Notes on The Miraculous at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop [1]

Peter Amoore expands on 'The Miraculous' at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop. Essay published as part of 'Footnoting the Archive: Endnotes'. Includes comments by Raphael Rubinstein.

RR: One day in 2015 a curator in Edinburgh happens upon a book…


The Miraculous is a new commission relocating the works and lives of the following artists, to the spaces of Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop: Bas Jan Ader, Joseph Beuys, Joseph Grigely, David Hammons, Helmut Heissenbüttel, Alison Knowles, John Latham, Lee Lozano, Marta Minujín, Daniel Spoerri, Cindy Sherman and Mierle Laderman Ukeles.

Working in dialogue with designers Maeve Redmond and Sophie Dyer, along with myself as curator, poet and critic Raphael Rubinstein has paired tales of artist’s practice with architectural space, relating qualities of the artworks he describes to the locations in which they are read. For the project, a dozen entries have been selected from Rubinstein’s book The Miraculous and designed by Dyer and Redmond in response to the functional spaces of the building completed by architects Sutherland Hussey Harris in 2015.

The Miraculous is the second in the series of exhibitions, On an otherwise ordinary evening. Thinking through artists’ practice engaged with the telling of stories—in attentive homages and improbable encounters—the series follows the work of artist and filmmaker Holly Antrum, poet and art critic Raphael Rubinstein and artist and comedian Siân Robinson Davies. The Miraculous can be found between 4 June and 31 August 2016 at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop.

Collapsed and extruded

Performances, photographs, paintings, monumental sculptures, street actions, text pieces, mail art, provocations and installations are condensed from their three-dimensional forms, transported from their geographical and historical locations, translated into short narratives and pasted onto the surfaces of a building dedicated to the research on, learning around and production of sculpture.

Rubinstein’s narratives are extruded out from of the pages of his book and placed into the physical space of the reader...

RRThe word ‘extruded’ for me evokes Prem Krismamurthy’s design for the Paper Monument edition of The Miraculous, which adapts the very extruded looking font used in a 1974 paperback translation of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities.

...These texts are encountered amongst the building; fixed onto the table artists sit at, found in the meeting room where the charity’s Trustees and staff meet, and stuck to a bookshelf housing reference material for exhibitions. Rubinstein’s prose announces the work of a dozen artists’ in the corridors and workspaces where studio holders, members, education groups, exhibition visitors and staff travel through and work in each day. [2]

Affective gestures 

“In 1979, an artist decides to shake hands with every employee of the New York City Sanitation Department. It takes her eleven months and two days to shake the hands of all 8,500 workers.” [3]

Situated in the entrance corridor past the reception desk, Rubinstein’s distilled account of Mirele Laderman Ukeles’ work, Touch Sanitation (1979-1980) foregrounds ideas of invisible, infrastructural and affective labour within the organisation. The text is printed on a luminous green fly poster, highlighting Ukeles’ acknowledgement of the sanitation workers who keep an entire city running. The glowing green print pasted to the wall relates Ukeles’ gesture to the often invisible labour supporting the daily functioning of the Sculpture Workshop. The text must be walked past to get to studios, workshops, toilets and public events, ensuring anyone who works in, or visits the building...

RR: Or whose job it is to keep the building clean and orderly. . .

...will be confronted with the component parts of Ukeles’ work. 

Placed at the entrance of the building Rubinstein’s subjective recounting of events can also evoke other readings. Ukeles’ shaking of hands speaks to the greetings and embraces made at the threshold of the building, to the touching of bodies and to conversations had there between strangers. 

RR: Suggests that my texts could be thought of as records of remarks or conversations that might have taken place in these spaces.

Suppression of names

Without explicit mention of Ukeles’ politics, her actions in relation to second wave feminism, her stance on affective labour or the artistic climate of early conceptual and performance art, or even her name, Rubinstein’s fable-like retelling draws out the essence of where these discourses around her work arise. The context of Ukeles’ work while never stated out-right in the text remains implicit by Rubinstein’s focus on the logistics of her action, which can never be completely separated from the circumstances surrounding it. If Rubinstein’s retelling of Ukeles’ work is politically quiet, it does directly point our attention to the radical work of an artist who ten years prior to embarking on Touch Sanitation, explicitly and confrontationally outlined her feminist politics in the text, MANIFESTO FOR MAINTENANCE ART 1969! Proposal for an exhibition “CARE”. [4] Here, and with all the matter-of-fact accounts in The Miraculous, the gaps in context and omission of artists’ names allow for a re-discovery and re-appraisal of their work. Not aiming to obscure authorship, the artists’ names are printed in large type as a key next to the lift on the first floor of the building. This gesture temporarily displaces the artists’ identities away from an encounter with their work and asks what can be understood from a focus on artistic activity rather than on its author. The key then acts as a departure point for the piecing together of the details of the artworks and events Rubinstein outlines by signposting—via the artists’ names—a route towards more familiar sources of art history. [5] 

Lunch, worktables and teaspoons

Further along the corridor, nearby in a communal space, a text charting the life and work of artist Daniel Spoerri is pasted flat to the surface of two adjacent trestle tables. [6] The words are read horizontally, printed with large black type on fluorescent orange paper announcing itself as the loud voice at the table. Its glare draws attention to the eating, reading, working and conversation happening around the workshop tables. 

The placement parallels Spoerri’s consideration of his table and its surroundings as a focus of his artworks. Rubinstein’s writing affixed to the tabletop allows another layer of objects, their marks, stains, remains and spillages to be placed directly on top of a reading of Spoerri’s work, echoing the novelist Georges Perec’s suggestion to “Question your tea spoons.” The reading of Spoerri’s work on the tabletop invites an enquiry into the objects—and their histories—found upon it. Spoerri and Perec propose that by inspecting the materiality of our immediate surroundings we see how everyday uses of objects and routine decisions have implications and connections to the wider social and political circumstances in which we live and work. [7]

Design and authorship

In a project that traverses the conventional roles of artist and designer, Dyer and Redmond in conversation with Rubinstein, discussed the relevance of the selected texts to their siting within the building. Subtly exposing the added layer of authorship their involvement within the project brings, the designers have underlined and circled phrases and dates from the texts. These annotations help to destabilise our reading of The Miraculous, questioning the validity of Rubinstein’s—and in turn art history’s—versions of events surrounding artists’ lives and works.

Dyer and Redmond have inserted graphics around their layout of type. Abstracted images of objects photographed at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop, draw attention to the texture and shape of materials mid-production and further ground Rubinstein’s words to the function and activity of the Workshop. Stacks of cut wood appear as cross sections of architecture; a bird’s-eye view of a carved stone boulder conveys weight, while a tight crop of a gloopy sculpture echoes Rubinstein’s description of John Latham’s infamous artwork Art and Culture (1966-69). The designers’ image elicits the gloopy aftermath of Latham’s event, where accompanied by his colleagues, students and friends the artist chewed up a copy of Clement Greenberg’s book of art criticism, masticating it to pulp.

Public space

Further on, running up the three-metre height of the edge of a column, facing into the middle of the open aired courtyard, a tall thin fly poster describes Marta Minujín’s monumental public sculpture Parthenon of Books (1983). 

Emphasising the height of the sculpture, Dyer and Redmond’s design tilts the reader’s head up and bows it down again as the sentences are followed to the ground...

RR: So different from how a reader would address this text within the pages of a book. This is true, of course, of the entire project, but especially here, I think.

...Rubinstein’s words delineate the scale and materials of the Parthenon of Books. We are told the sculpture was made from around 30,000 books hung on metal scaffolding that were banned by the military dictatorship that governed Argentina between 1976 and 1983. The description constructs Minujín’s sculpture in the Workshop courtyard; a space sufficient in size to accommodate her artwork, allowing it to be built up, placed there and undone again in the mind of the viewer.

“After the structure has been on display for three weeks, the artist invites the public to dismantle it. Climbing up tall ladders that have been provided, and assisted by cranes, men and women enthusiastically help themselves to the previously unavailable books, publications that might have been their owners’ death warrants had they been discovered by the secret police during the so-called dirty war.” [8]

Rubinstein’s recounting of this event now towers up in public space, bringing an artwork that took place over thirty-three years ago in close proximity to a vast outdoor workshop area in Edinburgh. Minujín’s heavily politicised work is now transposed to a site of production where artists make work of varying scales, using a breadth of materials and with a range of intentions. The juxtaposition of Minujín’s work (along with all the texts sited in the building) questions the unknown implications of work in progress, of what agency a work will have in or past its site of production.

Held and lost

“An artist in his mid-30s decides his next work will consist of sailing solo across the Atlantic Ocean.” [9]

Moving through the building visitors are invited to pick up and take away a retelling of Bas Jan Ader’s mythical final artworks from a ream of paper copies a little bigger than the size of a book page. Rubinstein’s recounting of Ader’s last artworks are typeset on prints that will be folded into pockets and bags and travel outwith the building. His short prose describes Ader’s distribution of postcards sent to friends showing him ‘convulsed in tears’ and the irretrievable loss of his attempted transatlantic voyage, to which he gave the title In Search of the Miraculous (1975). [10] Resonating with the form of Ader’s mail outs and his disappearance at sea, his story will be dispersed, move between hands and find home, or rest in untraceable places.

It is not inconsequential that In Search of the Miraculous gives its title to Rubinstein’s collection of writing. Like Ader’s work, all the extraordinary feats undertaken by artists that Rubinstein retells, exist aptly in language and circulate by story and rumour... 

RR: Originally I borrowed Ader’s entire title for my book (cf. the French edition, which precedes the Paper Monument edition), and only shortened it to The Miraculous (which I think works much better for my book) at the suggestion of the editors at Paper Monument (Dushko Petrovich and Roger White).

....The agility of language and its ability to conjure ephemeral objects and events, in one moment, forgotten in the next, is sympathetic to Ader who sought out the intangible essence of experience in the unknown and transient. His attempt to sail across the Atlantic, held perilously on its waves in a ‘twelve-and-a-half-feet-long’ boat finds fitting form among a selection of stories that attempt to chart the extremes of human endeavour.
The text and the building
“A simple announcement can open new demographic possibilities, may redirect attention and awareness, invite a pause, introduce a value, an imagery or a range of colours.” [11] 

In his essay On Imaginative Space, poet Thomas A. Clark imbues the spoken and written word with the ability to imaginatively transform space, asserting that “places are not as they appear to be but as they are imagined or declared to be.”

In The Miraculous the activity of a dozen artists is announced in the workspaces, corridors and exterior walls of Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop through the filter of Rubinstein’s concise prose and Dyer and Redmond’s responsive design. Questioning the primacy of encounter, the project renders a secondary experience—in imaginative space—of artworks and events that occurred in the history of art’s recent past. The texts presented on the walls, windows, tables and shelves of the building, proposes that the artworks they describe share the possibility to be conjured present day in the imagination as an equally relevant encounter to that of experiencing them first hand.

The circumstances of artists’ lives are retold, their politics reintroduced and the encounter with them reshaped by their relationship to the physical spaces in which they are read. Removed from the mess, instability and uncertainty of their production, the works described are now represented in language as complete. Over the duration of the exhibition, the project seeks to question how the tales written and the artworks they evoke will affect the psychology of the place in which they are read. In Clark’s terms, the prints affixed to the walls, windows and tables throughout the building have the ability to ‘redirect attention’ as inspiration to alternative possibilities, ‘invite a pause’ as provocation to perceived ways of thinking and ‘introduce a value’ into existing ways of making.

Peter Amoore
 is an artist and curator based in Edinburgh. He is assistant curator at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop where he is programming the series of exhibitions, 'On an otherwise ordinary evening'. Between 2012 and 2016 he was a committee member of the artist-run gallery and studio project Rhubaba where he worked collaboratively to programme the exhibitions and events alongside running the studios.

Published as part of 'Endnotes', a series of online and printed commissions edited by Suzanne van der Lingen and Claire Walsh, MAP: Footnoting the Archive 2016. Contact to receive a copy of the limited edition printed publication. Also available from Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop and the Edinburgh Art Festival Kiosk throughout Edinburgh Art Festival 2016. 

[1] In June 2016, Raphael Rubinstein (RR) responded to Amoore's text.

[2] Upon seeing the extruded type on the cover of Paper Monument’s edition of The Miraculous (designed by Project Projects) artist Sarah Tripp made the following connection: she compared the idea of exploding pages out from the book, turning them into an installation mimicking the collapse and expantion that occurs in writing. She articulated how physical objects and situations are flattened into two dimensions by their description, set in type onto the page, and then pulled out again in their reading. This was accompanied by hand gestures that scrunched and squashed forms mimed in air into the thin space between two flattened hands. The hands separated out again, one representing the flattened form, while the other attempted to pull the form back out into three-dimensional space: a visual metaphor for the process of the project.

[3] Raphael Rubinstein, The Miraculous, (Paper Monument, 2014): p. 53

[4] The crux of Ukeles’ manifesto rages for maintenance in all its forms to be attributed cultural value, a position her subsequent artworks such as Touch Sanitation enact. “Maintenance is a drag; it takes all the fucking time (lit.)

The mind boggles and chafes at the boredom. The culture confers lousy status on maintenance jobs = minimum wages, housewives = no pay. Clean your desk, wash the dishes, clean the floor, wash your clothes, wash your toes, change the baby’s diaper, finish the report, correct the typos, mend the fence, keep the customer happy, throw out the stinking garbage, watch out don’t put things in your nose, what shall I wear, I have no sox, pay your bills, don’t litter, save string, wash your hair, change the sheets, go to the store, I’m out of perfume, say it again— he doesn’t understand, seal it again—it leaks, go to work, this art is dusty, clear the table, call him again, flush the toilet, stay young.” Mierle Laderman Ukeles, MANIFESTO FOR MAINTENANCE ART 1969! Proposal for an exhibition “CARE”, 1969. (Accessed 21/07/2016)

[5] The key in the exhibition is equivalent to the index of artists’ names found at the back of the book, The Miraculous. Of note is how this tactic is polarised in another of Rubinstein’s writing projects, an online blog of art criticism titled The Silo. It takes an opposite approach to The Miraculous by prioritising the artists’ names in its profile of their circumstances and artworks. The blog is “conceived as a personal, revisionist “dictionary” of contemporary art. Its primary aims are to challenge existing exclusionary accounts of art since 1960 and to offer a fresh look at some canonical artists.” Raphael Rubinstein, The Silo, 2010-ongoing. (Accessed 21/07/2016).

[6] Rubinstein recounts two such projects: Spoerri’s Snare-Pictures (c.1960s) where the artist stuck items leftover after meals directly to the tabletop before cutting its legs off and hanging it as a picture on the wall; and An Anecdoted Topography of Chance (1962) an artist book exhaustively mapping the foods and objects on his table revealing their provenance and connection to the friends who sat, ate and conversed around it.

[7] Georges Perec, ‘Approaches to What?’ in Species of Space and Other Pieces, (Penguin Classics, 2008): p. 210. Daniel Spoerri’s work is paralleled again in Perec’s essay ‘Notes Concerning the Objects that are on my Work-table’: “Thus a certain history of my tastes (their permanence, their evolution, their phases) will come to inscribed in this project. More precisely, it will be, once again, a way of marking out my space, a somewhat oblique approach to my daily practice, a way of talking about my work, about my history and my preoccupations, an attempt to grasp something pertaining to my experience, not at the level of its remote reflections, but at the very point where it emerges.” Perec, p. 147

[8] Rubinstein, p.15

[9] Rubinstein, p.66

[10] In contrast to Raphael’s selected version of events—which also manages despite its economical length to maintain the complexity of the circumstances around Ader’s final artworks—see art critic Jan Verwoert’s detailed account excerpted here: “In July 1975 Ader announced the Atlantic crossing in a bulletin published by his Amsterdam gallery Art & Project, in association with Claire Copley and the Groningen museum in Groningen, Holland—Ader’s native town, where all three parts of the project were to be shown after its completion. The bulletin contained the sheet music for the shanty A Life On The Ocean Wave and a black-and-white photograph of Ader in his tiny boat, facing away from the camera towards the horizon as if about to set course for the open sea. Here the title of the piece was given as In Search of the Miraculous (Songs for the North Atlantic: July 1975 — ). On the 9th of July 1975 Ader set sail from Cape Cod to cross the Atlantic in his one-man yacht, Ocean Wave.” Jan Verwoert, Bas Jan Ader: In search of the Miraculous, (Afterall Books: One Work Series, 2006): p. 2

In his book Verwoert recounts the little known fact that Ader’s artwork was intended to consist of three parts. The first, a night-time walk through Los Angeles to the Pacific Ocean, is documented in photographs with the words to the Coasters’ song Searchin’ written underneath them. The second was to be, the subsequently tragic, oceanic journey and the third was to be another nighttime walk, this time planned for Amsterdam after making land. Two months prior to announcing his trip, Ader exhibited his Los Angeles night walk photographs along with a recording of his students singing sea shanties in a solo show at Claire Copley Gallery in L.A.

[11] Thomas A. Clark, On Imaginative Space, (First published by Peninsula Gallery, 1998). (Accessed 10 May 2016). These words were formative to imagining the capacity for text to generate encounters with artworks that are to be thought on rather than looked upon.

Images: Raphael Rubinstein with Sophie Dyer and Maeve Redmond, The Miraculous, 2016. Photo by Graeme Yule