There is something sinister about reversed playback. It most likely relates to the sense that the contrary running of causality, which sucks the present into the past, builds monsters. Sometimes they find physical form: such as the apparent demonic voices that escape when certain records are played backwards, or in the image of being pursued through a persistent twilight by a ravenous garbage truck. But these aural and visual effects are symptomatic of a deeper unravelling. The recorded medium has voodoo qualities, which can generate a curse that is capable of infecting any living presence. William Burroughs was convinced of this and thought the process of recording and playback in a particular location was capable of unleashing this curse in virus form. To demonstrate this use of playback as a weapon he targeted The Moka Bar, an espresso café in Soho, London. The justification for this attack was cited as surly staff and a dubious cheesecake. The effects were terminal: The Moka Bar was rendered inert, its clientele deserted, it closed down a couple of months later and was replaced by the Queens Snack Bar.
Burroughs’s literalisation of the effects of re-presentation belongs to an apparent fear incumbent upon humanity that the image necessarily depletes the original. But this approach to sampling, this imposing of death through the fragmenting of the source and its reinsertion within itself, exists beyond theory into practice. And the presence of death, but also regeneration, seems to pervade Sigurdsson’s exhibition. The disparate elements are presented as ritualisations of finality. At points this is overtly expressed through the monuemtalisation of garbage and its social infrastructure, or by the appearance in the gallery of a closed-down, but soon to be reincarnated, shop (complete with a cryptic message in its window which curiously conflates consumerism and religion). Though evident in such particulars, the work should be considered as a totality; the exhibition’s meta-structure exists as a parallax of ritual and gesture, which moves to a point of transcendence.
Perhaps a caveat or warning should be inserted here: logic is a dangerous thing. It inhabits the world as a passive but pervasive presence, a summation of the ways in which things stand in relation to one another. The structures that hold everything as everything are fundamentally transparent only being made visible through rationality. Like Burroughs’s suggests maybe we don’t, or even can’t, know all of those logical relations or exactly how they pertain to the objects of the world. And so the progress of science in obviating the ritualised everyday practices causes certain logical relations to be missed. Yet thankfully we persist with them, we continue in such mundane magic by avoiding walking under ladders, and by uttering blessings when someone sneezes, to prevent the devil from entering their souls. So in our actions we are not completely deferent to the known rational logic structures but nor do we disregard them. This exhibition revels in this healthy irreverence. Take for example the anagrammatic reorientation of the gallery artists’ names as they are printed in the window space. What is more of a marker of the individual than their name? It is our individual being made into language, a person in word form. With each twist and turn of the repositioned letters and names, identity gets entangled. What makes this mild intervention more troubling is the residue of the initial name that is retained and struggles to be seen under the confusion. It is not a blanket destruction of the name as a signifier; rather it entraps the individual either within their own name or entwines it with another. And, in effect, populates the gallery inventory with a horde of nearly real artists.
Sigurdsson use and understanding of gesture and ritual, has a subtlety in approach. The captivating properties of the individual works appear to carefully conceal a strategy that Burroughs’s would undoubtedly approve. The seduction of the images and objects entice our gaze through a benign presence which ultimately entraps us within. For instance, what harm can an inkblot do? Its ‘accidental’ appearance may be thought to ensure ambivalence of meaning and effect. It could be imagined that this is what Rorschach was relaying on when his subjects first encountered those curious forms. It is not the sort of test that is possible to get ‘wrong’ but as such the psychoanalyst — convinced of its validity — uses it to uncover the logical patterning of the subject’s consciousness. The image is a probe to uncover the psyche and here – with the Delivery System garbage ‘inkblot’, the neutrality intentionally compromised — we can gaze on the detritus of the everyday and see incredible forms emerge. The caution to be exercised, and the risk that the psychoanalysts exploited, is our ability to spontaneously see form, connection and meaning in unrelated phenomena. This process of apophenia, that is the fallacious extrapolation to conclusions of connections that are beyond the evidence, is precisely the trap for any attempted explanation of the functioning of ritual and magic. But perhaps magic and ritual is operating outside of verifiable rationale. The Scottish psychiatrist, R.D. Laing, hinted at this possibility, in considering the relational actions of schizophrenics to the world. Laing questioned the possibility of their actions not simply being the result of crazed delusions but rather an appreciation of connectivity within the world that rationality blinded us to.
So this leaves us with the question of what we see in Sigurdsson’s garbage-blot, and wider, what do we understand in this accumulation in the gallery as a total? What does Sigurdsson’s magic aim at? Perhaps the answer can be traced through one series of works so far only alluded to; the fabric canvases created from the material from which garbage collectors and other public services workers uniforms are made. These can be partially understood within the art historical context of Neo-Geo (the art movement linked to NYC in the 1980s around Peter Halley, Ashley Bickerton et al.) that developed a style which exploited colourful yet prosaic geometric arrangements. Their uncompromised aesthetic often developed from existing systems such as printed circuit boards. But Sigurdsson is not interested in utilising an arbitrary system, as say Halley would have, but instead uses the actual materials which in themselves contain a codification that identifies it to a very particular systemised aspect of humanity: waste processing. And in turn there is a direct connection to other works by Sigurdsson that reference the process of garbage accumulation and disposal both in this exhibition and in previous work (such as the garbage bag photography series from 2004). These build to generate an understanding of the specific extensions that originate in the ritualistic practises of consumerism and progress through the garbage management process to the final, literal, creation of new landscapes. Yet Sigurdsson approach is the initiation of an aesthetic inversion, where the waste and its processes becomes fetishised, making our own detritus, which is usually considered repulsive, unexpectedly reveal its beauty that lurks within. This looping of cause and effect unravels the functional conduit which underlies the consumerist ritual, a process that requires regular purging to create the space to start accumulation afresh. Within this context, garbage disposal and waste management processes take on mythic proportions. It becomes a system for recurrent cleansing that is unlike the Christian confession, which atones the sins, in that this purging operates only as a domestic stocktaking to make more space for new purchasing opportunities. The unspoken facilitator within this cycle of purchasing fetishism is the garbage heap, a silent witness to the continual process of acquiring and disposing, that becomes an object of confused wonderment and a new, continually morphing, landscape. These mounds on the peripheries of our towns stand as monuments to this process and are literally compressions of our aspirations and dreams as represented through this consumerism.
The magic of Sigurdsson’s work is not only about a re-contextualisation of different forms but of a seeking to invest and uncover new or latent unstable meanings. The work as a whole rewires the apparent connectivity of the world, to materially and conceptually infect systems of logic. Sigurdsson is a sly magician. His evocation of forms, systems and cultural detritus draw out a series of speculative relationships that exult in their uncorroborated and extrapolated connectivity, to exploit the nascent desire within us to comprehend the world as behaving as a unified whole. Thus Sigurdsson makes use of that hazy area where rationality fails to find the logic. The result being that the exhibition takes us on an excursion into the unexpectedly near margins of common day magic through which it develops a nexus to question the nature of our attitudes towards systems of meaning. Individually the works have a subtle potency yet in concert they unmask the moulding of the causal functionality of the world. Yet strangely in an exhibition populated with so much waste and finality the possibility of transcendence is perpetually near, rebirth, rewiring and renegotiation allows a sidestepping of condemnation. Which ends with the questionable possibility that we may even know who ‘nroh nirak’ could be .
-Gavin Morrison, 2005