– Autumn/Winter 2013

From Busan with Humour

Ruth Noack

Tags: Mary Ellen Carroll

Mary Ellen Carroll, Late, 2005, diptych, black-and-white silver gelatin prints, 40.64 × 40.64cm each, detail. Courtesy the artist and collection of Javier Magri and Carol McCranie

The following pages will examine No.18 (the outside never reveals what is happening inside), a work conceived by Mary Ellen Carroll in the context of ‘Garden of Learning’, the 2012 iteration of the Busan Biennale.1 But before we can embark upon this endeavour in all seriousness, there is a small matter that needs to be mentioned. It concerns humour — Mary Ellen Carroll’s oeuvre is steeped in it, in various forms: tongue in cheek, as when the artist quoted Andy Warhol’s 1964 film Empire but replaced the landmark New York skyscraper with the Wilshire Federal Building in Los Angeles (Federal, 2003); deadpan, as when she impersonated Judi Werthein at a conference and, upon being discovered by enraged organiser Joshua Decter, informed him that ‘Everything will be fine’ (Judi, Judi, Judi, 2007); or farcical, as with Late (2005). For this work-cumperformance, Carroll had her 1985 Buick Rivera shipped from the US to Bremerhaven, whence she drove it to Munich and crashed it into the Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde (State Museum of Ethnology). And there it remained, on the steps to the building’s entrance, until the end of the show, upon which the institution had the wreck fixed and shipped back to the port in Newark, New Jersey. On board throughout the journey was a coffee tin filled with her father’s ashes (Illy (The tin is half full), 2007).

The description of Late sounds a bit like an

  1. ‘Garden of Learning’, curated by Roger M. Buergel and with exhibition layout by Ruth Noack, Busan Museum of Art and other venues in Busan, 22 September—24 October 2012.

  2. My argument relies heavily on a similar point made by Peter Osborne, who calls the failure of Conceptual art to eliminate the aesthetic dimension of the artwork a ‘perverse artistic success’. P. Osborne, Anywhere or Not at All: Philosophy of Contemporary Art, London and New York: Verso, 2013, p.49.

  3. Osborne defines post-conceptual art as premised on the complex historical experience and critical legacy of Conceptual art. As a category and, I would add, as a practice, it ontologically eclipses Conceptual art’s art-historical or art-critical basis. While Osborne is interested in forging conceptual tools to articulate a philosophy of contemporary art, I am interested in using his concepts to read concrete examples of contemporary art in precisely a critical or art-historical vein. Ibid., p.48.

  4. Ibid.

  5. Sixteen of the 209 categories have been published in Mary Ellen Carroll, MEC, Göttingen and London: Steidl and Mack, 2010.

  6. Ibid., p.12.

  7. See P. Osborne, Anywhere or Not at All, op. cit., p.48.

  8. M.E. Carroll, MEC, op. cit., p.19.

  9. David Joselit, ‘The 2012 Busan Biennale’, Artforum, vol.51, no.4, December 2012, p.267.

  10. Ibid.

  11. See https://www.facebook.com/learningcouncil (last accessed on 14 August 2013).

  12. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=te6ft4LRjBg&list=PLBCC573C8978315D2 and https://www.facebook.com/groups/busanbiennaleno.18/ (both last accessed on 14 August 2013).

  13. See http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/nescient?q=nescience#nescient__4 (last accessed on 14 August 2013).

  14. Roger M. Buergel, ‘No.18’, in Stefan Wellgraf et al. (ed.), www.gardenoflearning.info (exh. cat.), Busan: Busan Biennale Organising Committee, 2012, p.49, available at http://gardenoflearning.info/ blog/exhibitions-2/garden-of-learning/artists/mary-ellen-carroll (last accessed on 14 August 2013).

  15. ‘Pyeong’ is a unit of measurement used traditionally in South Korea, among other Asian countries, to measure rooms and buildings. Each ‘pyeong’ is about 3.3 square metres.

  16. Shin Koo Woo, an architect and professor from Pusan National University who is doing research on Jwacheon’s urban history is amongst those presently taking care of the space, while financial responsibility has been taken on by the Johann Jacobs Museum, Zürich.

  17. In fact, Carroll explains that No.18 didn’t actually take place in the building no.18 but no.1. She was first attracted to the building no.18 because of ‘its conditions of green space and the port below’. However, because it wasn’t possible to lease a space there, she had to settle with no.1. ‘By that time’, she says, ‘we referred to it as No.18. "No.18" in Korean translates to shit. The neighbours saw the irony of it when the sign went up and we all had a good laugh.’ Email from the artist, 16 August 2013.

  18. M.E. Carroll, quoted in R.M. Buergel, ‘No.18’, op. cit., p.49.

  19. In an early statement, Carroll wrote: ‘A minimum of connection(s) to radically break the literal separation between the outside and the inside. To raise the question of what is Korean? A space that would dissociate itself from recognisable associations to be built as quickly as possible. Begin with the smallest intervention that is invisible: A transactional structure/financial instrument that is uniquely Korean. Jeonse.’ Email from the artist, 15 August 2013.