Emergence of Perception

Text by Mark Clintberg

There are clouds. Explosions maybe. Storms? From what one might first consider, the front of the image is immediately revealed as a side, a back, an inside too.

Spriggs’ subjects are often spectral, a bit like sorcery. How this is accomplished, technically speaking, is outside of my inquiry here. Instead I will address the typology of his work, and its play with dimensionality and the body.

David Spriggs’ work collides concepts from Futurism and Cubism: speed and movement as ultimate ideals; simultaneous multiple representations of a form from different angles. Eliminated from Spriggs’ program is the Futurist aestheticisation of war and violence, though the tension of these historical associations aren’t completely excised from the work’s potential reception. But he is not an artist blindly casting about for historical fraternities to ingratiate himself with. What his work puts forward is a derailing of these antecedents’ two ideologies. Spriggs’ projects are bastard children, art historically. From the perspective of another century, they might be grotesque: mutations of sculpture and painting, not properly belonging to either category, being neither and both three- and two-dimensional. Of course, this spatial and typological confusion is exactly why they delight the contemporary viewer. We enjoy the typologically grotesque. What is at the root of this pleasure? Beyond their technical ingenuity, these works also suspend a form between two and three dimensions. This feat has captured the popular imagination in other fields too – notably in cinematic special effects. These peculiar fixations are ripples from what Yve-Alain Bois calls the “formless,” borrowed from Georges Bataille’s notion of the informe. The formless “serves to bring things down [déclasser] in the world,” confusing typologies and classification. Spriggs’ objects accomplish as much on two fronts. By presenting multiple surfaces for an image that functions on several dimensional levels. And by perplexing the boundaries of his forms, which are often gauzy and nebulous. Like the immersive works of Robert Irwin and James Turrell, they develop ontological encounters with their viewers.

Martin Jay’s writing on baroque form furnishes an ontological framework for engagement with Spriggs’ work. Summarizing the work of Christine Buci-Glucksmann, Jay writes that the baroque form relies on “obscurity, shadow and the oscillation of form and formlessness.” The initial links possible between this description and the artist’s work are clear. His clouds and explosions skate the edge between the informe and structure. Even those works that are more diagrammatic, such as his ambitious large-scale illustration of the inner workings of two escalators, further hint at the disintegration of form by virtue of Spriggs’ loose and expressionistic handling of line. But Buci-Glucksmann’s analysis of the baroque goes further: he suggests that this category is also anti-Platonic in its rejection of the visual in favor of the haptic, with all the excess and surplus associated with the image.

This interstitial quality is paralleled on a sensory register. The sense of touch and sight become entangled in these works. Sensory organs are not hermetically sealed from one another: sight also touches, the eyes behaving like a hand deliberately, carefully contacting the surface of the object. This haptic condition evokes theorist Maurice Merleau-Ponty who reminds us that the sensing organ must be knowable and “accessible” from outside of itself. A theory of the haptic describes sensation as a totality, experienced at once, without separation or hierarchy. If, as Merleau-Ponty argues, the body is the literal intersection of the subject and the object, with the world and the body, the seer and the seen, as two facing mirrors, might we also consider the body as the surface where Spriggs’ work occurs? The reflection upon each of these surfaces belongs to neither of them but also both of them, as Merleau-Ponty says, forming “a couple, a couple more real than either of them.” Such a model can serve to at least partially explain the uncanny experience of viewing Spriggs’ objects, where to circumnavigate the object collapses, then reunites, and finally befuddles form.

1. Yve-Alain Bois. “The Use Value of “Formless”.” Formless: A User’s Guide. Bois and Rosalind Krauss. New York: Zone Books. (1997): 13-40. Quoting Bataille. Bois’ proofs of the informe ¬– horizontality, base materialism, pulse, and entropy – add to a dynamic understanding of Spriggs’ practice and should be explored in future writing on his work.
2. Martin Jay. “The Rise of Hermeneutics and the Crisis of Occularcentrism.” Poetics Today. Vol. 9, No. 2. (1988): 307-326.