.  What I want to suggest is that the red light, the bulb, is what has been termed “the candle of the twentieth century” and in being this it represents both the light, the illumination of God and the overbearing implications of late capitalism inherent and evident in terms such as “open all hours”.  In (FIRE) fire of love one finds that light burning in the space is an invitation to enter, that it suggests a domestic space and setting which is in some way the Other of the white walled space of the gallery.  But, as Nick Tsoutas noted, its invitation is conditioned by the forces of absence.  The space created appears as a personal, individual space, a site of contemplation, the mountain which Zarathustra descends.  Gaston Bachelard suggests that

The hermit is alone before God.  His hut, therefore, is just the opposite of the monastery.  And there radiates about this centralized solitude of a universe of meditation and prayer, a universe outside the universe.  The hut can receive none of the riches “of this world.”  It possesses the felicity of intense poverty; indeed, it is one of the glories of poverty; as destitution increases it gives us access to absolute refuge.53

Fire itself enters Buckley’s lexicon in The reign of the ANGELS.  Here, a gas flame is found near the smallest point of a narrowing corridor.   Against the suggestive spirituality outlined above, Mark Titmarsh has suggested that the flame is a “sexualised fire,”54  and one might infer this from the appearances of fire and flame in sexual language – I’m on fire, light my fire, burning for you, et cetera.  Or, recall Zarathustra, remarking, “Sex:  for the rabble, the slow fire on which they are burned.”[lvii]  Titmarsh also suggests that the fire is the culmination of the quest, although when read against Genesis it seems that it is possibly more a beginning.  The flame maps a circular space which closes in upon itself, symbolising both beginning and end.  So the fire becomes the symbol for both the sexualisation of space and the transgressive character of that which the space contains.   But the flame also maps an exteriority which exists against the narrow confines of the installation.  And as it is gas powered it evokes a periodicity which Walter Benjamin has outlined:

There can hardly be a weirder description of this light:  ‘The rat of the gas-lamps, feeble at first in their struggle with the dying day, had now at length gained ascendancy, and threw over every thing a fitful and garish lustre.  All was dark yet splendid…((Walter Benjamin, Charles Baudelaire:  A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism, Verso, London, 1992, p. 51.))

Does this reading of the gas flame shift the discourse between  interiority and exteriority?  Following Benjamin, doesn’t it evoke precisely the exterior, the world of the street?  And doesn’t this extend the space itself, transforming it from an interior within an interior, from a “vulval” channel, from an explictly eroticised space, into a more general eroticism characterised by the sexual exchanges of the gas-lit arcades?

So what of the spaces themselves?  Aren’t there at least three spaces to consider:  the visual, the textual and the physical?  Buckley often creates spaces within spaces which is why the notion of site-specificity seems mute in its applicability.  In some instances the relationships between space, light and the viewer’s field of vision is one in which one perceives an object in space.  Retained, (FIRE) fire of love, and DREAMS appear to map this space.  In other instances, what one finds is a constructed environment which colonises the architectures inherent in a particular site, transposes them into elements of the spaces Buckley creates.

One might counterpose the seemingly spiritual connotations of the spaces of the text with a materialist reading of the constructed spaces themselves.   In particular, consider the variations in form and finish which characterise Buckley’s constructed spaces.  In certain instances, as in the manifestation of The Slaughterhouse Project at the High Court of Australia in Canberra, the text mapped a physical space on the floor, with the building and its architecture then becoming its container.  In the 1997 work The Slaughterhouse Project:  perhaps I have judged them ill but I don’t think SO, the space which is mapped is the two-dimensional space of a gallery wall.  Neither of these works hinges upon the ability to manifestly mark the space of visual experiences as a constructed space.  But this has not always been the case.  From some of the earliest pieces what has been most apparent is the facture inherent in the architecture’s construction.  These interventions have shifted to their apparent absence in the projects outlined above from an initial predisposition to make the process evident and then a period in which the construction of the spaces, while apparent, was ‘undecideable.’  And it is through the theatre, from considerations of flats and props, that Buckley first began to consider this artificiality.

“Art,” so Stanley Mitchell tells us, “should be considered a form of production, not a mystery; the stage should appear like a factory with the machinery fully exposed.”55 Buckley, knowledgeable of leftist critiques of theatre and cinema, and of the subsequesnt shifts from the materialism of Brecht to the postmodernism of Beckett, adopted similar techniques to question the structures of his installations.  He tells us that “rather than cinema, which is illusionary…it was more playwrights such as Beckett that affected my thinking at the end of the ‘70s and beyond and led to a series of works which I produced while a graduate student at the Rhode Island School of Design between 1980 and 1982.  These installations were constructed rather like theatre flats and positioned in such a way that the viewer would come upon the side or back of the work…Really they were fragments/corners/chapters offering only to reveal partially what they [were], perhaps concealing more than they gave up.”56

In the context of what is revealed and what might be given up I would turn finally to two projects Buckley has undertaken for Construction in Process.  The first, The Story of the Silver Bullet, was an intervention in a church in Lodz, Poland, in 1993.  Here, Buckley’s text was in both English and Polish, a symbol of the conflicting relationships between the historical Poland and the emerging, post-Communist one.  Here the Church stands as a complex marker of the social, moral and intellectual questions that faced Poland at that time.  The text, the story of a complex relationship between a person and a revolver, is told much in the way that a story of a man and woman might be.  In doing so the work asks questions about the roles and place of the individual in contemporary society. What is disconcerting in The Story of the Silver Bullet is the ambiguous relationship between action and power as well as the ambiguity between arms and the church.  Here Buckley draws this multilayered distinction on the Church floor and in doing so creates a complex relationship between text and site.  The text, in part, reads

The silver bullet as we know,

can be utilized for personal gain,

perhaps revenge or for the

greater good of humanity.  It can be

used without fear of retribution,

whether moral, legal or

psychological.  Of course there is

only one

silver bullet and so this riddle of

potential power or

imminent dissipation is bewildering.57

I am intrigued by the complexity of the silver bullet itself as a metaphor for both righteousness and power.  In its popular cultural guise, the silver bullet lies in the realm of the Lone Ranger, the sole arbiter of the greater good.  In its more complex construction the silver bullet is precisely that which is able to kill the werewolf, and here one might think of Freud’s case analysis of the wolfman.  Does Buckley invite the revaluation of Church and state or does he merely imply that the structures of power represented by the older patriarchal order are subject to critical interrogation?

Buckley’s 1995 work for Construction in Process, in Israel, was equally as confronting.  In The Shield that we call a Star ( and the eye that was blind), Buckley reversed the colours of the PLO and Israeli flags.  Here, in a classic interrogation of the implications of signs and symbols, the colours of the respective flags highlighted how tentative these symbols really are.  Scheduled to last from 10 – 25 April 1995, Buckley’s installation remained one day.  One wonders here how Buckley could have more clearly and radically highlighted the shortcomings of the esoteric title Coexistanz and the more pragmatic circumstances of Israel’s relationship with the PLO.  Here one might also consider the work’s relationship with other flag projects and the consistent threat to artworks made in America, in particular, with the flag.  That The Shield that we call a Star ( and the eye that was blind) remained only one day also highlights how blind allegiance and a reliance on a symbol or signifier can be.  Buckley’s project, in its simplicity, captured each of these implications.

In the remaining manifestation of Buckley’s project, one can map a simultaneous shift from visual to textual spaces and back again through an examination of his exhibition cards.  The cards for both A Piece for Francis and Recollection is an Elemental Phenomenon, both from 1985, share an obverse with visuals and a reverse with text (assuming here that Buckley has not transgressed the usual spatiality of the card, as if one could truly tell if he had.)  Then, the image does not reappear until the card for Vigilance, in 1992.    To continue the cinematic metaphor explored above, Buckley speaks about the cards in precisely these terms.  He tells us that since the late 1970s the cards have been an important part of the work, something one could understand as being like a subtitle.58 In exactly the same ways that Buckley’s spaces all differ, the interior architecture of the cards and the spaces each maps differs as well.  While there is a logic operating between the card and the object/space, it is not apparent nor does it depend upon externally definable characteristics. But the cards will not ever display the architectural complexities of the interventions in three-dimensional space. 

If one were to then consider the implications of space-specificity, the concepts which contextualises this interrogation from the outset, a number of issues would be clear.  The first is that the notions of site which traditionally attach to installation, and the textual and contextual slippages which have allowed this apparently synonymous relationship to develop, take us very little of the way into an understanding of Brad Buckley’s understandings of space.   One can overlay, instead, the multi-sited, multi-experiental constructions of space-specificity which have been pursued. 

And within this overarching term, one finds the interventions of the voice, text, sex, architecture, power and masculinity.   No single application of any of these signifiers will classify Buckley’s project, for it is not concerned with any particular one, but instead with the ways in which each combines to subvert and transgress those elements of the social and cultural which purport to be fixed, to be static and to assert a dominant set of values. 

Perhaps this project, with its inherent process of interrogation and re-evalation, may make manifest a drive to transgress in the manner which Foucault has outlined.  Foucault speaks of a web of relationships which configure our relationships within and between people and spaces, and through an interrogation of these complex terms Buckley has explored the space of specificity.  Foucault remarks,

The twentieth century will undoubtedly have discovered the related categories of exhaustion, excess, the limit and transgression – the strange and unyielding form of these irrevocable movements which consume and consummate us.59

The doubling emerges again: between consuming and consummating, between space and site, between viewer and voyeur, between sex and text, between art and life.  It is within the constructed spaces of the particular installations that the implications of transgression will emerge.  And it will be the opportunity, if not the responsibility, for the viewer/voyeur to consider and extend their subjective responses to the issues raised.  In expressing the deeper meanings of his project Buckley lays down an interpretive challenge to us all:

I think that my work has an overarching drive that has been nurtured by very complex experiences and exposure to a range of people who exhibited qualities that I would now identify as secular humanism…It is the sum total of these experiences that are preparing me for some as yet unseen task and in my work I am searching for an understanding of my relationship to our culture and this task[.]60



  1. Campbell Gray, correspondence with the author, 19 February 1998. []
  2. Robert Morris, Notes on Sculpture, Part II, in Robert Morris, Continuous Project Altered Daily:  The Writings of Robert Morris, MIT Press, Cambridge, 1993, p. 15. []
  3. Keith Broadfoot, The End of the Line:  Installation Art Today, in The Slaughterhouse Project:  the part which is silent and moves with great slowness, Artspace, Auckland, 1996, p. 15. []
  4. Craig Owens, From Work to Frame, or, Is there Life after the Death of the Author, in S. Bryson, B. Kruger, L. Tillman and J. Weinstock (eds.), Craig Owens, Beyond Recognition: Representation Power and Culture, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1992. []
  5. Richard Serra, as cited in Douglas Crimp, Redefining Site Specificity, in Douglas Crimp, On the Museum’s Ruins, MIT Press, Cambridge, 1993, p. 153.  Crimp’s footnotes indicate that Serra’s actual assertion was “To remove Tilted Arc, therefore, is to destroy it.”  See Crimp’s note 2. []
  6. Owens, n.4, supra., at 56. []
  7. Donald Judd, Specific Objects, in Donald Judd, Complete Writings 1959 – 1975, The Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Halifax, 1975, p. 181. []
  8. Brad Buckley, unedited interview with Nicholas Tsoutas, unpaginated transcript. []
  9. Ibid.)  At the same time, the limitations of language almost prescribe that the term be used.  And at times Buckley speaks of actions which “inscribe a site” and how the “action of inscribing colonises a site.” ((Brad Buckley, correspondence with the author, 23 January 1998. []
  10. Brad Buckley, correspondence with the author, undated, 1999. []
  11. Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Contemplating Publicity:  Marcel Broodthaers’ Section Publicité, in Maria Gilissen and B. H. D. Buchloh (eds.), Section Publicité du Musée d’Art Modern, Dt. Des Aigles, Marcel Broodthaers, Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, 1995, p. 88. []
  12. For an insightful and considered examination of the reemergence of intentionality see Rex Butler, The ‘80s in Retrospect, in Rex Butler, An Uncertain Smile, Artspace, Sydney, 1996. []
  13. Brad Buckley, correspondence with the author, 1998. []
  14. Craig Owens, The Allegorical Impulse:  Toward a Theory of Postmodernism, in S. Bryson, B. Kruger, L. Tillman and J. Weinstock (eds.), Craig Owens, Beyond Recognition:  Representation Power and Culture, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1992, p. 60. []
  15. From an interview with Tom Driver, “Beckett at the Madelaine”, in the Columbia University Forum, Summer 1961, as cited in Paul Auster, The Art of Hunger, in Paul Auster, The Art of Hunger, Penguin Books, New York, 1992, p. 19 []
  16. Edward Sozanski, The Providence Journal, Monday December 8, 1980, p. B-6. []
  17. Laura Mulvey, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, in Gerald Mast and Marshall Cohen (eds.), Film Theory and Criticism:  Introductory Readings, Third Edition, Oxford University Press, New York, 1985, p. 804. []
  18. Rosalind Krauss, The Optical Unconscious, MIT Press, Cambridge, 1993, p. 111. []
  19. Ibid, at 112. []
  20. Id. []
  21. Nick Tsoutas, Catalogue Essay, (FIRE) fire of love…flame and flesh / can / you / keep / the / beat / ALICE, Canberra Contemporary Art Space, Canberra, 1988, unpaginated.  Tsoutas speaks of a viewer who “is required to disappear or absent him/herself from the passive voyeuristic function of viewer…”  I would argue that voyeurism is an action which seeks to fulfill desire and is by nature active, not passive, and premised on the expectation that actions will achieve visually satisfying/gratifying ends. []
  22. Tony Bond, Brad Buckley, in Dreams & Other Signs, Chameleon, Hobart, 1988, unpaginated. []
  23. John McDonald, Finding new extremes of fears and fantasies, Sydney Morning Herald Arts Review, November 15 1986. []
  24. Nick Tsoutas, Catalogue Essay, (FIRE) fire of love…flame and flesh / can / you / keep / the / beat / ALICE, Canberra Contemporary Art Space, Canberra, 1988, unpaginated. []
  25. Author unknown, KNOT, an (other) one, exhibition review, Entropy, 19 May 1993. []
  26. Gary Pearson, Hotel on Fire, Kelowna, 1997, p. 18. []
  27. Brad Buckley, correspondence with the author, 18 February 1998. []
  28. Jean Baudrillard, On Seduction, in Mark Poster (ed.), Jean Baudrillard, Selected Writings, Polity Press, London, 1988, p. 160. []
  29. Marcel Broodthaers, letter, cited in Douglas Crimp, This is not a Museum of Art, in On the Museum’s Ruins, MIT Press:  Cambridge, 1993, p. 206. []
  30. Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, Pengiun Books, London, 1979, p. 254. []
  31. Id. []
  32. Lacan writes that between the fields of desire and sexual reality desire has an agency which turns in upon itself, and it is this process through which the desire of the analyst, or, here, the desire of the author/artist expresses itself.  See, Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, at p. 156 specifically or the section Sexuality in the Defiles of the Signifier generally. []
  33. George Alexander, * Wet * Set *, in Brad Buckley, The Performance Space, Sydney, 1986, unpaginated. []
  34. Mark Jackson, DON’T MISTAKE (-) THEIR OPPRESSION FOR YOUR EROTICISM, in Tor Gammen (ed.), Drift, Lista Lighthouse Gallery, Norway, unpaginated. []
  35. Tor Gamman, About the Exhibition “Drift”, in Drift, n. 35 above. []
  36. George Bataille, Encyclopedia Acephalica,  Serpent’s Tail, New York, 1996, at 73.  Bataille continues, “The curse (terrifying only to those who utter it) leads them to vegetate as far as possible from the slaughterhouse, to exile themselves, out of propriety, to a flabby world in which nothing fearful remains and in which, subject to the ineradicable obsession of shame, they are reduced to eating cheese.”  Ibid. []
  37. Anthony Kenny, A Brief History of Western Philosophy:  German Idealism and Materialism, Basil Blackwell and Co.: London, 1998, p.276. []
  38. Freidrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, in Walter Kaufmann (ed.), The Viking Portable Nietzsche, Penguin Books, New York, 1954, p. 466. []
  39. Garry Willis, Brad Buckley:  Recollection is an Elemental Phenomenon, Art Network, Sydney, Spring 1985. []
  40. Slavoj Zizek, Enjoy Your Symptom!  Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and Out, Routledge, London, 1992, p.1. []
  41. Rosalind Krauss, Notes on the Index:  Seventies Art in America, reprinted in Annette Michelson, Rosalind Krauss, Douglas Crimp and Joan Copjec (eds.), October:  The First Decade, 1976 – 1986, MITPress, Cambridge, 1987.  See particularly page 3. []
  42. Zizek, Enjoy Your Symptom, n. 41 above, p. ix. []
  43. Walter Benjamin, The Image of Proust, in Hannah Arendt (ed.), Walter Benjamin:  Illuminations, Schocken Books, New York, 1968, p. 205. []
  44. Rosalind Krauss, Notes on the Index, p. 3. []
  45. Joan Copjec, Read My Desire:  Lacan Against the Historicists, MIT Press, Cambridge, 1994, p. 184.  Copjec continues, “The distinction between the disembodied voice, which conveys knowledge and power, and the embodied voice, which conveys the limitation of both, is underwritten by a simple opposition between the universal and the particular…The embodied voice, particularity, and lack of knowledge line up on one side against the disembodied voice, universality and knowledge on the other.” Ibid. []
  46. Peggy Phelan, Unmarked:  The Politics of Performance, Routledge, London, 1993, p. 163. []
  47. Billy Crawford briefly outlines the histories of alternative spaces in Sydney in his catalogue essay for Translating Bunker to Bunker, Tin Sheds, Sydney. []
  48. Mark Jackson, ipseity/ravissement, in JUSTINE & JULIETTE (The Reinventions of Love) and Other SILENCES, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, 1992, unpaginated. []
  49. Brad Buckley, Interview with Nicholas Tsoutas, unpaginated transcript. []
  50. Susan Sontag, The Pornographic Imagination, in Susan Sontag, Styles of Radical Will, Vintage, New York, 1994, p. 47. []
  51. Brad Buckley, correspondence with the author, 27 January 1998. []
  52. Exodus, 16 – 18, in The Holy Bible containing the Old and New Testaments, Oxford University Press, London. []
  53. Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, Beacon Press, Boston, 1969, p. 32. []
  54. Mark Titmarsh, Brad Buckley:  Being There, in Agenda Volume 13/14, October 1990, p.40. []
  55. ((Stanley Mitchell, Introduction, in Walter Benjamin, Understanding Brecht, New Left Books, London, 1973, p. xvi. []
  56. Brad Buckley, correspondence with the author, 1998. []
  57. Brad Buckley, The Story of the Silver Bullet, A project for the IV Construction in Process, Artists’ Museum, Lodz, Poland, 1993. []
  58. Brad Buckley, correspondence with the author, 1998.  Buckley’s complete statement reads “Actually an important part of the work from the late ‘70s is the card or invitation, as I consider them part of the work and have always paid special attention to the text/typeface/size.  I have considered them as vehicles for the title, which I have described as operating more like a caption.  So one could understand these as being like a subtitle.” []
  59. Michel Foucault, Preface to Transgression, in Donald F. Bouchard (ed.), Language, Counter-memory, Practice:  Selected Essays and Interviews by Michel Foucault, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1993, p. 49. []
  60. Brad Buckley, correspondence with the author, 27 January 1998. []