Mardi Crocker. 2016. Indulgent organic. Oil on board. 25 x 20 cm.
The bathroom is a paradoxical place, a reflective and glossy room that is the site of our more abject expulsions. The clean white or beige tiles and glass give the appearance of a façade, behind which hides the system to which all its orifices direct themselves. Sewerage, as Phillipe Parreno says, is how people have ‘rationalised their relationship to their waste’ (Parreno, Ulrich Obrist. 2008)and it has resulted in people redesigned cities according to plumbing needs. It is, however, the very form of the bathroom that preoccupies Mardi Crocker in Loyalty to the thing – particularly the bottles and plastic packaging that inhabit it.
Mardi Crocker. 2016. Loyalty to the thing. Install shot. image courtesy of the artist.
Roland Barthes, in Mythologies insists on plastic as a ‘disgraced material’ in the ‘hierarchy of major poetic substances’, its ‘hollow and flat’ sound ‘best reveals it for what it is’ (Barthes, 1993). It is malleable, dissolving with heat and its absence of character allowing it to be formed in any manner, and. Vacuum cast into various shapes and figures. Yet this is the world we inhabit. Our being is itself moulded by plastics, or has plastics moulded around it (‘we are told, they are beginning to make plastic aortas’ (Barthes, 1993). But something else: René Descartes wax argument: That the only essential characteristic of bodies is their extension. That the mutability of things is the basis of their essence; unlike Barthes’ simple undermining of its character, plastic is, like wax, a soundless material (and one that fluctuates more readily than his own devotion to his certainties). Yet we know that even metal and glass melt. It is what makes them useful. Even Barthes acknowledges plastic’s quality: ‘more than a substance, plastic is the idea of its infinite transformation’ (Barthes, 1993). His denigration is unwarranted.
Mardi Crocker. 2016. Loyalty to the thing. Install shot. Courtesy of the artist.
If I can draw a long bow: what is paint if not unformed earth? Does it not have the quality of transformation too (at least until set into its final form)? It has a character, but the character that is most conducive is its character of not yet being fixed – of its ability to become something else. There is a reciprocation between these things: That there is a constancy to the material of formlessness between plastic and paint, that yet finally fix themselves into rounded, shaped containers. What is it that these containers thus presented hold? They give the impression of being empty, holding nothing but themselves.
Robert Irwin, in Seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees mentions an experience that is similar to looking at Crocker’s work. He talks about the abstract expressionist obsession with ‘power’ and how to get power from a work – something that normally involves a great deal of scale – he then recalls an experience where he went to an art gallery, and was blown away, not by a grand large-scale painting, but by a small painting he saw in the corner: a Phillip Guston. The same words could be employed when looking at Crocker’s work: it is similarly diminutive in scale yet powerfully attractive. As many gaps as you can find within them, it is unimportant to their incredible qualities. Why her show was a one-night-only, and her focus on form to the elision of other pertinent issues surrounding our intimate domestic spaces remain unanswered, and perhaps never will be. One can imagine, like Giorgio Morandi, that Crocker could paint the same set of plastic tubs for the rest of her life, and still find something incredible in them.
Along with Morandi, the other most visible lineage of Crocker’s work is Vija Celmins (who was a pupil of Robert Irwin’s at one stage) – Morandi’s choice of subject appears most related to Crocker’s inquiry, but Celmins is perhaps closer to the less quantitative and more qualitative examination that Crocker puts forward of these objects. Morandi’s work sometimes seems to be merely using the cups and bowls and jugs as placeholders for something else – in his case, paint. Crocker and Celmins however, share an interest in the nature of poetic things – Celmins of photographs, Crocker of objects and the domestic space of the bathroom. Though they claelry have wildly divergent styles, Celmins and Crocker both share a certain sensitivity for the minutiae of the banal.
Mardi Crocker. 2016. Milk and honey. Oil on board. 25 x 20 cm. Image courtesy of the artist.
There is something in her work that is absent however – it is the branding and labelling that typically covers the objects of a bathroom. What does this elision mean? It clearly presents the focus as being one of form rather than the particularities of popular culture and advertising. What are the operations of something like this? It seems like a denial of the commercial in favour of the forms it has created. If Crocker’s practice looks into the overlooked, why does it in turn overlook what is an undeniable part of the object? Is it too loud? Is the branding too much an obvious part of the thing? Do we not live in a world that people are advertised to–and this is not a world with Nivea and Dove imprinted onto the bars of soap in our bathrooms? Despite this gap, the work none-the-less impresses deeply with its use of paint, its qualities, and its dedication to the most mundane of things.
Barthes, Roland. 1993. Mythologies. Translated by Annette Lavers. London: Vintage.
Descartes, René. 1960. Meditations on first philosophy. Translated by Lawrence J. Lafleur. Indianapolis, Ind : Bobbs-Merrill.
Irwin, Robert; Weschler, Lawrence. c2008. Seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees: over 30 years of conversations. Berkley: University of California Press.
Parreno, Phillipe; Ulrich Obrist, Hans. 2008. The conversation series: Phillipe Parreno, Hans Ulrich Obrist. Köln: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König.
by Graham Mathwin