Gimpel fils and Ceal Floyer's Helix (2) 2002
It's the party for the 60th anniversary of Gimpel Fils tonight and it's really hot. Really too hot. And it's especially hot downstairs, which is a real pain because not only is the bar down there (oh no), but Ceal Floyer's Helix (2) 2002, is down there too and it's one of my favourite pieces of work. That's it at the top of this posting. Good, huh? Great, yes? Yes.
I love this piece. I am more than glad to suffer the heat to be able to look at this close up. I've seen photos of other versions of this that she has done. Click here for the other 2002 edition and here for the 2003 edition. I don't know if she's done any more than these three. There's very little information on this piece out there.
For me, it's the best piece she's done.
This is the deal. She begins with a plastic template which has a series of different sized holes cut through it. It is, quite simply, a tool for drawing circles. It's the sort of thing I had at school. I think 'Helix' is actually the name of the company that produce it, because I'm sure I've seen the word 'Helix', in that self same logo, on a ruler. I could be wrong. But no matter. Ceal calls the piece 'Helix' and that's good enough for me. And Ceal has filled every one of the circles cut into this piece of stationery with some object. Whatever fits that exact circle is used. A toothpaste tube, a Pritt stick, two different sorts of batteries, a candle, a roll of tape, a tablet...there must be about 30 different sized circles and objects.
And all of the objects have a patina of autobiography. But Ceal doesn't give much away. It's tantalizing because of its lack of real personal detail. But it's also comforting in its use of such recognisable and familiar objects. There are a couple of things that I can't name, but it occurs to me that they are those odd, orphaned pieces of detritus that love to hide at the bottom of drawers or shoeboxes, receptacles of the uncertain bits and pieces in life which we fail to throw away. It's just such a beautiful and quietly brutal way to present a picture of a life. Whether she thinks of it in these terms I don't know, but certainly very few, if any, of her other works include anything like as much of a sniff of her life's detail. It is so rigorous and unflinching a piece. I stand and look at it for ages.
Eventually, I take a break and go upstairs for a bit. The drinks are now being filled by staff carrying bottles. They instantly become the most popular people in the room.
I see Martha Pym from the ICA there with Marcus Sweeney. Martha used to work in this gallery years ago when she was fifteen. It was scandalous apparently, and quite an education for such a delicate flower like Martha. Nowadays she works as PA to Ekow Eshun at the ICA. That's gotta be even more scandalous, surely, I say, but, dammit, she's very discreet...
I decide I can't really take much more of a posh gallery in this kind of heat so push myself to have one last look at Ceal's work. I stand looking at it, sweating. It must have taken such a long time to complete, an obsessive period of looking investigatively at each and every circular thing that was in her life. It's almost painful.
It refuses to give anything away. It doesn't change, doesn't get deeper, doesn't reveal anything further. It fascinates me. It is so completely what it is and resolutely so much more that lies just beyond any really satisfying understanding. It is formal and unforgiving and a small, largely unsuccessful, attempt at controlling the whole day to day chaos we all live in.
Or a tiny, almost pathetic, attempt to find some kind of meaning.