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© Pompeii Commitment. Archaeological Matters, a project by the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, 2020. Project Partner: MiC.
All archival images and photographs taken at the Archaeological Park of Pompeii are used with permission from MiC-Ministry of Culture-Archaeological Park of Pompeii. Any copies or reproductions are strictly forbidden.

Liam Gillick. Archaeology Projected

Pompeii Commitments 27    19•08•2021

Liam Gillick
Archaeology Projected, 2021
video, 1’06” loop
Courtesy the Artist and Alfonso Artiaco, Naples

At the heart of Gillick’s art resides a complex set of issues, strictly related to one another: the centrality of the role of the spectator as an active player who produces critical meaning; the relationship with space-time, not just physical space, but the political, social and economic environment; the relationship of mutual interdependence between the late-capitalist/neo-liberalist economy, the institutions and cultural reflection. Gillick has focused, in particular, on interaction with the spectator as the catalyst of his research, by creating situations – both formal and performative – where the parameters linked to the enjoyment of art, and the creation and communication of the idea of “value” are critically called into question.
In particular, his video works (such as the digital animation with which the artist contributes to Pompeii Commitment) are created in the artist’s home-studio in New York. Produced with limited technological means, often the artist’s own computer, these works appear as a series of working notes, elements of an elaboration that is constantly in progress, of a process in which the role of interpretation is an ongoing task, that is never really finished. Even if not filmed, we can imagine Gillick absorbed in his work at his computer, preparing the script, talking with his collaborators, questioning the criteria for the cataloguing, archiving, evaluation and mediation of knowledge. The concept of truth, as an element of vision and listening, becomes an absolute-relative, delegated to the visitor: an act of live interpretation, for which the artist provides the basic elements.
This is the case in Archaeology Projected, which the artist himself describes as follows: “A one minute film loop that emulates the speed of the original volcanic event that devastated Pompeii in 79 AD. The work is a computer animation of a molten flow moving at 725 km/h accompanied by a soundtrack of a contemporary volcanic eruption. Overlaid in the center of the screen is the archaeological code for artifacts that might be discovered in Pompeii in the year 2022: 22.M444-1. / 22 is the year. M444 is the code for Pompeii and 1 indicates the first set of objects yet to be discovered. Following the number 1 is a random counter that represents the number of artifacts that could be unearthed next year. The counter mirrors the speed of the molten flow. Archaeology is redefined in relation to devastation and flow.” The animation is structured like the manifestation of a multiple process, the subject of which is continually recontextualised: simultaneously real and historical (the memory of the eruption of 79 AD) but also imaginary and hypothetical (a possible eruption in 2022), the image of which is computer-generated (and therefore does not, in fact, exist in reality) but whose sound is concretely taken from a physical process, delocalised in this case in space (a contemporary eruption in a different site from Pompeii). Gillick also invents a code that keeps track of all the discoveries that might be made in 2022, but bases it on the cataloguing criteria actually used by the archaeologists of the Archaeological Park. And in contrast to the slow pace of the usual archaeological cataloguing operations, he runs it at the rapid pace of a possible eruption, almost as though it were a diary, not of future discoveries, but of the destruction that might occur in the future (already in the past, Pompeii had been the victim of numerous destructions, both due to natural causes, such as the earthquake of 62 AD and the eruption of 79 AD, and to anthropic events, such as the bombings of 1943). By configuring his piece as a dynamically contradictory instrument – digital animation and catalographic tool, narrative construction and critical representation, analysis of the past and vision of the future – Gillick intensifies both his interest in the analysis of the main forms of technological communication (i.e., the great collective narratives of contemporaneity) and his efforts to reinvent the traditional format of the work, transformed into a shared cognitive path in progress, at once ambiguously real and fantastic. AV

Thanks to: Alfonso Artiaco, Ilaria Artiaco, Alberto Salvadori.

Home page image: Liam Gillick, Archaeology Projected, 2021 (video still). Courtesy the Artist and Alfonso Artiaco, Naples

The work of Liam Gillick (Aylesbury, UK, 1964. Lives and works in New York) aims to expose the dysfunctional aspects of a modernist legacy in terms of abstraction and architecture, framed within a globalised, neo-liberal consensus, and extends into the structural rethinking of the fundamentals of the exhibition and the art piece as a form. Since the early 1990s, Gillick has been creating works using a variety of different media – installation, sculpture, textual intervention, video, sound and digital animation – which take form in a relationship with intense critical and theoretical reflection.  The sculptures and installations created in this period are among the most iconic of his works: based on simple modular structures of metal and Plexiglas, derived from the architecture of renewal, development and branding, works like the Discussion Platforms are the fruit of his musings on the new urban spaces and on his own working processes in relation to “cognitive capitalism.” The use of bright colours and fixed screens is a direct reference to the history of Minimalism and the use of pure forms, materials and procedures borrowed mainly from the work of the American artist Donald Judd. Gillick’s work, however, has also included a new ‘relational’ approach with the audience. The works become the backdrop for an undirected action, losing their autonomy: framing devices that suggest hypothetical spatio-temporal relationships of sociality, reflect the new fluidity of the interactions, voluntary and forced, that characterise our current behaviour. These works reveal how the tradition of Minimalism has been neutralised and assimilated by the entertainment industry and by contemporary corporate culture. A synthesis between internal references to art history and an analytical discourse on the present are the focus of the works and installations created by the artist also in the decade that followed, in which bright colours and modular structures are often used to modify the space-time of the encounter with the visitor. In these works, which ambiguously blur the distinction between sculpture, installation, architectural intervention and design, the artist includes multiple further references to the history of geometric abstraction (from Bauhaus to Kinetic Art), exploring the intersections between the utopian and social ambitions of these movements and their subsequent articulations in the realm of digital super-communication and hyper-connectivity, approved urban furniture and globalised identity. Since the late 2000s, Gillick has produced numerous short films dedicated to the construction of the public image of the creative individual, reflecting on the enduring mutability of the contemporary artist as a cultural figure: Margin Time (2012), The Heavenly Lagoon (2013), Hamilton: A Film by Liam Gillick (2014).
Solo exhibitions have been dedicated to him by the Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves, Porto (2016), Kunsthalle Zürich, Witte de With, Rotterdam, Kunstverein München and Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (which together presented the 2008-2010 retrospective travelling exhibition Liam Gillick: Three Perspectives and a Short Scenario), Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2005), MoMA – Museum of Modern Art, New York (2003), Whitechapel Art Gallery (2002) and the Tate, London (2001–2). In 2019, the Madre in Naples organised the first retrospective exhibition dedicated exclusively to his video-film work (Standing on Top of a Building: Films 2008-2019). Gillick’s works have been included in numerous group and regular exhibitions, including Documenta and the Venice Biennale – where he represented Germany in 2009, despite not being a German citizen – Berlin and Istanbul. For the past twenty-five years Gillick has also been a prolific writer and critic of contemporary art, contributing to Artforum, October, Frieze and e-flux Journal. He has authored numerous artist’s books and publications, including a volume containing a selection of his critical writings. His book Industry and Intelligence: Contemporary Art Since 1820 was published by Columbia University Press in 2016. His public works include the British government’s Home Office building in London and the Lufthansa headquarters in Frankfurt. In recent years, Gillick has extended his work to experimental venues and engaged in collaborative projects with other artists, including Louise Lawler, Philippe Parreno, Adam Pendleton and Lawrence Weiner (Gillick’s and Weiner’s contributions to Pompeii Commitment are published in parallel), as well as to the band New Order, during a series of concerts held in Manchester, Turin and Vienna.

Pompeii Commitment

Liam Gillick. Archaeology Projected

Pompeii Commitments 27 19•08•2021