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Hundreds of Small Paper Sculptures Tell Art History Stories

Geoffrey Farmer’s paper works are on display at ICA Boston.

by Antwaun Sargent
Jun 10 2016, 7:22pm

Geoffrey Farmer, Boneyard, 2013, Paper, wood, and glue Dimensions variable, Installation view, Cut nothing, cut parts, cut the whole, cut the order of time, Casey Kaplan, New York, 2014 Photo: Jean Vong Courtesy the artist and Casey Kaplan, New York © 2016 Geoffrey Farmer

In the last 20 years of his career, the Canadian artist, Geoffrey Farmer, has made audacious paper sculptures and video installations from more than 15,000 fragments of images and sound. The “paper works,” as Framer calls them, pull from art history and the artist’s imagination to explore contemporary culture and the images it produces.

His current exhibition, Geoffrey Farmer, on view at the Institute Contemporary Art Boston, introduces the artist through three distinct bodies of work— Boneyard, The Surgeon and the Photographer, Look in my face; my name is Might-have-been; I am also called No-more, Too-late, Farewell—that the artist has crafted over the last two decades.

Geoffrey Farmer, Boneyard, 2013 (detail) Paper, wood, and glue Dimensions variable, Installation view, Cut nothing, cut parts, cut the whole, cut the order of time, Casey Kaplan, New York, 2014 Photo: Jean Vong Courtesy the artist and Casey Kaplan, New York © 2016 Geoffrey Farmer

“This is a body of work Geoffrey has been working on for the last five or 10 years,” explains the exhibition’s curator, Dan Byers to The Creators Project. “There’s an abiding interest in the way images move in time and space and the way in which those images are fixed and untethered from those places where they live in a given context,” says Byers referring to Farmer’s surrealist collage work, The Surgeon and the Photographer, which includes 365 hand-made figures made from photographs and fabric.  He says, “The very simple gesture of buying a bunch of books from used book stores and imagining those books relationship to the hand and creating puppet-like works has had a ripple effect outward in re-examining the lives of those images.”

Geoffrey Farmer, The Surgeon and the Photographer, 2009-ongoing. Paper, textile, wood, and metal, Dimensions variable, Vancouver Art Gallery. Purchased with funds from the Jean MacMillan Southam Major Art Purchase Fund, Phil Lind, Vancouver Art Gallery Acquisition Fund, Canada Council for the Arts Acquisition Assistance Program, and the Michael O'Brian Family Foundation. Installation view, The Curve, The Barbican Art Centre, London, 2013 Photographs: Alessandro Quisi, Courtesy the artist and The Barbican Centre, London © 2016 Geoffrey Farmer

Each of Farmer’s assemblages are accompanied by elaborate texts. The text provides the images with a sense of character and an animated agency. The texts can be a sentence or few lines of prose— “Abandon. This. Difficult. Five years.” Sometimes Farmer’s texts take the form of poetry:

"We are they who toil late
when all the lights burn low
who seek to learn what men would hide in desks
and deny us the right to know

Pushing brooms and mops and wielding lights
of brush aluminum and steel
we talk the darkened corridors
in guard of all that’s real

For otherworldly danger lurks
in shadows grown long across the floor
from flick’ring candles, lowered lamps
or moonlight shining round the door
monsters, villains, miscreants young and old
who would seek to invade our halls
‘tis our noble duty to them deter
or else find them, and kick them in the balls”

Geoffrey Farmer, Universal Sculpture Series, 2, 2013, Paper, glue, and putty 8 1/2 x 6 x 7 3/4 inches (21.6 x 15.2 x 19.7 cm) Photo: Jean Vong. Courtesy the artist and Casey Kaplan, New York © 2016 Geoffrey Farmer

Boneyard,  for instance, is comprised of 1,200 individual paper cutouts that trace art history from 10 AD to the 60s. The series shows the progression of the sculpted human form, according to the artist. The images, despite their groupings, are hard to separate and blend the religious, secular, and political understandings of the body. The Boneyard  figures, mostly white, show in grandiose visual detail the ways in which a pervasive white visual aesthetic came to dominate default Western cultural perceptions of beauty and power. Boneyard also evokes the ways in which institutional, political, or cultural acts are expressed and maintained through organization and classification.

"There are a few different objectives,” says Byer in mounting the exhibition. “On a very basic level, Geoffrey has not shown as much in this country as I think he should. I was happy to do a show that brings together three major works that people could see together for the first time in the US." He adds, “There is something incredibly generous in his work and a lot for people to look at and think about and connect with the ways in which he is making each of the works.”

Geoffrey Farmer, Universal Sculpture Series, 1, 2013 Paper, glue, and putty 8 1/2 x 5 7/8 x 7 3/4 inches (21.6 x 14.9 x 19.7 cm) Photo: Jean Vong. Courtesy the artist and Casey Kaplan, New York © 2016 Geoffrey Farmer

Geoffrey Farmer continues through July 17 at ICA Boston. Click here, for more information.

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