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Press Release: Written by Tom Smith
Following a strictly iterative logic, Conor O’Shea has produced over 200 drawings since 2014. Here he presents a new series of sculptural iterations: a multiplicity of objects set in an array of materials (paper, ink, wax, stone). As more drawings are produced and as they are documented and repeated, the simple forms multiply and evolve, continually shifting in form and becoming unstable. By producing hundreds of images within these narrow parameters and then selecting the most ‘successful’ among them, the artist hedges his bets—surely some will be ‘successful’.
Crucially though, only a few images will ever be selected for preservation, and set aside to be sealed in wax or in plastic sleeves for the exhibition. A largely arbitrary selection of works is documented and reinserted into the exhibition in various ways: recontextualised in a digital image of the gallery space, placed in the traditional mediated space of a book, and circulated on-line. By including forms of documentation in the exhibition, the artist speculates on a series of futures in which certain drawings—but not others—may continue to exist. In this way the exhibition meticulously reproduces the circulatory logic of contemporary art.
In a literal sense Conor’s work is an inquiry into both the repetitive process of producing imagery, and the degree to which these images are subsequently distributed. The result is a double re/production that broaches two central concepts:
a. Repetition — he doesn’t so much produce drawings, as a set of parameters for their relentless reproduction.
b. Documentation — by documenting the drawings and mimicking their circulation, he re/produces the processes via which they are judged by the market forces to be ‘successful’ or otherwise.
Relentless documentation is central to the market logic of contemporary art. As Suhail Malik suggests, contemporary art is not so much about production or content, as it is about circulation; if an artwork does not exist in the network as viewable documentation, it cannot be repeated. For Malik, “Arts contents and claims are at best placeholders or alibis for a series of power operations to which it is now subordinated.” Conor’s work speaks to these conditions—in that it reproduces the fundamental contingency that is perhaps contemporary arts unifying feature. By evacuating itself of content and focusing only on frameworks, containers and conduits that make it possible, Conor’s work ambivalently reflects on the real/ essential conditions of contemporary arts re/production.