Magazine article Art Monthly

Geoffrey Farmer: The Last Two Million Years

Magazine article Art Monthly

Geoffrey Farmer: The Last Two Million Years

Article excerpt

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Geoffrey Farmer: The Last Two Million Years Spacex Exeter October 6 to December 1

In The History of Forgetting, Norman M Klein's 1997 study of the effects of architecture on the inhabitants of Los Angeles, we are shown the ease with which memory can be erased. When the relocated inhabitants of the largely Mexican neighbourhoods were interviewed they could not remember the streets and shops that had existed prior to the wholesale redevelopment of the areas. One wonders then what it must it be like when such a policy is used in an attempt to erase the cultural memory of an entire country through destroying its cultural repositories; its museums, libraries, galleries and schools. Such an act both destabilises the cohering structures of that society and creates a world of possibilities for new forms of social organisation and economy.

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The Canadian artist Geoffrey Farmer's exhibition presents the remains of an activity of meticulously removing and representing the illustrations from a found copy of the classic 70s Reader's Digest series The Last Two Million Years. In the main room at Spacex the images have been transformed to become standing figures, grouped on a series of eccentric foamcore constructions whose narrow ridges, grand steps and steep slopes, pyramids and pillars quote from historic cities from Machu Picchu to Nuremberg. The figures have been freed from the confines of the hefty tome, whose marbled cover lies flaccid over the front of a plinth, but the book is also memorialised in noble marble form in the more reverential Cube room, where it now functions as a joss-stick holder with the title Out of a dark hole appears the craggy-ash like finger of time (Incenses clock), 2007. The authority of museum display conventions, architecture of human civilisation and, indeed, our structures of understanding are gently ridiculed. Instead of beautifully crafting plinths in which signs of their manufacture are erased, Farmer slaps on great quantities of Sellotape. The work also deflates the expectations of display in an otherwise sober gallery context by presenting trite combinations of figures. An ever-intense Samuel Beckett rubs shoulders with an Easter Island figure, a spaceman chases that horrific napalm victim and a Roman fresco of Diana the Huntress is accompanied by bottles of Coke as if to refresh her activities. This absurd theatre of history, like a childhood pastime on a wet Sunday afternoon, proposes that it is not the products of grand narratives of history which give value, but the process of association and the functioning of mind which attribute meaning to objects. …

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