A shaped steel rod coated in modeling compound and pigment; two parallel strips of hand-dyed cotton connected by perpendicular hook-and-loop fastener bands. These material configurations describe discrete sculptures by Gordon Hall: “Companion Stool (2)” and “Two-Part Fold,” both 2022. Together, the artworks emulate the components of a commercial sex stool ergonomically designed to enhance the pleasure of coital activities. But these objects are not presented as a flat package with instructions for assembly. Apart, they are just that: parts. Neutered from sexual performance, they lay detached without apparent function on a gallery floor.
“TURN BACK,” Hall’s second solo show with Document, presents eleven seemingly incomplete objects. Far from unfinished or unthought, the object surfaces are scrupulously worked over: finely sanded, crisply painted or fastidiously marked with drawing implements. And though works initially appear scattered, they are carefully arranged to direct how viewers interact within the space. The pieces exude a potential to be more than they already are; they gesture to something else.
A formal resonance with product prototypes underpins the installation’s provisional character. “Belt,” 2022—a cartoonish paper sash colored with black pencil—looks like an accessory mock-up. Likewise, the blocky torso of “Horizontal Panel (Tank Top),” 2022, evokes a sewing pattern. Adjacent to these sartorial propositions, other works reference interior fixtures: “Turned Leg,” 2022, imitative of Victorian cottage-style design, resembles a spindle ready to be joined with a bed frame; blanketed in graphite and topped with a circular painting of a fabric sample, the leg possesses a sketchy quality that undermines the sturdiness of its underlying lathe-shaped form.
The body that uses these objects is implicit in this paraphrasing of wearables and furniture. Hall often makes objects for performances, responding to and rearranging works over a time-bound period. This practice engages a history of object and performance, epitomized by the afterlife of action-based art of the sixties and seventies. In the wake of these time-based interventions, absent spectators and institutions latched onto the physical debris: props, ephemera, photo and video. This documentation came to stand in for and even replace the live performance as works of art presented in galleries. The ascendancy of collateral vis-à-vis its performance led to a critical reevaluation of what constituted performance and, more broadly, what constituted art. Conceptual art’s positioning of ideas as paramount to the physical actualization of an artwork supported this turn: an artwork can be a thought. Here, in a LeWittian pivot, it is as if Hall argues that performance-related objects need no performance to constitute objects related to performance. In the present show, no performance initiates the presence of these objects, and no activation is promised, save for the tacit positioning of the viewer as someone who acts around the work in space. In the absence of performance, what might these objects be substitutes for?
Perhaps the works can be read as records of their own making. Two artworks explicitly recall documentation: a photo transfer, “TURN BACK (Rubbing),” and a looped video projection, “March, 4 pm,” both 2022. Moreover, the grisaille palette of the exhibition echoes paintings of sculpture copied in grayscale. It is as if these works are artifacts of a process which has already happened. As the exhibition title suggests, Hall’s work is at a remove, or a step back, grounded in the craft that precedes both performance and object. Marked by medium non-specificity, in which other media—painting, drawing, photography and video—hide behind the form of sculpture, the objects suggest that they are still being fleshed out. Positioned as remnants of a studio practice, they become documents of an often-missed performance: the work in progress.
“TURN BACK” is on view at Document, 1709 West Chicago, through October 29.