The combinatorics of painted, drawn, sculpted and readymade fragments, which offer a new cryptic text with each set up, represents a recognisable gesture of the Small But Dangers (SBD) duo’s modus operandi. The systems that they build in their spatial installations, using complex, opaque rules, bewilder the viewer, because the syntax of the presented section of the record constantly evades us despite occasional recognition of its components. The enigmatic visual fragments that make up their texts function as a combination of pictography and ideography, and we cannot really decide where one ends and the other begins, where signs point to the subject directly and where this connection is mediated.
It seems that the Small But Dangers duo operates precisely as a refutation of the origin myth, the originary coincidence of words and things. The experience of their spatial installations constitutes the conclusion that there is just language and we are always already within it. There is no sign attached to a meaning or a referent that exists outside this system. Hence, the heart of SBD’s practice consists of the use of sign systems to create new realities: sign systems produce their own meaning. Thus, we enter the very core of structuralist linguistics and we could see SBD’s procedures as a reflection on the premises and paradoxes of Saussure’s grand project. The plethora of visual elements SBD uses are very earnestly treated as signs, which before they enter into relationships with each other, are without meaning. Meaning as such arises through difference. The set ups of the duo’s paintings, drawings, collages, objects imply that they are not perceived as positive entities charged with meaning, but rather as peculiar empty spaces, determined functionally through difference from other spaces. And just like with Hegelian concept, this cluster of negativity ultimately produces a positive result.
Up until this point, things are clear. We are dealing with the “daily Saussure”, with the structure of differential elements: it is only when we render difference in signs, we produce it in meaning. Yet, in the dead of night, the father of structural linguistics embarks on an entirely different exploration, a search for something that challenges his daily project, something that contests language as a clear system founded upon difference. The “nocturnal Saussure” searches for anagrams, word puzzles, in which the redistribution of letters reveals a hidden word. The more he looks for them, the more he finds; texts are replete with this secret knowledge, knowledge without the subject. It is clear, already at first sight, that they resist Saussure’s language as a system of difference, for they do not appear as a differential element, but rather as the hidden “true” meaning. While previously we claimed that the sign is defined by what is absent, by what the sign is not, with anagrams, this moment is revalued. In the case of anagrams, it is impossible to claim that they are either present or absent, they are somewhere in-between. With language, therefore, we are dealing with more than just structure; there is a certain excess that destabilises the system. This is the other dimension of language on which the Small But Dangers duo builds – the dimension that produces more than what an orderly system is capable of. And this precisely is the experience of SBD’s work in space: not unlike the nocturnal Saussure discovering, rather than looking for, ever more anagrams so that, eventually, he is no longer certain that he is not hallucinating, we too, scanning the cryptic spatial records of SBD, see ever more hidden knowledge, meaning, which we are not certain whether it actually exists or is simply produced by our desire. The “hiddenness” of this knowledge does not imply its source in a mythical depth, the remoteness of a primordial origin; on the contrary, the entire coding transpires on the surface. SBD provoke with this contingent, incalculable dimension of language, where a certain random form of signifiers produces more than was conveyed. Hence, it is not surprising that their set ups are interpreted like rebuses, for the latter are often driven precisely by homonymy, the random acoustic sameness of words with otherwise different meanings. These random encounters in language, in which unexpected meanings erupt, are a phenomenon that the Small But Dangers duo confront us with. It is precisely these random similarities that enable us to convey more that we intended, and to the degree that we start wondering who is it that speaks. SBD’s work thus shows us that the “impurity” of structure is not a consequence of an external input, sociological or psychological influences, but rather that language as a structure is “impure” in itself, that signs live their own life and produce more than we actually wanted to designate, thus letting the unconscious to speak out.
15. 3. 2017 6 pm: Curator and Artist Talk
23. 3. 2017 at 6 pm: Tour of the exhibition guided by the curator
The programme of Škuc Gallery is supported by Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia and Cultural Department of the City of Ljubljana.
photo © Dejan Habicht