Gordon Lebredt, Epokhé 1974-75/2005, oil on canvas, 160.0 x 241.5 cm. Collection of Gallery One One One, School of Art, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg. Gift of Brynne Wild and Paul Thomas. Photo: Ernest Mayer.
GORDON LEBREDT: BY THE NUMBERS
Gallery One One One
November 10, 2005 - January 27, 2006
GORDON LEBREDT: BY THE NUMBERS
By the Numbers takes a retrospective look at the early works produced in the 1970s by Gordon Lebredt, one of Canada's most advanced thinkers in contemporary art. Brought together here for the first time is a selection of Lebredt's paintings, prints, drawings, and three-dimensional pieces, including works he created as a student at the University of Manitoba School of Art (1972-1976). Lebredt has deconstructed his artistic programme from the seventies, in terms of an installation organized to reflect Jacques Derrida's notions of 'self-differing', or 'delay', as constitutive of all experience. The notion that a limit or boundary -- the frame for example -- is always dis-jointed or dis-adjusted has been the leitmotif that has structured all of my work, says Lebredt. Accordingly, By the Numbers is installed to draw attention to notions of framing, enframement, and the exfoliation of limits. The works are deliberately placed to intrude on boundaries, edges, such that each work can no longer claim or command something like its own space. The at times eccentric dis-positioning of the objects works to procure a connection between adjacent works, thus forming a network of images rather than simply a collection of discrete objects. In effect, using the seminal pieces from his early career, Lebredt creates a new work of art with the exhibition installation -- a meta-work that re-interprets Lebredt's artistic output from the 1970s.
Framing of the painting Epokhé (1974-75) became the impulse for organizing By the Numbers. Due to a lack of funds at the time, Lebredt did not frame and glaze the painting as he had originally planned. Consequently Epokhé entered the Gallery One One One collection in 1986 in an unfinished state. Using Lebredt's original drawings, the Gallery worked with Lebredt and carpenter Ross Bond to complete the painting for By the Numbers. Bond built the complex, multi-jointed wooden frame and a local sign company affixed the Greek word épokhé (meaning to suspend or interrupt) in yellow vinyl lettering to the acrylic sheet covering the painting. Unaware that these elements were missing from the painting, the Gallery previously exhibited the work as an example of Lebredt's impressive photorealist paintings created during his student years. In its finished state, however, the painting demanded an entirely new interpretation that acknowledged the conceptual elements of Lebredt's work. According to Lebredt the purpose of the fractured frame and text was to assert the necessity of the supplement, of certain parergonal devices. Lebredt had resolved the special framing for the painting Epokhé (and Title: not specified) after reading Craig Owens's translation of Jacques Derrida's essay The Parergon published in 1979 in October magazine. Lebredt says it was Owens's translation that lead him to breaking the corners of the frames for Epokhé and Title: not specified, and to introducing the concept of the parergon or supplement to the two paintings. Lebredt wanted to emphasize that ...the border or frame from this point on was to be considered permeable, or more importantly, divisible, a notion Lebredt has extended to the overall installation of By the Numbers.
Moreover, with the addition of the dis-jointed frame and overlaid text, a reading of the painting as purely an exercise in hyperrealism is disrupted. In its finished state Epokhé (and other works from this period) are better understood as a philosophical investigation into the phenomenological discourse of the late 1970s. The word épokhé, not only suggests an epoch or era -- the figurative subject of the painting seems to encapsulate the post-hippie era of the '70s -- but it also refers to Edmund Husserl's philosophical term epoché that recalls the operation of bracketing, the prerequisite process necessary to begin what Husserl called a (phenomenological) reduction. In its placement here as a textual device obscuring but not obliterating the painting, épokhé further references Derrida's notion of erasure or trace, the idea of putting a signifier under question in its relation to its referent. In essence Lebredt asks the viewer to suspend judgment of the work, and to consider it simultaneously both as painting and not-painting.
Lebredt entered art school at a time when photography was new to the School of Art curriculum. First taught in 1973, photography had a profound effect on his work. The photograph not only served as the source image for most of his paintings, prints, and drawings at the time, but it also became the primary foil for his deconstruction of the image. With the rise and dominance of photography, Lebredt found himself at odds with the very image itself, and questioned its constitution in his work. Lebredt's problem with the photograph in particular was with its denotative essence, as he put it. He reacted against its analogue plenitude -- on which the objective status of the photograph rested.... But, unlike the Conceptualist artists of his day, Lebredt did not want to do away with the object itself. Nor did he wish to resolve the problem through abstraction. Instead Lebredt advanced in a new and entirely different direction: Without simply dismissing the image, an attempt was made to underscore the various protocols that sustain the work, the work-as-image, says Lebredt. Dot drawing (c. 1976), for instance, attempts in a mechanical way to breakdown the image into a collection of gray dots, mimicking the black and white, halftone photograph. The print Source/Source (1977), in which Lebredt reproduces both the photographic source for the painting Title: not specified, and a photograph of the painting itself, conflates the distinction between painting and photography, making it difficult to determine if the photograph was the source for the painting or vice versa.
After graduating from art school in 1976, the ideas Lebredt had been pursing while in art school concerning the nature of perception and representation crystallized around the writings of Jacques Derrida. Lebredt first came to the work of the late French theorist in 1977-78 after absorbing Derrida's seminal work, Of Grammatology. Originally published in French in 1967, and later in English in 1976, Of Grammatology explores the logic of writing and forms the basis for Derrida's theory of deconstruction, a theory that came to dominate the critical discourse of art and literature in the late 1970s and especially the 1980s. In Of Grammatology, Derrida was interested in the grammar, the composition of language. Lebredt proposed a parallel application to visual representation, and he came to see his artistic programme from the 1970s in terms of an exploration of what he called the grammaticalization of the visible. Lebredt theorized that images are composed of discrete 'grammars', a collection of marks that transmit meaning to us, not unlike the diacritical marks that constitute writing. The small graphite dots in Lebredt's Dot drawing then can be read as the visual 'grammar' of the image. Similarly, the paint-by-number motif Lebredt adopted for the tree and foliage in Epokhé, and for the composition of Ripple Rock Blowup, reinforces the notion of the visual being constituted or rather built-up by smaller units of paint.
By the Numbers demonstrates that photography was also central to Lebredt's printmaking programme in the seventies. It was through the printmaking process that Lebredt attempted to show that the photograph that is 'the image' was already marked or animated by the digital. In the impressive large-scale print Natural Facts: Red X Yellow X Blue (1977), and its accompanying two-part work, Scan, Lebredt pushed the concept of the grammè -- the differential trait -- to an exceptional degree, emphasizing again the fact that the image is nothing more than a constituent of a discrete grammar. Lebredt's strategy consisted of transposing the photographic image through another medium such as printmaking. The point (the thesis) of the transpositions was to push the whole process past its condition as photography while, at the same time, maintaining it, states Lebredt. The point of partitioning the image, however, was not abstraction. He writes: it was to mechanically space the work out ... in order to demonstrate its condition as text, that is to say, as writing in general.
Lebredt's method of transposition in Natural Facts reflects his overall methodology at the time. While in art school Lebredt was adamant that his working method would be technical, that is to say, programmatic, versus an intuitive, or purely subjective approach. Therefore, each artistic undertaking became a problem to be solved through a step-by-step process that bound analytical thought to aesthetic purpose. Natural Facts is an algorithmic transposition that breaks down the printmaking process as much as possible along the way -- into a kind of print-by-numbers system. Beginning with the colour separations magenta, yellow, and cyan taken from a 35 mm slide, he made three series of positives representing the tonal variance in each separation. Lebredt transposed the printing colour into a numerical system represented by stamped numbers that corresponded to the value he gave to each colour in the printing process. Based on the idea of a lithographer's grey scale, Lebredt created his own colour scale, assigning a number-value that determined the density and intensity of the large print. Working with Bill Lobchuk and the Grand Western Canadian Screen Shop in Winnipeg, Lebredt prepared screens from the colour separations that resulted in over 50 colours printed to produce the final image. Lebredt added a smaller print and a source photograph to the final work, to further emphasize the transpositions. In Natural Facts Lebredt's programme essentially broke down the image into a numerical code using an analogue source (i.e., the colour transparency), a strategy that has parallels to the digital process of using 1 and 0 to make information. In Scan, Lebredt printed the code and the analytical colour key in an eleven inch sample strip from Natural Facts. Lebredt considers Natural Facts: Red X Yellow X Blue his thesis work from art school, finishing it for an exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 1977.
At one point during his art school years, Lebredt wanted to change his major from painting to sculpture. He recalls becoming interested in the figure of the mise-en-abyme (the repetition of the image within the image), and he had begun to sketch out a series of architectural ideas around the concept of the reflexive machine. L + R [To RS] (1974) was the first of his reflexive machines. Inspired by Robert Smithson's Enantiomorphic Chambers (1964), and dedicated to Smithson, it consisted of a triangular wall-mounted piece with mirrors that reflected the image of itself back to the viewer. After Lebredt graduated from art school, he completed Labour of Vision (1977), a second and fascinating self-differing machine, consisting of a lighted, mirror-lined stainless steel box with a small round eye-hole cut in the centre of the box. Labour of Vision has been entirely reconstructed for By the Numbers, and looking through the hole, the viewer's eye goes on a voyage of endless repetition into the abyss. For Lebredt, The mise-en-abyme works were my demonstrators: the image imbedded in itself to infinitely reproduce, in effect, the same condition made visible in the painted image. The condition of any surface or partition, even a blank one, was open to self-differing, to what I've referred to as grammaticalization.
As a final gesture in By the Numbers, Lebredt compiled a supplement in the form of a binder entitled white walls:black holes. Its contents represent another important aspect to his art production in the seventies that could not be accommodated on the gallery walls. During the mid- to late 1970s, before moving to Toronto in the early '80s, Lebredt played a significant role in the emerging performance and installation art scene in Winnipeg. He produced numerous exhibitions of performative works, and audio/video installations for Plug In, the newly founded artist-run centre, and at the recently opened Modernist home for the Winnipeg Art Gallery on Memorial Boulevard. white walls:black holes (the title is a reference to the black hole/white wall system described by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in their analysis of faciality) contains photo-documentation of Lebredt's performances and audio/video installations, exhibition artifacts, along with written and visual sources for his various art projects. In effect, white walls:black holes further demonstrates the exceptional skill, intellectual talent, and theoretical rigour Lebredt brought to his artistic programme in the 1970s. Lebredt's latest re-positioning of his early work in By the Numbers redefines Lebredt's place in contemporary Canadian art, and confirms his importance to its continuing critical discourse.
Robert Epp, Guest Curator
November 2005, Winnipeg
(Revised, February 2007)
Special thanks to Gordon Lebredt, Michael Lebredt, Mrs. Hilda Lebredt, Ross Bond, Mary Reid, Radovan Radulovic, Bill Lobchuk, Dr. Jeanne Randolph, Cliff Eyland, Collin Zipp, James Jansen, Suzanne Wolfe, The Winnipeg Art Gallery, The Manitoba Arts Council, The Canada Council for the Arts, The Canada Council Art Bank, and the School of Art staff and volunteers.
The Gordon Lebredt: By the Numbers CD-ROM includes links to other Gallery One One One projects: Gallery One One One, School of Art, Main Floor, FitzGerald Building, University of Manitoba Fort Garry campus, Winnipeg, MB, CANADA R3T 2N2. Gallery Hours: Noon to 4 PM (weekdays only).TEL:204 474-9322 FAX:474-7605
For information please contact Robert Epp firstname.lastname@example.org