Last summer David Bellingham provided an end page for the journal Art & Research . Handwritten in white on blue was this statement: ‘I don’t know about research/I’m just searchin’. The modesty of the statement (indeed, of the work itself), and its pointed relationship to the context in which it was enunciated, are indicative of Bellingham’s ability to make far-reaching propositions about art and its place in the world with very economical means. Bellingham’s statement recalls, Bas Jan Ader’s poetic 1973 work ‘In Search of the Miraculous (One Night In Los Angeles)’, in which 14 photographs of the artist wandering through the city are captioned with lyrics from a Coasters song – ‘Yeh, I’ve been searchin’ / I’ve been searchin’ / Oh yeh, searchin’ every which way…’.
Like Ader, Bellingham has a gift for gleaning the comic and poignant from ostensibly conceptual concerns. His exhibition at the Changing Room certainly achieves this via an impressively diverse array of sculptures, photographs, wall texts, collages and artist’s books. Taken in isolation some of these pieces run the risk of seeming to be merely oneliners, but Bellingham consistently sets up dialogues between works, inviting us to think over the resonances of each. This approach is also evident in Fresh Fruit and Tables, a book published by the gallery and distributed free during September as part of Stirling’s Off the Page book festival.
Central to the show is ‘Monument’—stacks of bound copies of the Stirling Journal and Advertiser from 1852 to 1968 presented as they were found in a local archive. Two black and white photographs record their previous archival location and their displacement in transit to the gallery, while a small wall-mounted drawing counts off the years covered. The piece itself oscillates between a plausibly sculptural, minimalist presence and a decidedly unmonumental ephemerality—the stacked, serial, cubic arrangement undercut by its lowly ‘plinth’ of a wooden pallet, the decorative bindings and the tatty, yellowed newsprint.
If this work addresses a specific geographical and historical manifestation of ‘print-capitalism’, Licence to Print/Licence to Read, an edition of 500 free pamphlets, recalls the wider history of publishing, and marks the 500th anniversary of the first book printed in Scotland.
Whilst ‘Monument’ measures historical time, other works subvert the very idea of measurement. In the spirit of Duchamp’s ‘Three Standard Stoppages’, and of Robert Morris’s re-workings of them, two sculptures, each entitled ‘End to End’ and each consisting of a Vernier gauge holding a stick, pit systems of measurement against intransigently unquantifiable material.
‘Subject and Image’, a Box Brownie camera on a tripod facing a silver-plated bronze cast of the same model, exemplifies Bellingham’s aptitude for establishing telling ‘echoes’ between one object and another. The mechanics of photography, its appropriation as fine art, the phenomenology of viewing its sets up, are evoked in a piece which refrains from illustrating them.
Rather, allows the viewer space to think through the implications for themselves. Outside the gallery itself, an easily missed wall text slips an ‘l’ (as if rectifying its omission) between the last two letters of ‘word’.
The place of language in the world, and the world’s place in language, seem to be central issues for Bellingham. His own artistic language is worldly without being world weary: knowing humour deployed to provoke reflection on artistic, cultural, and political problematics.
Dominic Paterson is a lecturer at Glasgow University