“It is better for you to be free of fear lying upon a pallet, than to have a golden couch and a rich table and be full of trouble.”
Epicurus (Greek philosopher, 341 BC – 270 BC)
Robert Bingham: Self Portrait in a Disused Milk Churn, 2009, courtesy the artist
As part of the Dublin Fringe Festival artist Robert Bingham spent some time on a pallet. Benjamin Robinson caught up with him and they chatted about bed sores, gold lamé slacks and multani mitti mudpacks. (The images accompanying the interview are taken from Bingham’s 2009 exhibition, Phew!)
Benjamin Robinson: Can you tell me a little about how Pallet came about?
Robert Bingham: I produced a series of images in 2008—in response to the financial crisis—called Neoliberal Fantasies, exploring various forms of fluidity and volatility. The images formed the basis of an exhibition I had in 2009 [Phew!], which was scheduled to tour internationally in 2010 but ended up stuck on a pallet in a customs warehouse.
Robert Bingham: Neoliberal Fantasy No. 4, 2009; courtesy the artist
BR: In terms of containment, of its functioning as an intermediary, were you aware of the pallet’s significance at that stage? As something that might raise you up, hold you foursquare off the ground, a set of wooden boards serving as a rudimentary stage.
RB: In terms of the search for answers the pallet was a concept that demanded to be taken seriously. Not least the fact that a pallet asks nothing, demands nothing of the palleted save that the desire, the imperative to be palleted, that hitherto unrecognised ability to embody a position diagonally pertinent to cognitive release, be the radical functioning of a post-dramatic slant away from compositional determinacy.
BR: The pallet making no intrinsic demands, no artificial representations, yet physically demanding in its function as a form of imposed austerity.
RB: As an agent of governance, directing our disenfranchised gaze towards the borders of exculpation. That we have been at every turn expelled from the necessity to recognise that the system, in no uncertain terms, has rejected our collective advances, has rebuffed our circuitous attempts to utilise it productively.
BR: And in a work like Transmission, with its ruptured reflectiv—
RB: [interrupts] My engagement in Transmission was with the need to render an image as a form of disrupted display, an interruptive force seen through its own defaced means of capture.
Robert Bingham: Transmission, 2009; courtesy the artist
BR: [nods in agreement] With that capture rendered in situ.
RB: As the logical precursor to my being palleted, as a form of covert dramatisation, in recognition of the body’s persistence, in as much as it represented an inclination on my part to be consumed, to eschew individuation, at the same time repositioning that avoidance as a refinement of the creative act, the de facto release of cognitive strictures beyond the sterile machinations of production and distribution, composition and reiteration, the whole panoply of logistical activity to which we have become inured.
BR: Were there any health issues arising from such an extended period of confinement?
RB: I had a nurse on site to make sure I didn’t develop bedsores—spending such a prolonged period in repose necessitated such an administrative compromise. So my departure and return, my leaving the stages—
RB: Interregna. [pauses] One of the pieces in Phew! that drew most critical hostility was Industrial Unrest. Its co-terminal contextualisation was interpreted as a form of covert suppression, a splicing of the contingencies of social breakdown into the contingencies of aesthetic relief. Along with the muted chorus of approval Neoliberal Fantasies garnered, the negative reaction to Industrial Unrest was a prime mover in Pallet’s inception.
Robert Bingham: Industrial Unrest, 2009; instillation; courtesy the artist
BR: As with most of Phew! there’s a sense of something beneath the surface trying to break through, of the conflict between process and presentation implied in holding back this release, with Pallet waiting in the wings.
RB: The invisible hand of the artist [smiles], as a series of disposable connotations which my continual leaving and returning to the scene of repose as a way of confronting, of attempting to resolve the crisis of empathetic significance the compromise of having a medical professional on site instigated.
BR: [nods in agreement] Did your deferral to the mandate of physical revolt impinge upon your determination not to posture? Not to connote over-dramatically, to overplay the invisible hand, denoting that which is inconceivably so, the sporadic amalgam of need and desire.
RB: The spasmodic amalgam of need and desire, folded back longitudinal in a quotidian loop, sharpened the sense of futility inherent in my attempts to de-articulate myself. While posture was antithetical to the work’s deployment, posturing was integral to its ad hoc raison d’être.
BR: I understand you didn’t speak while you were on the pallet?
RB: My getting up to relieve myself proved a more effective means of arbitration. Alighting the pallet, I moved centripetally towards a designated point of reprieve. Exposing the pallet’s grid to the decay of relief, my unburdened centrifugal return represented a wholesale indictment of global abundant and its sundry deployments.
BR: Did this tenacious ferrying, this corrosion of the grid from within its formal functionality, foreground the lack of discourse between stagecraft and integrity that in your previous work you have attempted to highlight? In terms of Phew! being the precursor to Pallet, with expiration and exclamation usurped by anticlimactic radicalisation.
RB: As a form of dissident audition Pallet afforded me an opportunity to immerse myself in a state of radical craving. My emptying and filling the pallet, as I emptied and filled myself, grounded this immersion in the dehumanising utility of ulterior prefabrication.
BR: Did that prefabrication impinge upon you eating habits?
RB: Along with various carbonated soft drinks, I restricted my food intake to a selection of snack foods. Arrayed in abundance around the pallet each morning I consumed them voraciously and to the limits of my endurance.
BR: Did you have to struggle to reach them?
RB: I had on occasion to stretch, an act that complemented the growing sense of futility my continual leave-taking aroused.
BR: Was this reaching out, this struggle for material gain, a way of dealing with the negative critical reaction that Consumer Sentiment had garnered, the build up of repetitive gestures leading to an entrenched reiteration?
Robert Bingham: Consumer Sentiment, 2009, instillation; courtesy the artist.
RB: My initial concern with Consumer Sentiment was to track various aspects of concentration as an extension of my desire to produce a given work of art, at the same time realising that part of me didn’t want that process to end, the conflict involved in making these choices, of achieving a balance, creating and eliminating the creases and folds, as a form of unfolding of consumption, a concentration of concentration that defined the finished product as a self-deceptive loss of concentration akin to a visual slip of the tongue.
BR: [nods in agreement] Saying what was on everyone’s mind.
RB: Where Industrial Unrest pinned its colours to the carnival of post-consumption, Consumer Sentiment unwrapped the anxiety underlying such elated verisimilitude.
BR: How did having to repeatedly leave the pallet effect your concentration? And were your hopes of disengagement facilitated through these ruptures? Or was having to visit the convenience at intervals merely an inconvenience?
RB: Such spontaneous acts of dilution served to undermine the conventional formalities of the interval where traditionally it is the audience who seeks relief—in the form of refreshments and bodily ministrations. My sporadic removal from the scene of repose posited the formulation of a mechanism for the production of the retrieval of randomised loss, the void as absence within a liturgy of felt experience.
BR: Do you see your incursion into dramaturgy solely in terms of the manufacturing of depletion, of subverting the expectations inherent in the culture of containerisation?
RB: After I’d been on the pallet for a few days I began to suffer muscle cramps—I was performing a subtext of physical exercises in the evenings to keep muscle wastage to a min—
BR: [interrupts] We should point out that you also slept on the pallet.
RB: And it was within this staving off [pauses], this placating of the dialectics of physical dilation that I realised my body, through its desire to produce pressure sores, was attempting to infiltrate the creative process, drawing attention to itself with a series of dramatic openings. Despite the best medical efforts, these points of rupture managed to impinge upon the prolonged and at times bored fascination with my dissident abeyance. In my struggle against manufacture, wresting myself from significance, I became enmeshed in semi-location, visible yet profoundly unfounded. It was this drift into critical depravity that allowed a verbatim duplicate of myself as lost object to manifest.
BR: There’s a similarity here with some of the objects and locations documented in Phew!. I’m thinking of Clot’s echoing Oldenburg’s oversized epherera, with the object’s function merging into a Neo Povera wasteland, the discarded prophylactic—a by-product of physical desire—recycled as aestetic fulfilment, placing the viewer squarely proximate to the stemming of the reproductive tide.
RB: In terms of Pallet’s dismantling of traditional modes of scrutiny I positioned myself outside of the reproductive cycle.
Robert Bingham: Clot, 2009; courtesy the artist
BR: Did your transition to verbatim duplicate facilitate the dismantling of these traditional modes of scrutiny, the gathering in under the watchful eye of visual recognition of these dissonant elements?
RB: [nods in agreement] Elements that can no longer inoculate themselves so easily against commercial contagion, that can no longer insinuate themselves so easily into modes of market volatility. Along with the atomised oscillations of global productivity, the co-terminal angles of revolt have become the emaciated transports of a simulated brutality. Self-serving duplication, in all its vicarious conjunctions and consumptions, served as the watchword of this manifestation.
BR: You’ve spoken of the dangers inherent in ocular resuscitation, of the need for ‘presbyopic interiorities of illiterate duplicity’—
RB: [interrupts] With Phew! my primary concern was the evacuation of potential. With Pallet it was the expiration of that evacuation, with the ancillary aim of confounding any sense of commodified depletion such expiration created.
BR: You wore a series of outfits whilst on the pallet; can you talk us through them?
RB: My costume changes were synchronized with my toilet breaks, with my upper body clad in a series of string vests that served as a talisman of my pursuit of porosity.
BR: And in terms of your lower body?
RB: In terms of the lower portion of my body—and remember my initial intention was to maximise the angle of repose by extruding the diagonal through the nemesis of doubt—I wore a pair of gold lamé slacks that tarnished progressively until in the dying days of the performance they gave way to bloodstained spectral black. No accommodations were made in terms of undergarments to subordinate insurrection. Instead, I smeared my groin each morning with a multani mitti [fuller’s earth] mudpack, a subtextural decongestant that underscored the deep-seated cleansing I was attempting vis-à-vis my previous reproductive dalliances.
BR: And in terms of footwear?
RB: I began with a pair of tan goatskin babouches that shaded through a series of earth-toned brogues to burnt umber. Towards the end of my time on the pallet the brogues segued into a pair of slip-ons a mud-caked pair of which I made my final exit in.
Robert Bingham: Ousted 1, 2009; courtesy the artist
Robert Bingham: Ousted 2, 2009; courtesy the artist
BR: When did you become aware that the undermining of the work’s feasibility had been accomplished?
RB: The challenges facing those who posit no facades, when they shun productive semblances, and the hierarchies of emulative reflectivity collapse in on themselves, is of finding a form of reticulation upon which to ride out the categorical storm. The exponential accumulation characterised by such material encrustations marks a transitional and transverse movement of the ceding of the logic of ocular rapaciousness to plateaus of immobile validity. As with the repetitions in the Ousted triptychs, where the challenges of disclosure are strategically re-enacted, the compartmentalisation of compacted heel and extruded sole, the area most vulnerable to the densities of dramatic accreditation, stands triangularly opposed in Pallet to progression, requiring the urgent recalibration of the interface of compaction, extrusion and an historical-repressive one dimensionality. Coupled with the bed sores and muscle wastage this physical accretion compounded the process of depletion, a tarnished proscenium arch stretched across a cracked multani mitti mudpack, winding down the tetraplegic interface and insinuating itself in the inner working of a palleted artistic body politic.
BR: How far did your departure from the pallet represent the sorts of contradictions inherent in a work like Cognitive Dissonance?
Robert Bingham: Cognitive Dissonance, 2009; courtesy the artist
RB: The self submerged, aligned against itself, trying to make itself out between the cold wooden cross-hairs, defining itself on a disposable dispensation, the pallet’s ignobility echoing nature’s impoverished inimitability. Pallet and palleted no longer proximately horizontal, no longer cheek by jowl, in residues of insensate inconsequentiality, beating against the lattice’s grain. [pauses] My body, in the apotheosis of rogue hermeneutics, breaking faith with the void was returned to the void, in an unpalatable birth pang, coming full circle on the stroke of midnight, putting the squeeze on the docile palpitations of my dramatic infatuation.
BR: It must have been an exhilarating experience.
RB: [smiles] Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths… [assumes a more serious tone]. Having been in a state of heightened deprivation, of post-dramatic suspension, my senses were revitalised.
BR: And how do you regard such revitalisation?
RB: It is the embodiment of that which I have struggled against, to the mouth of which I have stepped up and will continue to step up, staring valiantly into its perilous jaws to utter my unflinching vacuity.
Robert Bingham: Renewed Expectations, 2009, installation; courtesy the artist
BR: It has been said that the union between consumption and extinction in Renewed Expectations infused Phew! with an elemental sense of hope?
RB: With Renewed Expectations, Ousted as stratagem was roundly rebuffed, opening the way for me to forge a sculptural link between the ephemeral liquidity of Neoliberal Fantasies and Pallet’s abrasive theatrical adversary. [pauses] Of course Consumer Sentiment was never far from the equation.
BR: Which beings me to my final question—and I think it’s a pertinent one—what happened to the pallet?
RB: The pallet went into a skip.
BR: And on that exculpatory note—Robert Bingham, thank you for joining me.