FabArts: Geoffrey Farmer

Untitled designEncountering Geoffrey Farmer’s recently erected solo exhibition at the ICA Boston feels nothing if not delightful, a term typically ascribed with some level of derision to the frothy fare standard for shows aimed at sweaty tourist populations. It’s a rare moment when the sense of enchantment we come to expect from summer blockbusters only buoys complex, relevant content in the work, and Farmer’s puppet-like photo-collage sculptures, installed charmingly on individual plinths and shelves, deliver on that particularity in spades. Farmer, born in 1967 and recently chosen to represent Canada in the upcoming Venice Biennale, has created three rooms of staggered character pieces—one based in Punch and Judy, one in video, and one in a Stein-inspired archiving of cardstock antiquity. His is a multivalent exploration of semantics in western visual praxis, replete with all the necessary slipperiness implied therein.


Take the first gallery: The figures comprising this reeling barrage, each standing at about two feet tall and culled materially from used books, newspaper clippings, metal piping and tailored cloth, evoke discreet magic lexes all their own. While Farmer’s artistic approach reads entirely analog, the viewer experience speaks to a specifically post-digital proliferation of identity; disjointed cut-outs of historically excised limbs and signifiers bounce and pop both two-dimensionally and in the round, conjuring odd-ball dialogues on flux, fractured representation, and white noise.


The effect fuses the Cubist and contemporary with an effortless charm that ennobles its absurdity, and this dichotomy is no more apparent than in a video slideshow interlacing thousands of unrelated found images with thematically unrelated algorithmic sound elements. While much of the mischief offered by the initial installation is lost in the video’s sterner tone, there’s a consistency in Farmer’s synthesis of meaning; the unpredictability and multiplicity of selfhood might very well engender disquiet, but also recognition—reflection, even. There’s comfort in a shared menace, after all. Still, the video component fails at the bewilderment Farmer formerly achieved, leaving the viewer to wonder how much that aforementioned delight matters to his oeuvre.


The show’s third act, entitled “Boneyard”, features cut-out photos of Italian sculptural objects sourced from a 60’s art history text. Since this assemblage relies on the artist’s curation of individuated portions rather than an amalgam of moveable parts, the parameters for its success strike the viewer as altered from the previous works on display; gone is the whimsical surreal vernacular of the “puppets”, and in its place a quiet comment on historiography itself; the relevance of a concrete custodial impulse after the arrival of virtual technology, the value hierarchies attributed to different modes of making, and, perhaps most pertinently, the liquid nature of informational affect in the marketplace. Farmer’s survey encompasses the poetry of collective confusion, and invites the viewer to marvel in that spirit.

“Geoffrey Farmer” will be on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston until July 17 th in the Paul and Catherine Buttenweiser and Fotene Demoulas Galleries.


Torey Akers is an east-coast gin enthusiast who just received her MFA in painting somewhere needlessly far from the ocean. More grown men have caught her eating ham out of a bag than she is comfortable reporting. Her mom is way, way funnier than she is. Follow Torey here.

Images 1-3 via Torey Akers. Details from the Surgeon and the Photographer by Geoffrey Farmer 2009- ongoing.


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