Between ‘yes’ and ‘no’ lies a space of ambiguity and doubt. This is the place where art and lived experience are located – somewhere where nothing is definite and everything is uncertain. In our current times when uncertainty – be it political, artistic, economic, or anything else – is unavoidable, doubt can be the most productive space. ‘Yes No’ is an exhibition that brings the practices of two artists, Richard Forster and Eva Weinmayr, into conversation and collision with one another.

Formally the works present an exploration of literal and metaphorical surfaces, mining the ambiguities that attempt to find a definitive ‘yes’ or ‘no’ reveal. An unequivocal ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is impossible – all objects and events will work on and be worked on by their surroundings and contexts. One of the difficulties of perception – which is doubled in the case of artwork – is that ‘things’ and their perception are two different concepts: as with ‘yes’ and ‘no’, a space sits between the two. By engaging with doubt an active space of possibilities and an abstraction of experience can be created.

On presenting an artwork to another the artist releases control and the spectator becomes located in the centre of the work making it contingent on time and engagement. Writing on shifts in concepts of time and space that took place in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the academic Sanford Kwinter (1) discusses how the Futurists systematically aimed to express the new principles of the period in the realm of aesthetics. In this period inventions such as the elevator, innovations in travel, and revolutionary developments in physics radically changed perceptions of the world. The Futurists insisted that artistic techniques and subject matter should be drawn from the surrounding concrete contemporary world, emphasising that art cannot exist without a relationship to perception and all the associated contingencies. Umberto Boccioni, in his Technical Manifesto of Futurist Sculpture, explained that perception of objects required the surrounding, negative, space to be taken into account. He considered the areas between objects as “not empty spaces but rather continuing materials of differing intensities which we reveal with visible lines which do not correspond to any photographic truth”. He continues to describe how space exists as two interpenetrating fields where “absolute motion is a dynamic law grounded in an object. The plastic construction of the object will here concern itself with the motion an object has within it, be it rest or movement. I am making this distinction between rest and movement, however, only to make myself clear, for in fact there is no such thing as rest: there is only motion, rest being merely relative, a matter of appearance.”

This brings to mind another, conflicting, manifesto. Flann O’Brien’s novel The Third Policeman is a tale of soundless music, policemen that are half-bicycle, stolen watches, and buildings that regularly shift from two to three dimensions. It is a story of the space between perception and reality – the location explored in ‘Yes No’. In this novel of doubt, the narrator makes constant reference to a writer named de Selby recounting his eccentric theories in footnotes throughout the text. One of these is a theory of movement, tested in an experiment where de Selby managed to transport himself between Felixstowe and Bath within the confines of his own room. The narrator explains: “If one is resting at A […] and desires to rest in a distant place B, one can only do so by resting for infinitely brief intervals in innumerable intermediate places. Thus there is no difference essentially between what happens when one is resting at point A before the start of the ‘journey’ and what happens when one is ‘en route’, i.e., resting in one or other of the intermediate places. […] The illusion of progression [de Selby] attributes to the inability of the human brain […] to appreciate the reality of these separate ‘rests’, preferring to group many millions of them together and calling the result motion, an entirely indefensible and impossible procedure since even two separate positions cannot obtain simultaneously of the same body. Thus motion is also an illusion. He mentions that almost any photograph is conclusive proof of his teachings.” (2) The fictional de Selby understands movement as a series of stops, and Boccioni, stasis as a moment between one movement and another. Both of these concepts of how our place in our surroundings can be understood focus on the spaces of indeterminacy that are central to ‘Yes No’; a call is made for the engagement of our own subjective understanding of the supposed objective nature of the world.

‘Yes No’ shows three works from Richard Forster’s Love series (2005) that initially appear to be A4 sheets of paper, displayed under plexiglass frames. One would assume this is a covering to shield the precious objects from their surroundings, something that does not quite make sense with the ubiquity of the objects. On closer inspection the surfaces of these works look as if they were once flat sheets that have been crumpled into a ball that someone has attempted, and failed, to return to the original state. Two seem to have had a pair of triangles pushed into the paper from underneath; the shapes move across the page, capturing a sense of dynamism on a flat plane that would surely have pleased Boccioni and his compatriots. This triptych is not what it seems on first perception: materially these are hand-made, crafted objects with a glossy marble-like surface. Exuding tactility they evoke a feeling of both what it might be like to scrumple and flatten a sheet of mass-produced A4 paper, and what it might be like to smooth a hand over marble. The Love series is reminiscent of another series of works, titled Roadsigns, that Eva Weinmayr began in 2002. The artist collected abandoned scarred and dented road signs, then covered the once-communicative signifying surface with high gloss lacquer, sprayed, ironically, by a specialist in high-end car finishing. The objects are displayed leaning or fixed on the gallery wall where shifting light bounces off the shiny contours of the metal surface, while the visible underside remains unpainted. Irrelevant when operating in its original state as a roadsign, the reverse becomes a counterpoint to the adjusted front surface, left ‘as-is’, often scratched, dirty and rusty. The facing surface echoes that of Forster’s Love series – contoured and contingent on changing levels of light and shade the form shifts with the viewer’s movement.

For ‘Yes No’, Weinmayr shows five works from the seven-part series Today’s Question (2002) that are likewise lacquered works, but this time perfect planes pose a single question. Check boxes await, certain that there is just one definitive answer to a question loaded with an assumption of ‘them’ and ‘us’. Questionnaires are rarely unbiased – statisticians know that one can receive the answers one wants through the linguistic structure of a question. The sources of these questions are junk faxes that are sent through office fax machines, aiming to catch the office worker in a moment of boredom to elicit a response.

Such surveys could never replicate opinion; never get to grips with the complexities of life. Such perfectly finished questions, one after another, reveal how a Manichean society predicated on ‘yes’ and ‘no’ can only fail. These questions fuel and are fuelled by popular newspapers’ headlines reflecting concerns that will only be replaced with a new worry and conundrum the next day. Alongside this, Weinmayr brings a second temporal text into the gallery space. On a single wall the entire surface is pasted with A1-sized sheets, ordered in a rhythm taken from eye level rather than architecture. Each proclaims “WATER FOUND ON MARS” – an announcement that filled daily newspapers just a few months ago. Like Forster’s Love series, Water Found on Mars (2004-5) shifts its status – but this time actual as well as perceived – between the hand-made and mass-produced object. This work, part of a much larger series, takes a headline used to advertise the daily London newspaper The Evening Standard that was carefully written by hand to be reproduced by the thousand and displayed throughout London as teaser-bills. In their original form these posters fill news-stands, with the abstracted text catching the passer-by’s attention in the hope of making a sale. Weinmayr reproduces the sentence in one-off monoprints, here in the gallery space at Vane pasting each unique print onto the wall.

The language itself has a distinct rhythm as it succinctly makes its point and creeps into subjective consciousness, almost like concrete poetry that Weinmayr’s performative work Towards A Better Understanding (2004-5) makes all the more explicit. Three voices read a long list of teaser-bills arranged by grammatical structure. Performed at the opening of ‘Yes No’ the voices transform the context and meaning of these generic words, with the voices overlapping as the text develops. The listener cannot help but bring their own associations that will veer away from and collide with the news that the, now obsolete, two-, three- or four-line banner headlines allude to. Forster’s sculpture Stack (2005) in a similar way layers together remnants from a communicative activity – this time art-making. Blobs of resin that are waste material from an earlier work are piled on top of one another to human height. Reminiscent of chewing gum peeled off the street, the stack creates a totem-like form defying gravity, carefully hand-painted in synthetic candy pinks that mutate to darker excrement brown to the base. Again, the overlooked is crafted and presented as a formal object demanding an aesthetic appreciation while pointing to the histories of art from Dieter Roth’s sausages to Brancusi’s Endless Column.

Stack exists as an object in space, but as one moves around it other works in the exhibition become initiated into conversation and a relationship develops. What the Futurist and de Selby’s theories of movement reveal is the importance of perception when considering objects and events – that perception is contingent on what surrounds the objects and events under scrutiny. To bring these two ‘theories’ together only serves to create doubt as one inevitably tries to test the two against each other and apply them to experience – an activity not so different from considering constellations of art objects. The Futurists were responding to a moment when the world seemed to be speeding up, and the future appeared to be much closer than it had before. In their optimistic celebration of progress new forms of painting, poetry, sculpture and architecture developed, bringing the future even closer. The work of Richard Forster and Eva Weinmayr does not look to an imagined future; instead it pauses to reflect on a present that has been formed by perceptions and experience. The space they engage with is one of doubt, a space where obsolete futures and failed communication can be highlighted. The works act, like motion, as a path through the past, present, and future, offering a possibility for speculative perception. To speculate is to open up possibilities: in the case of Forster and Weinmayr’s work the possibilities of re-thinking the ways in which surroundings can be appreciated and understood initiates a potential re-orientation of ourselves in relation to objects and environments. The term ‘possibility’ is important: it is an invitation to actively engage with how we understand the world.

Lisa Le Feuvre is a curator and writer based in London

(1) Sanford Kwinter, Physical Theory and Modernity, in Architectures of Time, MIT Press, 2001.
(2) Flann O’Brien, The Third Policeman, 1967, Flamingo Modern Classic edition, 1993.