F      O      R      M      L      A      B

Studio Practice 1997-present

FormLAB (FormLaboratory) was conceived at Goldsmiths in London in 1996 as an arts research series installed in museums. Drilling down into the processes of artmaking I explored the procedures that build from idea to raw material, to fabrication, then to artifact. I studied sculpture at Central Saint Martins, London in the early 1990s and later art and theory at Goldsmiths. During the 90s Saint Martins’ sculpture department still had echos of minimalism and post-minimalism. Developing my sculpture practice I was particularly interested in notions of gravity inspired by Richard Serra and Robert Morris, Panamarenko  and arte povera artists. I began to study notions of time as part of the visual engagement with a work of art, particularly the processes that could reveal a works transformation. Simultaneously I became interested in the corruption of processes inspired by Andre Breton’s Surrealist Cadavre Exquis games and the use of found objects. As artists in London many of us were interested in the notion of using everyday objects, particularly in the wake of the extravagance of the late 1980s - low objects especially were interesting as they were omnipresent in the construction boom that followed the wake of Thatcherite Britain - it was like seeing a house after a devastating excess. And it is in the residue of this excess that I experiment. 

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Images above, FormLAB installations, Brazilian Museum of Sculpture, 2012. 

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I collected everything and at Goldsmiths began creating micro-museums in my studio that changed each day. I would tinker with objects, create, then re-create assemblages and transform this mountain range of stuff: furniture, 1960s mannequins, fragments of Victorian masonry, pieces of defunct gas-lighting systems, an old fire alarm box, spilled polyurethane expansion foam, remnants of steel-cable reinforced plaster walls, old wooden wall paneling, computer keyboards, cathode ray tubes, connectors and scraps of wallpaper, and torn images and text from magazines. My studio looked more like an archeological midden than a minimalist sanctuary. I was looking at process - observing how these objects related together. I think there was an interesting uncertainty and open-endedness about it. 

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With FormLAB I wanted to observe and experience the phenomena that compose an artwork. I also looked at ways in which  - this probably came from my post-Minimalism and Allan Kaprow’s 18 Happenings in 6 parts (October 1959) - what was compelling was how participation of bodies unhinged everything - that each person I brought into the space as a participant in the actions turned everything upside down. 

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In 2009 I created an installation of FormLAB in a storefront space in the Manhattan Garment District, an industrial neighborhood in New York’s midtown. Over a week I worked in tandem with Belgian artist, Tom Bogaert and we collected (fragments of objects from the textile sweatshops that landed on the street and in dumpsters or that were negotiated from sellers) and assembled in the space as a sort of living museum: a lens into process. This was what I was also at the same time researching as part of my PhD in the UK (2008-12). I learned that each participant adds a level of radically to the work - and makes each step more and more uncertain - and that is what I was perhaps trying to break - the certainty - as what was most interesting to me was the unexpected. It was like supercharging the sense of uncertainty in the studio by making it so uncertain that it becomes a challenge to see where is and when is the artwork. 

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Above, FormLAB experiment, Treignac Project, France (2010) 

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In its different iterations FormLAB becomes a temporary shelter, or a hideout for time (Robert Smithson in "Entropy and the New Monuments," (Artforum, June 1966) FormLAB positions itself within spaces that capture and preserve time and become temporary “living dioramas”  that present instants of artistic creation, uncertainty, discovery and the unexpected. (1) particularly in spaces not yet templated by history or expectation. FormLAB relocates the focus of art away from only the final object created by the artist tinto a system of operations where the artist and spectators experience the artwork as a series of intersecting timelines that recursively unfold within the exhibition space. 

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FormLAB mines found-objects from localized communities and activates them within an art space. It creates production systems: transforming materials on site into artworks; and archive systems for display within museums and galleries. 

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In addition to building on the concepts of time evoked by Robert Smithson, FormLAB is inspired by Cabaret Voltaire (1916) (Kandinsky, Klee, Tzara, Taeuber-Arp, de Chirico, and Ernst), the Cadavre Exquis experiments of Andre Breton (1918), the Triadic Ballet of Oskar Schlemmer (1922) and the Cut-Ups of William Burroughs (1970). This results in an installation that combines performances, videos and contemporary cabinets of curiosity.

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FormLAB Beijing  2017, Inside Out Art Museum, Beijing

As 2017 Fulbright-Hays awarded exhibition FormLAB exhibited at the Inside Out Art Museum in Beijing creating performances on a wild portion of the Great Wall in Jiankou, China. 

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FormLAB Brazil 2012, Brazilian Museum of Sculpture, São Paulo

For FormLAB, Sao Paulo, I explored local ritual and sculpture-making with the leader of a Brazilian shamanic group where we fused art-making, performance and ritual to create sculptures. These assemblages were composed from objects that were considered to possess magic. 

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FormLAB-Mongolia (2014) Zanabazar Museum of Fine Art, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

In Mongolia I worked with Mongolian artists, traditional and contemporary electronic musicians and dancers creating a dialogue between different music forms, dance and sculpture installation in a traditional nomadic ger (above). Through central Mongolia and the borderlands with Siberia, FormLAB visited remnants of a nomadic Tsaatan reindeer herding community which inspired the performance and video Shapeshifter (2014)

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FormLAB-Seoul (2012) Seoul Art Space, Seoul Foundation for Art and Culture, Korea

In Korea FormLAB worked with local artists to create assemblage sculptures from thousands of plastic toys collected in the neighborhood of Geumcheon in Seoul - recombining these into installations and assemblages. (image below, Sculpture-forming at FormLAB, Seoul Foundation for Art & Culture, Korea, 2012).

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Bauhaus Stiftung, Dessau Germany (2008-2012) 

As 2008/2009 Artist Fellow with the Bauhaus, Dessau (Germany) I researched Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadisches Ballett (1922) and created a series of site-specific performances in the Hansaviertel Berlin and in Queenstown, Singapore (above). Working with contemporary and traditional dancers from National University of Singapore and La Salle College of Art I worked with a team of 20 Singaporean dancers and choreographed a series of light sculptures (above). 

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An interview on FormLAB is published in Octopus, the Journal of Visual Studies at University of California, Riverside.

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Notes

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(1) In the early 2000s curators began to express an interest in the notion of the laboratory as ‘still untouched by science’ from “Laboratories is the answer, what is the question?” TRANS 8 (2000) from Bishop, Clare, (2004) Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics: October (Fall 2004): pp. 51-79.

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As Maurice Blanchot wrote “Interruptions having somehow the same meaning as that which does not cease. Both are affects of passivity. Where power does not reign – nor initiative, nor the cutting edge of a decision – there, dying is living. There dying is the passivity of life – of life escapes freed from itself and confounded with the disaster of a time without present which we endure without waiting, by awaiting a misfortune which is not still to come, but which has always already come upon us and which cannot be present.” Blanchot, Maurice, The Writing of the Disaster, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1986, p 21

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The informe (or formless) is defined by Georges Bataille in Documents (1929) as “…not only an adjective having a given meaning, but a term that serves to bring things down in the world, generally requiring that each thing have its form. What it designates has no rights in any sense and gets itself squashed everywhere.” In Bataille, G (1929), Documents 1, Paris, p. 382 (translated by Allan Stoekl et al, Georges Bataille. Vision of Excess. Selected Writings, 1927-1939, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press “Formless”, p. 31).

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