In his essay on Liberace, Dave Hickey argues in favour of the genuine rhinestone over the imitation pearl. Clearly, this is rhetoric – the imitation pearl is, after all, as much a genuine imitation pearl as a genuine rhinestone is an imitation diamond. It’s a matter of where you choose to stand, what you choose to see, and what decisions you choose to make.

•••••

You enter a space, and it contains objects and images. Cartoon things. Zombie things. Violent and girly and pathetic and macho. Every one of them misbehaving just by being there. A section of fence stands as a monument to it’s own supreme incapability of placing any kind of interdiction; a cloth car sags against the wall in exhausted mimicry of dramatic impact; a puddle of vomit glitters with sequins and chunks of beaded ‘carrot’, like a melted vanity case. Fakery, artifice, flim-flam. Nothing attempts to convince as anything other than what it is; which is to say, as exactly what it isn't.

This is exactly the kind of confusion that is the meat and potatoes of Craig Fisher’s practice. Take the fence. It feels flat. Partly, that’s because it is – for all that it stands gamely up to be counted as ‘sculpture in the round’, Keep Out (2006) is essentially two dimensional in character. It plays a 2-D/3-D game that explores relationships between sculpture and drawing: part of which involves taking the piss out of traditional ideas of what makes sculpture sculptural. Ideas of front and back, inside and outside, dynamic spatial relationships, are all cleverly undermined by this limp section of fence which, standing alone, is as disempowered as a single Judd wall box isolated from its fellows. It can’t contain space, can’t keep anything in or out, fails miserably at even giving an idea of where ‘in’ and ‘out’ might be. It’s a boundary that sets no boundary. It looks embarrassed.

This is where a second kind of flatness comes into play; a flatness of what you might call expression, like a clown on a ducking-stool resigned to the next wet sponge in the face. For if the object undermines certain tropes within sculptural tradition, it is itself undermined by its own materiality and execution. Fisher works with fabric: which is, essentially, flat and limp. As a sculptural material, this could be seen as something of a perverse choice: unlike stone or metal, fabric can’t stand up or support its own weight. It is a resolutely passive material whose qualities are those of pliability and collapsibility. It offers little in the way of resistance, caving to gravity, to currents of air, to pretty much any outside agency. This material, this fence: it can’t even control itself.

This passivity of cloth as a material, its announcement of its identity as an object consisting almost entirely of surface, lends various kinds of undermined-ness to Fisher’s objects. Keep Out, for example, forefronts the two dimensionality of the fabric (and thereby, of the fence itself) by stretching it between two poles in order to highlight in the clearest possible way how it consists of a front, a back and precious little else. The insubstantiality and lack of depth, both of object and material, is pushed further forward by the fact of its being perforated – the ‘object’ of the fabric has no interior, but opens directly onto the space behind it. Employed in this way, the fence’s fabric mesh sags and warps a little, as if the very existence of a third dimension perturbs its innate physicality as a dweller in two dimensions; a cartoon extracted from its natural environment and suffering a sort of cellular queasiness, like a diver pulled up too quickly from immense depths and succumbing to the bends.

Cartoons and zombies. These are the images that keep coming back to me thinking about this work. A zombie is an emptied-out body, which nevertheless approximates life in its behaviour. This idea can throw some interesting light on the cartoon, especially if the cartoon is, as I suggested above, lifted out of its native register and left to roam about in the ‘real’ world. There’s an underplayed creepiness here that I relate to the profound unease I used to feel watching The Muppet Show as a kid – the uncanniness of that community of weird puppets running a theatre, the utter wrongness of seeing them cluster around Peter Ustinov or Diana Ross as if they all existed on the same plane of reality. (Liberace was also a guest on The Muppet Show, but I can’t decide if his own stratospheric unreality would have slotted seamlessly into the show or just made things even more terrifying to me.)

•••••

Is there any relationship worth speaking of between the flatness of an image, the flatness of a sheet of fabric, the flatness of a colour, and the flatness of character or expression we might attribute to a zombie? They could each be thought of as speaking of a kind of absence – the absence of the represented object; of a third dimension or a ‘solid body’; of depth and/or surface detail; of humanity or knowability.

•••••

Speaking as I am of cartoons, emptiness and confusion, this might be a good point to mention Fisher’s speech bubbles. Titled Who Said (2006), they take the form of literal cartoons painted onto the gallery walls: bloated speech bubbles full of pattern instead of text. They propose the event of speech, and yet what they present is a flat plane of decoration, which closes off the space of communication as effectively as if it had been papered over or mummified. Again, you’re presented with a hollowed-out and disarmed version of what you might have expected.

There’s a link here for me between these ‘speech’ bubbles and the aforementioned sequinned vomit. Both could be thought of as utterances or excreta, issued, smothered in mutant decoration, from a surprised mouth. Both pieces put me in mind of the Pythia, Apollo’s oracle at Delphi. Historians still debate the articulacy of her utterances; were they delivered by a learned woman in measured rhyming pentameter, or was her ‘speech’ an inarticulate glossolalia induced by some kind of hallucinogen, delivered in a thrashing fit and ‘translated’ by a male intermediary? The back-and-forth of this argument, and the fact that it remains unresolved, is something that would no doubt please Fisher. What I enjoy is the image of such physically churned, inarticulate utterance: language as a received grab-bag of flourishes and curlicues, a mouthful of sequins and florals to be masticated and coughed up in odd, and often unhelpful, little chunks which we then present for inspection with an uncertain mix of pride and embarrassment, like a cat sicking up half a dead blue tit.

•••••

What we’re basically talking about here is the process of abstraction. Like the Pythia, Fisher takes things and passes them through a filter that robs them of detail, transforming them into stylised substitutes. What’s interesting here is how, while a description of a car crash is the poorest of substitutes for an actual car crash, this abstraction, Wide Boy (2005), remains haunted enough by what it refers to that the original breathes sufficient life into its replica to make it limp into a laughable and uncomfortable half-life. Its distance from being real is what makes this ‘car crash’ poignant and daft enough to empathise with: divested of the authority of achieving near-reality, it slumps defeatedly into humanity.

The reduction of detail is key. Reduction: not removal. The construction of the car forefronts simplicity and the broad gesture: flat colour, large sections of fabric, simplified and slightly clumsy shapes. But as you look closer, detail begins to creep back in, a polluting language of its own, through the visibility of stitch, variations in weave, slight defects that tell you what you’re looking at is hand-crafted. (You could think of it as a sort of botched offspring of Minimalism and Pop.) While the simplification of object into three dimensional cartoon holds both reality and the tell-tale white noise of minute detail that announces it at bay, as you get closer in, the evidence of hand-production highlights the physicality of both materials and process, so that the buzz of detail, of the real, becomes increasingly audible, like the whine of a mosquito trapped behind a thick pane of glass.

This transformation has the air of a kind of violence, as if the very simplification and softening of a car or fence into cloth replicas has somehow resulted in the mummification of their original identities. Smothered under layers of fabric, or sequins, or even flatly rendered paint, the original seems to quiver and suffocate without ever quite being exterminated. Fisher situates the viewer slap bang in the middle of a two-way mirror, at the point where images and reflections, imitations and realities, overlap and cross-pollute each other indefinitely. That vomit is beautiful after all, but there’s no getting away from what it’s beauty still nods towards.

•••••

Blankness. This is a word I intended to use more heavily than I have. The one thing I got really preoccupied with the first time I saw the work installed was Wide Boy’s opaque windows. The fact that the ‘glass’ didn't even try to be glass, and made no concession to trying to behave like what it was standing in for. Those windows were not going to let you see inside. They blinded the object, and they blinded the viewer. They kept the car’s twin carapaces of banality and unreality intact. Looking at it was a bit like being ignored by a bollard. The impenetrability this lent the car was the first thing that tipped me towards the feeling of claustrophobia that I've later configured as a sense of mummification in all the work. It also related it (in a slightly idiosyncratic and oblique way, I admit) to Minimalism: to the Minimalist object’s ornery refusal (experienced with particular force by its earliest audiences) to offer anything to interpret or read into, and how, in its refusal to yield certain types of information that an audience had been lead to expect from an art object, the minimal object took on the quality of a sort of zombie – an empty, but polluted, and indeed polluting, vessel emanating an unwelcome and un-dead non-language into a space set up for a rather differently defined experience of art.

The blankness of those windows, in terms of expressionlessness, of reduction to a perverted and inoperative cartoon, of blindness and disjuncture, and of the refusal to proclaim any more than they absolutely have to, is the lynchpin of what I love in this work, and seems to me present in everything I've discussed so far; particularly in the cartoonish image of the zombie that I've been invoking. It also creeps into the image of the Mummy that I've just been using, and while I'm in such a B-Movie oriented mindset, this sets me thinking about the Invisible Man as well, since he, like the Mummy, went around wrapped up in bandages a good deal of the time. Remove their bandages, their fabric shells, and what’s underneath? Either emptiness, or a degraded, shrivelled parody of the original. Both speak of an atrophy or draining away of something essential: of an entity becoming reduced, and monstrous as a result of that reduction. Humanity leaches out, making room for a threatening emptiness, which animates the object like a mindless battery.

But Fisher’s zombies are more sheepish than malignant. They’d rather have your sympathy than your brains on a plate. They actually humanise the idea of the zombie: imagine it was you shambling around with your kidneys hanging out and your brain nothing more than a white noise machine. It’d be so embarrassing. You’d never get invited out in polite company again. And that’s the key to the flatness, the blankness, you find in Wide Boy. It’s not a car crash. It’s not really an image of a car crash, either. It’s more something dressing up unconvincingly in the guise of a car crash in the hope that its appearance of surface crisis will distract from its deeper and more painful crisis of not having one single clue as to what the fuck it is or how it ought to behave. It’s the blankness of – and excuse me for being gauche enough to say this – The Postmodern Condition. As with Keep Out, formal and conceptual binaries are brought together and confounded. Gestures are made (toward defining space, or mimicking a hard surface) but deliberately not followed through to the end. By making these never-to-be-completed gestures towards a binary categorisation, Fisher draws attention to the arbitrariness, artificiality and, ultimately, the nonsense of such an attempt. He also shows the rickety and self-conscious articles we’re revealed as being once these bandages of false knowingness are off. In a practice, a world, where all questions come haunted by an uncountable hoard of multiple-choice answers, such binaries as male/female, flat/three dimensional, real/imitation, docile/aggressive take on the irresolvable complexities and sheer muddiness which are their nature.

Fisher never tries to corral things into neat, consistent, language-friendly packages. Resolution and the tying up of every last loose end holds no draw for him. Rather, he’s interested in the wavering mess of the things we vainly try to yoke with explanation; in undermining the twisting, inconsistent, vacillating forms that our duplicitous explanations adopt in their attempts to subjugate the world in such a way that they will then be able to present it as ‘coherent’.