Leave Now, Before It's Too Late

Ross Sinclairís Internationalism

by Liam Gillick


Scenario number one.

Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenia. Part of a new Europe and an old sensibility. Wine, writers and a self proclaimed lack of geographically specific local food specialities. That could be modesty. It has been said that the people have some irony yet believe in the power of pictures, and it seems that way. As soon as an opportunity for independence was revealed, amid the turmoil of letting the rest of former Yugoslavia get on with maiming itself, Slovenia reverted to something it had never been. A sort of Democracy. A small place. Like a second Switzerland caught between Italy, Austria and warring factions. Mountains, wine, art and free-markets. Sounds familiar. So if you want to understand something interesting about the way countries can develop then it is essential to visit such a place. International flights used to go there but now the traffic has dwindled. When Yugoslavia was singular rather than multiple, the big airlines were shared out between the main cities. Now most of them fly straight past. Watch the developments take place and the smaller planes land. Try to understand the power of pictures. Apparently experience can be flattened. And at a certain point it is necessary to make your way to the nearest Irish bar. Thereís always one. And there sitting, not exactly alone, but essentially isolated, is a large man. Fairer than the rest and nursing something more than a drink. This man looks familiar. Not a friend or acquaintance, but culturally familiar. So why not ask him some basic questions? No reply. And then a glance down. A look to the left. Back to the eyes. Just for a fraction of a second. "Leave her, before itís too late. Get out, get away. Donít linger".

Irony? Wise after the fact? From the new Switzerland? Itís not bad here, it could even be one of the best places. So why? Thereís a twinkle in the eye. He half means it and half hates himself for meaning it. Caught in the middle. Another pioneer. Brought in to build the railway. Construct the roads. Invent something and improvise. In another context it could have been Ross Sinclair.

Wanting to be there, on the inside but always facing up to the reality of what that might provoke. The obligations and the pride. This was not an Irish man. It was a warning to those foolish enough to always want to be off. Arecoginition that it is his role to be in transit but always forced to act like he belongs to another place. Like sitting on the edge of a craggy mountain-side, naked from the waist up. Singing to the landscape. Ross Sinclair has done this and it provokes a combination of warning, pride, ridicule and sympathy. Yet take away the specific references and things start to become clear.


Scenario number two.

A man sits in a room with a friend. They go through a number of musical riffs. Try to pick up a song where they can. And itís not as if they canít. Part of the fascination is with witnessing a near thing. The whole process leads to time consuming work-outs, frustrating pauses and moments of groove. All of this is punctuated by wall writing. You canít really use the word graffiti to describe these curt texts. More like taking a pause to scrawl on the wall. But somehow neatly and responsibly done, less artful than street writing. It makes you think of a Godard movie, but without the short hair and cigarettes. Here too is legibility but undermined by the roughness of video-8. It all looks as if it is supposed to look like the kind of behaviour that is familiar from bedrooms all over the westernised world, but incorporating a revelation of process that is somewhat professionalised, carried out with more qualification and substantially more technique than most can muster. There is a deeply felt sense of moral obligation somewhere here, among the wreckage of familiar songs. Yet itís still a work-out. Not endless but if feels a little that way. A different kind of endless to the usual encounter with an artistís attempt at profoundity. There are highs and lows, some bits are better than others. Never mind. A better attempt might be along in a minute. Just come and go, look then look away. This is a soundtrack for living. This is real life. We have all been witnesses to this kind of activity Ė falling between indulgence, pleasure and a sense of time being occupied. Yet this is more than generic, and goes further than documentation. We are witnessing the creation of a series of situations predicated upon an understanding of the importance of the present and the recent past rather than the transcendental. Watch some more of the video. The interesting thing about Ross Sinclairís cultural production, for it is too limiting to talk only of art here, is that it is essentially international. Not internationalist in the sense of an earlier utopian sense of cultural community but multi-national in contemporary way. This might seem tricky in light of his appearance and some of his work, but it is not just a question of thinking about the implications of a hefty Glasgwegian dread. We must look at structure. He has proposed a series of situations and propositions that are best understood in the context of the way art developed in the early 1990s beyond the scope of the parochial and provincial. The whole thingís a reality show. All of this is rooted in a decision to turn back to art-like activity after a period of pop-culture that allowed him to absorb and play with the best of the communication devices that are so familiar from music and packaged sub-cultures. He has proceeded to apply some of those strategies to the art world. He is not alone in this cross-over mentality. Wolfgang Tillmanís photographic images. Carsten Hollerís scientific training. Philippe Parrenoís combination of film sensibility with a desire to create events and Rirkrit Tiravanijaís creation of social space. And there are others , even closer to Sinclairís deliberately messed meandering. Artists from Scandinavia and California Ė France and Holland and very few from London. A whole webbed set of people attempting to go further than the presentation of mute objects and effects alone, but reluctant to use techniques of performance or film that appear now so mannered and precise. Maybe Sinclair is able to embrace apparent failure and pathos better than most, for he has spent time in that other world of engagement with a larger audience that artists both envy and deny. We are therefore faced by a peculiar combination of an earnest desire to "say something", in the manner of a guilty musician while understanding the difficulties that statements provoke; a lax ability to improvise, both literally and metaphorically and an ability to process and reorganise cultural markers and phenomena that are barely grasped by others who have never tasted the parallel world of mass communication through music. All of this is jumbled up with a pragmatism and touching melancholy that can seem peculiarly out of sync with appearances and production. Like that man in the Slovenian bar, Sinclair is called upon to solve some problems and happily arrives prepared to play the part, yet at all times there is the possibility that through the artifice he might tell you the truth, displayed through a shrug, a sigh or incisive complaint.

Consider this third scenario.

Peter Chetnik is a young man who went on holiday to Thailand. He was having a great time and visited lots of places worth visiting. But then the money ran out. Faced with loss of funds and an imagination fuelled by balmy nights, he decided he needed a serious plan. A set-up that would allow him to stay, but also to disappear. So he put together a ransom not that outlined his own kidnapping at the hands of a rebel groups and sent it to his parents. The details at this point get hazy. We do know that his parents released substantial amounts of money and then he asked for more. How the Thai authorities worked out that it was a fake abduction is not clear. Whatever the situation, Peter was found out. More accurately he was found to be living in some contentment at a seaside resort. Not kidnapped, never frog-marched or bundled into a car bott. Free to move. There is something here that leads you towards an understanding of Sinclairís work. An artist who has staged his own disappearance behind a mass of props and references, yet can easily be found alive and well, working away and even standing right in the middle of a situation. Dressed to stand out, yet the more he stands out the more you notice the attention to detail around him. Like Tiravanijaís early cooking, Sinclair puts himself at your service in order to get some reconsideration going. He knows that occasionally people are too embarrassed to watch as they look. It is this ability to subsume himself within a complex web of cultural production that aligns Sinclair most closely with the most interesting artists to emerge in the early Nineties. In terms of mainstream post-modernism Sinclair does away with dichotomies or witty turnarounds. There are few one liners because when there is humour it is over- or under-played to the point of collapse. There is a sense in which he is prepared to get lost inside other peopleís definitions, including those surrounding music maybe more than art. Many things he has tackled appear to be complete enough, but in terms of orthodox behaviour everything has loose ends and is frequently allowed to ramble. We are dealing with an artist who acknowledges the fact that resolving form and content got people too far and it is unlikely to aid further developments. Yet he still makes thing, still displays himself. Puts forward a kind of ego that is available for contemplation entertainment and projection of fantasy.

Scenario four.

A store in Cincinnati. Someone at some point, maybe 1968, decided it would be a good idea to open a clothing boutique in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio. Two men, into the things that had developed around different approaches to sex, drugs and music. They found a storefront and bought up the stock that they would need to be of their time. Jeans, shirts, jackets, posters. The storeís called something like "Trivettts" or "Rivetts". And now more than twenty-five years later the place is still there. Right in the middle of a partly refurbished down-town of conference centres and rampant inequality. Itís a place that should be visited by everyone interested in exchange and value. The two owners ordered enough stock at the beginning to ensure that the place is still stuffed with loon pants and nylon shirts. And the prices are still marked on the tags, unchanged from the day they were written up. Itís a disturbing place, full of bargains. Thereís no need to hunt. "Jimmy Page was in here the other day", one of the assistants says and you nod in a pretending to be interested way. But on the way out, as you catch glimpse of the faded cuttings on the wall, you realise that their sense of "the other day" is somewhat buried in weeks, months and years. Do the owners realise what they have done? Cats sleep in the piles of clothing and the owners have become old and grey. Ross Sinclair understands this effect, he has taken control over the populist remnants of a culture that changed irrevocably through the shift of sub-cultures into the mainstream leaving behind those who believed in freedom. He offers mutated souvenirs from our present and gives them lasting values. At the same time he has a graphic sensibility that is complex and appears easily expressed. There is a cultural kleptomania here all bundled up with an understanding of the power of creating a convivial space. Yet we are not dealing with cynicism as veiled cultural critique in the same manner as artists like Alex Bag or AC2K. The world of music, graphics, ego and overload is not something to disengage from and explicate for others. Ross Sinclair is not about being cool, even if that sometimes is the effect. His work is about being implicated, refusing to compete, refusing to resolve form and content, turning his back on the audience as a mark of humiliation. Sending a ransom not to the world, alive and well and living in the mountains.

December 1996