Cliff Eyland
Contact
Proposals
Cliff Eyland categories
Library
Biographies
Eyland Writing
CE Bibliography
Self portrait

JOHN GREER:CIVILIZATION
Confederation Centre Art Gallery and Museum,Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada, 19 January-8 March 1992

[First published in the John Greer retrospective exhibition catalogue in 1992.]

Now that my ladder's gone
I must lie down where all the ladders start,
In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart.
- W.B. Yeats (472)
For North Americans, real war happens elsewhere: we experience it second-hand. John Greer suspects that most North Americans experience everything second-hand. European intellectuals describe this condition in theories about the post-war Americanization of world culture such as Baudrillard's "simulacra" and Eco's "hyperreality."

In conversation, Greer blames the trauma of this century's wars for numbing the North American mind(1) -- or at least the minds of his war-era elders: we presume Europeans (for example) to have reacted somewhat differently to war because of their proximity to it this century. War is an abstract, purely visual experience for most North Americans, without concrete or tactile reality (except for the experiences of military personnel, of course). How different must be memories of war which attach themselves to ruins in London, Brussels, and Berlin.

Greer's experience of war games as a child in the military town of Debert dovetails especially well with Jean Baudrillard's analysis of the war game (movie) Apocalypse Now.Baudrillard argues that movies do considerably more than simply "recreate" historical events like the Vietnam war when directors like Coppola use real napalm to destroy real villages, and when compensated Philippine villagers stand in for the Vietnamese. North Americans conduct war under the same dream-like conditions as daily life, as if it were television or the movies:
It is not only daily life which has become cinematographic and televisual, but war as well. It has been said that war is the continuation of politics by other means; we can also say that images are the continuation of war by other means. Take Apocalypse Now. Coppola made his film the same way the Americans conducted the war--in this sense, it is the best possible testimony--with the same exaggeration, the same excessive means, the same monstrous candor...and the same success. War as a trip, a technological and psychedelic fantasy; war as a succession of special effects, the war become film well before it is shot; war replaced by technological testing. For the Americans, it was above all the latter: a test site, an enormous field on which to test their weapons, their methods, their power.(2) (Baudrillard 16)
On which side of the camera might Greer's latest work, called Civilization (cat.1), reside? Do his giant representations of bones, made of marble instead of papier-maché (or computer animation), create an enormous field on which a viewer might test notions of cinematographic life and death? (In the contemplation of Greer's work, viewers may be reminded that personal mortality is as imaginary an idea as the cinematographic death depicted in movies and war games.) As an artist, Greer has always sought to expose a lack of bodily awareness, a "de-centerdness" (let's call it "cinematographic" consciousness) in a viewer, the living death--the psychological numbness--we experience daily within television culture.

A more general problem of vision and occluded consciousness has a bearing on this discussion. As the philosopher Drew Leder puts it:
...it is precisely visual experience that lends itself most to an experience of disembodiment and the seeming detachment of perception from motility. In touch, sensation is clearly tied to physical movements. Touching begins as I reach out to contact the object, and the quality of sensation is elicited by my style of motion: for example, whether I stroke or press. This motor involvement is far less obvious with sight. In the fixed gaze, a vast spectacle presents itself without any perceptible movement on my part. The body's motility is placed in background disappearance. [...]The body as the place of action and forceful interchange with the world for the moment fades away. This is intensified by the spatial distances sight opens, allowing the subject to dwell experientially far off. In touching, one's own body remains a proximate copresence with the touched, always immediately implicated. But visual awareness, as when I gaze upward to the stars, can focus trillions of miles away. (Leder 117-118)

and:

...it is the body's own tendency toward self-concealment that allows for the possibility of its neglect or deprecation. Our organic basis can be easily forgotten due to the reticence of visceral processes. Intentionality can be attributed to a disembodied mind, given the self-effacement of the ecstatic body. As these disappearances particularly characterize normal and healthy functioning, forgetting about or 'freeing oneself' from the body takes on a positive valuation. [italics are Leder's] (Leder 69)
Such problems have always interested Greer. From the collapsed space of the Canadian artist who, although in a separate country, lives within the American cultural juggernaut, Greer's art has always worked against the North American's tendency to apprehend life, death and bodily presence through the two-dimensional visors of cinematographic culture.(3) Recently, that has meant calling a European tradition to his side. In the '80s work, Greer was attracted to a mythical Europe of tactile experience at least as much as French theorists like Baudrillard have been smitten by a mythical North America of pure visuality, but Greer's route to Europe was circuitous, a slowly developing interest.

Greer's formal studies in fine art began in Nova Scotia in 1962,(4) and ended in Vancouver in 1967, when he was 23 years old. That year he began to exhibit his art on a professional basis.
Something, it seemed, had happened in 1967 that had ushered in this era of afterness...this world that had opened up 'after minimalism and pop.' '1967,' I wondered...but not for very long; for 1967 was the date of Michael Fried's Art and Objecthood,...its arguments have often been seen as having driven a theoretical wedge into '60s discourse on art, somehow dividing that period into a before and an after.
- Rosalind Krauss (Foster 59-64)
1967 held the promise of the optimistic, high-tech future of Expo 67. For a segment of the international art community at the time, this future was represented in predictions like those of the Fine Artz Associates, a quartet of ex-Slade school Londoners who foresaw a "fab, kandy-colored, leisure-loving, kustom-built for komfort, super-styled and slickline bright new world." (Wraight 9)

Meanwhile, at the academic level of Canada's art world, as Barry Lord points out in A History of Painting in Canada, only "one in four professors hired in Canada" was Canadian, and "not a single member of the University of Windsor art department was a Canadian citizen." Canadian institutions were denying Canadian artists credibility; some even advertised Canadian art teaching jobs in England before posting them in Canada. Frustrations about the low status of artists in Canada resulted in the formation of the artist's rights organization Canadian Artists Representation in 1967. At the grassroots level, the Canadian artist was some distance from the "slickline bright new world" said to be right round the corner by the Fine Artz Associates. (Lord is summarizing Robin Mathews and James Steele's The Struggle for Canadian Universities.) (Lord 231-2)

The year 1967 also marked Garry Neill Kennedy's investiture as president of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, the institutional initiation in Canada of what would be named (by 1969) "Conceptual Art."(5) According to Robert Stacey and Liz Wylie, Kennedy "viewed both NSCAD and Halifax as blank slates, ready to become the kind of receptive environment for the vanguard art he envisioned." (Wylie/Stacey 76) Although his hiring of several Americans after he assumed the NSCAD directorship was controversial, the team Kennedy put in place, in addition to the School's gallery and visiting artists programs, put NSCAD solidly within the developing international art discourse.(6)

Greer benefited from the vitality and international focus of Kennedy's NSCAD, and he credits Kennedy with giving him a great deal of support over the years, not only by helping him get sessional jobs, but also by supporting his application for a full-time position. While working at various jobs after his 1967 debut, he maintained a prolific output of work (so far, he has had 34 solo shows and innumerable group exhibitions).(7) Through the late '60s and '70s, he had the unusual privilege of being the only Maritimer represented by Isaacs Gallery of Toronto.(8)

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

There are two periods of crisis in Greer's art, both of which align themselves with periods of crisis in the world of high art: these periods are 1967-68 and 1978-81. During the first period Greer entered the world as a professional artist. The second heralds his commitment to sculpture, or more specifically, the sculptural installation, as his medium.

Early on, in a famous piece Tide Up, Tide Down (fig.1), Greer fixed two wine glasses onto a table which was tied to four rocks below the high-water mark on a Bay of Fundy beach: millions of gallons of sea water washed over the table at high tide. As the tide receded, brackish water topped up the wine glasses. Several of his works were made of nothing more than nylon-coated string stretched around nails on the gallery wall in a form like that of a paper airplane; he has also made "paper" airplanes out of sheet lead, as in Lead to Believe (fig.2); he painted an orange blue in the work Blue Orange (fig.4); he made a mirror which "corrects" itself in a work entitled Over and Out (c.1978); and he made a plumb bob with feathers called As the Crow Flies (fig.6).

This first phase of Greer's mature work, the conceptual art made after 1967 until about 1978, set in motion Cartesian dualisms such as mind/body, perceived/perceiver, illusion/reality and figurative/literal. These dualisms were decked out in a series of inventions. The sculptures and extended objects were made of all sorts of materials and processes and often incorporated puns and word play, some of which, like a carborundum and polyester resin ("sleeping") duck decoy which can't float, called Contrary Decoy (fig.8), operate on almost an extra-linguistic level. In this phase of Greer's art, many works may be appreciated (at least partly) as investigations into the psychological mechanics of a viewer's vision, investigations which often began with a verbal or visual pun.

Some of these pieces--one thinks of Greer's rotating mirrors--expose a viewer's "eccentricity" or "de-centerdness" by means of perceptual play. It is as if the work were a supplement to the psychology of perception which is outlined in books like Gombrich's Art & Illusion. However, it is important to stress that his conceptual art works do not "illustrate" psychological conundrums. Lately, theorists have argued that conceptual art has a "truth-function" of the same order as psychoanalysis. Instead of the artist being psychoanalyzed through the work,(9) theorists such as Lyotard propose that Freud's work be read according to Cezanne (de Duve 3); similarly, Harold Bloom proposes that Freud be read through Shakespeare (Bloom 29). The work of art is less important as a window into the artist's psyche than as a device which can intervene in the viewer's psychic being, and the realm of analysis itself.(10)

The word play (as well as the assemblage techniques with found materials) in Greer's early work has its art historical origins in the work of Dadaists like Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray. Duchamp's female alter ego, Rrose Sélavy ("Eros, that's life") is one example of an art pun, as is his curiously Canadian word play on the Inuit: "estimons les ecchymoses des Esquimaux aux mots exquis" or "we esteem the bruises of the Eskimos with beautiful language" (Krauss 6). Duchamp-inspired art puns cropped up everywhere in Canadian art of the '70s. For example, in Tim Zuck's work You can Lead a Horse to Water (1972) the artist literally acts out a cliché; Michael Snow's Venetian Blind is a series of photographs taken in Venice in which the artist is shown with his eyes closed.

Greer's pun-works include, among others, Even Crickets Take Arrest and Forty Lashes for Canadian Art (fig.9), (composed of twenty artificial eyelashes on each of two fired ceramic casts of hands). Time of Your Life (1974) incorporated a real clock with the hour, minute and alarm hands removed, leaving only the second hand. Each day of its exhibition, gallery staff wound the alarm clock for an unknown alarm time. Y.D. Klein? (1976, fig.10), is a print in which Greer superimposed his face on the face of a leaping Yves Klein.(11) My Neck of the Woods Used at the Shipyard Next Door (fig.11), a rather surrealistic object, is a composite of plastic and wood shavings cast in the form of a neck and put on a base. (The wood chips used in this piece came from a nearby shipyard).

The phrases Greer used in these works were partially grounded in the phraseology of a segment of working class Nova Scotia. Greer still collects examples of malapropisms and spoonerisms characteristic of the people he knows in rural Nova Scotia. What is read as "conceptual" word play in Greer's early work very often has components of "folk" puns of the kind Greer uses in his own conversation.

Greer's "paper airplane" works (figs 2,3) are particularly thorough in their visual punning. They play on a visual/verbal pun on the "plane" that flies and the picture "plane" Greer refers to something everyone knows from childhood or the office--a piece of paper which is formed into a little glider by folding. (Greer used the paper airplane for its association with "a desire for escape," flight, buoyancy and air, as well as for its familiarity.) He made wall drawings of airplanes with string elastic, a hologram plane (called A Little More Weight c.1978) and the (already mentioned) folded sheet lead planes. Sometimes they are transparent, illusionistically three dimensional, or actually three-dimensional: all based on a schematic drawing of the "paper airplane." Regarded from a certain angle, the "plane" works can be seen to be a virtual catalogue of the formal explorations of Cubism. The work also has affinities with the alternative "physics" of the Dadaists, called "'Pataphysics" (according to Alfred Jarry, 'Pataphysics was "...the science of imaginary solutions.") (Shattuck 242).

Many of Greer's works from the period 1967-1978 direct a viewer toward an awareness of the body by directing attention to foibles of vision. The mirror works (all but unreproducible) were especially effective. Dennis Gill writes:
The one work in this show that for me truly locates the participant in the act of art, is the mirrored sculpture entitled Neither Here Nor There [stainless steel, 31" x11" x8" 1977]. The visual anticipation established by the reflective surfaces suggests a confirmation of the accepted. One is prepared to see oneself, albeit slightly altered, but intact. When the participant cannot locate his or her face, there is frustration, then loss, then a curious revelation--a revelation that comes out of Greer's continued effort to dispute perception.
Critical responses to this phase of Greer's work have been mixed, and sometimes hostile (perhaps a surprise to people who feel that conceptual art has always been well supported in critical writing). Greer sees the puns as a threshold to multiple meanings, unlike some critics: "It's the cutesy playfulness which disturbs this onlooker," said the Montreal Gazette's Lawrence Sabbath in a response to Greer's 1981 Art Gallery of Nova Scotia retrospective, "I find nothing in this show that replies to my need for esthetic satisfaction in form and content, only cerebral ruminations, satiric jabs at history and technically crafted posturings..."

Other critics have been more generous, including Gilles Toupin, who commented on the modified version of the AGNS show which went to Montreal and New York:<
The exhibit is thus a sort of field of tactile, visual and intellectual experiments, extremely rich for whomever wishes to venture into it. In the face of all these mental manipulations of matter, one thinks of the artist-philosopher who contemplates the relationships of time and body with logic, without for all that, abandoning fantasy. (Toupin B3)
Yet a survey of critical writing about Greer shows that most of the critical generosity is reserved for his large-scale post-1978 work which uses traditional materials. Witness the ambivalence in Liz Wylie's characterization of Greer's older work (in the catalogue which accompanied a NSCAD retrospective show Eighty/Twenty):

Most of Greer's production throughout the 1960s and early 1970s was titled with puns which he says were intended simply as an introduction to the works, but by which more than a few people were misled into thinking that his work was mainly about jokes....
[The work underwent a] sharp change in direction ...in 1978. No longer concerned with the tenets of conceptual art, and no longer involving titular puns, Greer's work is far more linked to spirituality and seems more concerned with expressing the kind of power found in primitive art....There is a new attention to craft and precious materials. Yet there are links and constant factors between these two seemingly distinct phases of Greer's career....(96)
The "sharp change in direction" was, in fact, a more gradual process which began in 1978 with Greer's appointment as a professor at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (where he is currently Associate Professor of sculpture). Greer's work became more and more "sculpture" by 1981, and he became more a "sculptor" than a "conceptual" artist.

Greer himself thinks that perhaps too much is made of this shift in his work and in some ways I agree with him. Conceptual art and sculpture have always been closely related. However, I find the difference in the nature and scale of materials, and the difference in the way titles operate in the '80s work startling, no matter how constant the conceptual underpinnings of his total output.

The '80s work includes a granite television set called TV Idol Time (fig.12) and a number of outsized fruit pits which were made in 1989 as part of the work Reconciliation (fig.13), (see Wylie). Greer has also created a large marble comb/temple called Monument to the Temple of the Order of Chaos, 1985-86, a large bronze leaf (also part of Reconciliation, 1989), and the gigantic bones completed this year. Ancient uses for sculpture as monument and fertility emblem are called to mind by this work (the fruit pits of Reconciliation are like vegetable Venuses of Willindorf). In the 1980s, Greer started to develop his connections with the art of ancient Europe and began to abandon the found object materials of conceptual art of his earlier work. This rediscovery of the Old World culminated in his 1986 working sojourn in Pietrasanta, Italy. As Ron Shuebrook put it:
Perhaps for the first time, he worked daily in an environment in which the pleasures and particularities of shaping stone into sculpture were taken seriously and cherished. The mutually respectful interchange with local, highly skilled artisans must have been a pleasant contrast to the less supportive attitudes in Nova Scotia.(42-43)
In their 1983 overview of Canadian art, David Burnett and Marilyn Schiff briefly discuss TV Idol Time (fig.12). Although completed after 1978, it acts as a useful transition piece between Greer's early works and the recent Civilization ensemble. (Again, notice that the critical praise is weighted on the side of Greer's more recent, more "traditional" sculpture):
...John Greer's work lies in reverses of meaning and mixed metaphors of verbal and visual puns. TV Idol Time (1981, an obvious play on the words 'idol time' and 'idle time,') plays further on the associations of 'idol' by raising a stone sculpture of a television on a pedestal. The value of the image lies more in the medium than the message, and the polished screen gives a shadowy reflection of the spectator on its smooth, blank surface. This work, as are so many of Greer's pieces, is humorous and sharply ingenious in its switches between words and images, illusions and allusions. (245-6)
The shift in Greer's art from the late '70s to the '80s is a move away from the techniques of Duchampian 'Pataphysical experiments toward more traditional forms. This shift can be illustrated in the differences between say, a 1970s set of sunglasses blocked up with wool (on both sides) called Skeptical Spectacles (fig.15), which makes literal the saying "pulling the wool over one's eyes," and a 1991 representation of a human femur (weighing hundreds of pounds) which is connected in a more tentative way with the word (the title of the whole installation) "Civilization". (As observed by Norval Balch, Greer has moved from the "ephemeral" to the "efemural").

Civilization is Greer's latest work, and the entire contents of the exhibition which this catalogue accompanies (cat. 1). It is made up of thirteen large representations of human bones carved from Carrara marble in Italy during the winter of 1990-91.(12)

The components represent:

- the top half of a femur, the length of an average person, (notice a hole is carved through the head of the femur where, in a real femur, the bone forms around a bundle of blood vessels and nerves);

- a skull cap which rests on the ground like a bowl (lines formed by the plates of the skull and the brain are faithfully rendered, but Greer points out that the level of detail in Civilization is only as fine as he thinks is necessary "for a positive recognition of the specific referenced object");

- all three thumb bones lined up in order (the all-important opposable thumb);

- a rib (Greer relates it to the lower body's "floating ribs" and references to the "breath of life");

- a section of a jaw including teeth;

- and, finally, several bone fragments of various sizes.


Greer on Civilization:
The psychological authority of scale is [...] of fundamental importance in this new work, where your familiar image scale is changed, and yet your familiar relationship with objects is maintained within the experienced field. Your relationship to the thigh bone, for instance, is like that with a fallen tree trunk on which you could sit.
(Taken from a 1991 statement)
These bones have no precedents in classical or Renaissance sculpture (nevertheless, someone in Carrara asked Greer if the work was a representation of the bones of the slain Goliath), and surprisingly few precedents in art history (outside of photography, which has precedents for everything). A survey of Germaine Bazain's History of World Sculpture, for example, turns up only the paleolithic clay-painted skulls of Jericho as something similar.

One may be reminded of Pop Art, but Civilization lacks the consumer product subject matter which is so important to Pop Art. One is inclined to look to the post-war generation of artists like Francis Bacon, Alberto Giacometti and David Smith (or even Henry Moore) for work with affinities to Civilization, despite morphological resemblances it might have with the few instances of the use of bone motifs in recent art.(13)

David Smith's constructed, gnarled post-war steel sculptures of 1944-45 were based on his photographs and drawings of the skeletal structure of a Jurassic bird (Smith 98). They seem to be cousins of Greer's recent work. It is easy to understand why the skeleton, with its constructed look,14 would form the beginnings of what we now might read as a return to anthropomorphism in mid-century sculpture. (For Smith, no doubt, a forthright return to monolithic depictions of people would have been out of the question.)

A host of post-war sculptors made corroded, molded, and constructed skeletal-like forms like Smith's and Giacometti's. These forms had their origins early in the century with Picasso and Gonzalez, were continued by Smith, and dominated a certain sculptural subculture until well after the advent of Pop Art, when the full-blown figurative work unapologetically returned.

This subculture aligned itself with the philosophy of Existentialism.(15) But the invocation of the Existentialist artist in reference to Greer's work has its problems. Existentialism is an intellectual movement which we find difficult to fathom these days. In fact, the rhetoric of Existentialism in art was beginning to wear thin thirty years ago. As Arthur C. Danto says about Giacometti, the artist who epitomized existentialism for intellectuals like Genet and Sartre:
[the] remarkable sculpture is obscured by the thick glaze of overfamiliarity, and by a heavy grime of morose existentialist interpretation. Far from the objectifications of Angst, his pieces are light and nimble and radiant with philosophical intelligence and visual wit. There is a technology for restoring works assaulted by physical degeneration, but when the mind of the viewer is separated from the work by layer upon layer of deadening belief, it takes great curatorial initiative to dissolve the psychic oxides and make the work fresh again. (Danto 154)(16)
There is room for a similar reassessment of the painter Francis Bacon, another magnet for Existentialist ideas, who uses sweet, even pretty colours to paint macabre scenes. (Bacon's colours remind one of the skull confections made annually for All Soul's Day in Mexico.)

Greer's latest work is obviously about death, but does Civilization emit the same odor of death which clings to post-war Existentialist art? How might we reconcile the cinematographic living death of a media-saturated culture which Greer has always attempted to address with the post-war Existentialist ethos of Giacometti, Smith and company?(17)

It may be most fruitful to describe Civilization as part of a certain flourishing artistic tradition of depictions of the death of Man. Perhaps Greer's Civilization anticipates the boneyard of Patriarchy, some kind of bog where Man goes to get fossilized.(18)

Human bones always mean "death" to people--a memento mori. For some, this means a death without an afterlife, like the death that obsessed the Existentialists.19 But Existentialism itself needn't have the morose cast that is often given it: neither should Greer's Civilization take on so negative an aspect. An awareness of the body and its mortality can open the way to a heightened awareness and appreciation of life.20

There is even room for laughter in Civilization.

__________________________


In the early 1980s, the sculptor Robin Peck was a colleague of Greer's at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. He wrote an essay in 1981 entitled The Extinction of Sculpture (Rhodes 40-41). The essay is partly a parody of the death of art, an issue which has preoccupied artists since at least the 1920s (and philosophers since Hegel). Peck substitutes the words "sculpture" and "sculptors" for "dinosaurs" in an appropriated essay about extinction (what is an end-of-art theorist to make of giant human bones?):One theory contends that the Sculptors themselves remained too stupid to continue surviving in a constantly changing world. Unfortunately for this theory, there is no proof that a dull brain necessarily means unfitness for survival as long as efficient reflexes are maintained. Moreover, although some Sculptors died out near the middle of the history of Sculpture, other Sculpture survived until the very end; its development seems to do away with this explanation....
- Peck (Rhodes 40)Peck wasn't the only theorist to contemplate the death of art in the face of an early '80s art explosion; in fact, he wasn't even the only NSCAD faculty member to tackle the issue. In 1981, Benjamin H.D. Buchloh was gearing up for a major critical assault on art world "regression" in Michael Asher and the Conclusion of Modern Sculpture.(21)

Buchloh makes several arguments from a neo-Marxist perspective. He characterizes minimalist sculpture and constructed formalist sculpture as a recapitulation of forms already exhausted as early as 1913 in the experiments of the Cubists and Constructivists. Minimalist sculptors of the '60s like Donald Judd and Robert Morris were simply remaking what had been made before, while attempting to deny the lineage of their work -- its affinities with, say, Bauhaus and Constructivist experiments. According to Buchloh, formalist sculpture like that of Anthony Caro recycled the exhausted precedents of earlier work like that of Gonzalez. As for the the contemporary "junk" sculptor, Buchloh regards picking up the detritus of industrial processes by sculptors as being especially pathetic.

Buchloh retains a backhanded loyalty to conceptual strategies like those of Asher which celebrate the death of art. The use of traditional high-art materials like marble, bronze and paint on canvas, which Greer and many other formerly avant-garde artists were embracing, is vilified as the ultimate regression in practice. Greer's own statements about his work tend to mark themselves off from the romantic defenses of a return to tradition which Buchloh attacks. In fact, his statements resemble those by the Post-Minimalist abstract sculptor Richard Serra (who never meant them to apply to representational art).(22)

Greer's adaptation of the rhetoric of post-minimalism to representational sculptural installations encourages readings of the work as a critique of (two-dimensional) cinematographic consciousness through three-dimensional representational sculpture:
The mind, the body and the world are intrinsically connected. I feel it is extremely important to remember that the mind does not operate outside the body, regardless of your ability to project yourself into images and ideas. It is important to keep the mind grounded in matter or in the body, the body being of and in the world.
- Greer (Gill)
One is reminded of Richard Serra's distaste for photographs of his very large abstract plate steel sculptures, which he has always felt must be experienced in situ. Photographs turn the sculpture into a "composition", into a pictorial construction, into something which robs one of the experience of sculpture by providing vicarious two-dimensional substitutes for it. (Serra developed his position in the late '60s in opposition to the pictorial abstract sculpture advocated by critics like Clement Greenburg and Michael Fried, arguing in support of his very large works made of Cor Ten steel plates.) One can hear something of Serra's tone in Greer's polemics against focusing on the "pictorial" qualities of his representational sculpture:
This is a critique of the forgetfulness of the enclosing line. This dividing line or severance defines the parameters of the two-dimensional representation (cropped image), separating it in scale from the tactile reality of the world. This creates a cerebral-scale world. The ambiguous nature of confined, pictorial space sets its own scale; we relinquish the authority of our bodies to the ambiguity of the space by allowing it to deny our physical scale, thus seemingly separating our minds from our bodies. The common and casual way we relinquish authority to the pictorial space leads to confusion, which in turn leads to neglect of the physical world. Painting is the mother of mass-produced, two-dimensional images including television; the casual assimilation of these cropped images must be questioned. - Greer (Wylie, Reconciliation)
Yes, we hear Greer saying, there is a representational element, but one is encouraged to ground one's "viewing" (perhaps a better word is "feeling") in the tactile act of experiencing the work as a body confronting another body.

From the recent Saint Mary's University Art Gallery catalogue:
The Nine Grains of Rice (fig. 17) [is] another example of reaffirming the location of the consciousness in the body. They are positioned to appear scattered on the floor. As you walk across the floor, your object relationship to the rice does not allow room for your mind to separate from your body. The thinking that takes place in regard to these objects is physically grounded. Because you are an object in the field of experience, you cannot deny your physicality. You are not projecting, you are interacting.
And a statement from the catalogue for the exhibition The Embodied Viewer (curated in 1991 for the Glenbow Museum in Calgary by Vera Lemecha):
The viewer of sculpture should not take a sculptural image into the brain for consideration as he does when viewing two-dimensional space. This would make the body redundant psychologically. To view sculpture, you must maintain the body in space awareness and encounter the object or sculpture as an equal. The authority of your body should not be relinquished as it is when you look into the second dimension. Your sensibilities must remain physically grounded.
- Greer (Lemecha 24)
What could be more physically "grounded" than Greer's latest work, representations of human bones? One thinks of the Leder passages quoted earlier in this essay. Greer connects the general issue of sculpture being obdurately tactile and three-dimensional to the facts of our own embodiment in matter, facts that can be obscured by the peculiarities of vision itself, facts to be taken up by a viewer on a work-by-work basis.

As to Greer's future art, one has every reason to expect a continuity of motivation as the range of his work continues to expand. For those who have followed his work over many years, Greer's earlier use of the Alphonse Karr aphorism "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose"(23) will come to mind. He once made a work called Ladder of Commitment (fig. 18), a ladder with one rung which gives the sense that it is to be clung to for dear 24 life, or grasped unto death.


-- Cliff Eyland


Bibliography

Barrett, William. Irrational Man, A Study in Existentialist Philosophy. New York: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1958.

Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972.

Baudrillard, Jean. The Evil Demon of Images. Sydney: Power Institute, 1987.

Bazain, Germaine. History of World Sculpture. New Jersey: Chartwell Books, 1976.

Beale, Nancy. The Ottawa Citizen. October 29,1987.

Bloom, Harold. "Shakespeare's Freud." Harper's magazine. New York: Harper's Magazine Foundation, 1991. 29-30.

Bois, Yves Alain. A Picturesque Tour Around Clara-Clara. October:The First Decade, 1976-1986. Boston: MIT Press, 1987. 342-372.

Bringhurst, Robert et al, editors.Visions, Contemporary Art in Canada. Vancouver/Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre, 1983.

Burnett, David and Marilyn Schiff. Contemporary Canadian Art. Edmonton: Hurtig and Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 1983.

Condon Laurette, Patrick. "John Greer, The Sculptor Objecting." Arts Atlantic 14, Summer 1982. 20-23.

Dagenais, Francine. "Ephemera Fossilized, Giuseppe Penone." Vancouver:Vanguard, March 1984. 10-13.

Danto, Arthur. The State of the Art. New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1987.

de Duve, T. Pictorial Nominalism: On Marcel Duchamp's Passage from Painting to the Readymade. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991.

Eco, Umberto. Travels in Hyperreality. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, 1986.

Elsen, Albert E. Modern European Sculpture 1918-1945 Unknown Beings and Other Realities. New York: Georges Braziller, 1979.

Elsen, Albert E. Origins of Modern Sculpture: Pioneers and Premises. New York: Georges Braziller, 1974.

Foster, Hal. Discussions in Contemporary Culture Number One. Seattle: Bay Press, 1987.

Franz, Marie-Louise von. Alchemy, an Introduction to the Symbolism and the Psychology. Toronto: Inner City Books, 1980.

Gill, Dennis. John Greer Never the Same After Words. Saint Mary's Art Gallery, 1990. N. pag.

Hertz, Richard. Theories of Contemporary Art. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1985.

Hulten, Pontus, Natalia Dumitresco and Alexandre Istrati. Brancusi. New York:Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1987.

Jacob, S.W. and C.A. Francone. Elements of Anatomy and Physiology. 2nd Ed. Montreal: Harcourt Brace Javanovich, Inc., 1989.

Jung, C.G. Psychology and Alchemy. New York: Princeton University Press, 1968.

Kelly, Gemey John Greer:Connected Works. Halifax: Dalhousie Art Gallery, 1987.

Krauss, Rosalind. "Notes on the Index: Seventies Art in America." October:The First Decade, 1976-1986. Boston: MIT Press, 1987.

Lemecha, Vera.The Embodied Viewer. Calgary: The Glenbow
Museum, 1991.

Lord, Barry. The History of Painting in Canada, Toward a People's Art. Toronto: NC Press, 1974.

Mannoni, Luciana and Tiziano. Marble the History of a Culture. New York: Facts on File Publications, 1985.

Naipaul, V.S. India A Million Mutinies Now, London: Minerva, 1991.

Noguchi, Isamu. The Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1987.

Overy, Paul. "Lions & Unicorns: The Britishness of Postwar British Sculpture." New York: Art in America, September 1991. 105-111.

Pope, Robert. "John Greer:Connected Works." Charlottetown: Arts Atlantic 29, Summer/Fall 1987. 13-14.

Rhodes, Richard, Jeffrey Spalding and James Graham. Robin Peck: 1971-1991. Burnaby: Burnaby Art Gallery, 1991.

Romanes, G.J. Cunningham's Manual of Practical Anatomy. Norwich: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Sabbath, Lawrence. Montreal Gazette, January 22,1983.

Shanes, Eric. Constantin Brancusi. New York: Abbeville Press, 1989.

Shattuck, Roger. The Banquet Years. New York: Vintage Books, 1968.

Shuebrook, Ron. "John Greer." Vancouver: Vanguard, September/October 1987. 42-43.

Siegel, Jeanne. Artwords Discourse on the
'60s and '70s.
Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1985.

Smith, David. David Smith. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972.

Spivak, G.C. "Feminism and Critical Theory." Contemporary Critical Theory. Ed. Dan Latimer. New York: Harcourt Brace Janovich Publishers, 1989.

Toupin, Gilles. "Une sculpture provocante et amusante." La Presse. Lundi 17 Janvier 1983. B3.

Tucker, William. The Language of Sculpture. London: Thames and Hudson, 1977.

Wraight, Robert. "What is Art Coming To?" Horizon, a magazine of the arts. New York: American Heritage Publishing Co.,Inc., 1966. 4-11.

Wylie, Liz and Robert Stacey, Eighty/Twenty 100 Years of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Halifax: Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, 1988.

Wylie, Liz. John Greer Reconciliation. (catalogue to an exhibition) Lethbridge: Southern Alberta Art Gallery, 1990.

Yeats, W.B. Yeats' Poems. Ed. A. Norman Jeffares. London: Papermac, 1989.

blank line