Céline Condorelli’s book, Support Structures, is a manual, but in truth it is also a compendium. It gathers together a broad variety of essays, images and small works that address the notion of support in cultural practice; the book as a whole is the culmination of a collaborative project entitled Support Structures, undertaken by Condorelli and the artist-curator Gavin Wade between 2003 and 2009.
This relationship is important. The support they provide for each other is mirrored on a larger scale throughout the book and that’s manifested in the way in which the book is compiled. The text is divided into eleven sections and the beginning of each is marked with a red title page. Documentation from the longer Support Structures project is reproduced on darker yellow paper and the front cover is itself a contents page. In keeping with the spirit of the project though there are two, more detailed contents pages further in, while across the book there are a variety of other paper stocks in use—a bible light paper with red ink text for the ‘Directions for Use’, a glossy heavier stock for colour photos and perforated pages for the game, ‘Fluffers II’, to be cut up and removed for play. All of these decisions support the reader and structure navigation of the various texts and works, enacting the subject under investigation.
The architecture of the book is further buttressed by a series of key essays scattered throughout. Each offers a substantial analysis of ‘support’ in all its different manifestations and through a judicious choice of writers, Condorelli has assembled a very valuable series of texts that take the original subject as a starting point and move into other, unexpected fields of interest. In ‘On Support’ Mark Cousins begins with this observation:
‘Almost all speculative books on politics and political theory seem to me to make a very startling omission: while political theorists are very much in favour of things called principles, when looking through histories of political discourse or theory, the entry ‘negotiation’ does not appear. That is very strange… Negotiation, I would like to propose it the most repressed element about the idea of democracy…’
From there he goes on to discuss scaffolding, the Berlin Wall, the welfare state and Jacque Derrida’s thinking on the supplement. An essay of this calibre from someone as incisive as Cousins is worth the price of admission alone. It’s followed though by equally strong contributions from others, with highlights such as Jan Verwoert on personal support, caring and the economy of debt in artists’ dedications of their work; Andrea Phillips on political support, democracy and participation in the public sphere; and Eyal Weizman and Rony Brauman on refugee camps.
These discursive foundations are supported by a series of interventions by artists such as Rirkrit Tiravanija, Gareth Jones, Lucy Kimbell and Lilly Reich and by a documentation of older works such as ‘Food’ by Gordon Matta-Clark or ‘World Game’ by Buckminster Fuller. Throughout everything runs a thread of text works by Lawrence Weiner (one literally running through Mark Cousins’ essay), supporting and bracing each section of the book. Weiner also contributes what may be a cornerstone of the entire edifice in his ‘Notes on and About Art’ stating that ‘if and when a presentational system cannot support a work of art then the work of art must erect a structure capable of supporting itself’. Weiner proposes that ‘perhaps the dialectic with the culture concludes as the system of support changes’.
Condorelli and Wade’s investigations could be assessed in the light of that argument as they explore the constantly mutating means of support in cultural practice. They enthusiastically view the book as a ‘collective construction site’ and that openness is reflected in the paradoxical nature of the book’s architecture in which everything appears as a support or supplement while at the same time providing the core content. The constant mutation support that they uncover is something that is just as repressed as the subject of negotiation noted by Cousins.
For artists and curators, in particular, this is a key issue. The relationship between a curator or institution and an artist can be crucial to the development and successful presentation of a new work. That situation can vary radically from one space to the next and as cultural practice mutates the negotiation between artist, curator, gallery and audience must be reviewed and revised. In Scotland, with the gradual emergence of the funding body Creative Scotland, this issue is even more pronounced and demands an examination of the possible negotiation of support for creative practices and the ways in which this can be a mutual process. In the frontispiece to Support Structures Pinocchio meets a Fox and Cat: ‘The lame Fox leaned on the Cat, and the blind Cat let the Fox lead him along, so that no one knew who was helping whom.’ And on the final page of the book the Fox reappears to explain, ‘We do not work for gain… We only work to enrich others.’ ‘What good people,’ thought Pinocchio to himself, ‘Let us go. I am with you.’
Francis McKee is director of the Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow