Abstract Critical

The Object Shifts – Shahryar Nashat’s Factor Green

Written by Lee Triming

‘As part of our month looking at Installation video and the Web, Writer-in-Residence Lee Triming considers the work of Shahrya Nashat, whose video installation ‘Factor Green’, recently seen at the Venice Biennale, raises some particularly pertinent questions about the abstract potential of such an approach as it moves between painting and sculptural disciplines’.


Insofar as it seldom presents or operates within an illusory pictorial space, the sculptural object has a somewhat different relation to the idea of abstraction than does the painted object. Indeed, depending on their particular reading of the ‘a’ word, some have been known to question the possibility of sculptural abstraction, arguing that a sculpture of a cube can hardly be abstract when it’s right there on the floor in front of you being a cube as thoroughly and convincingly as the floor beneath it is busy being the floor. Shahryar Nashat’s video Factor Green (2011, recently on show at the Venice Biennale) explores the complications lurking within this problematic by bringing ‘abstract’ sculptural form into play with the pictorial registers of both painting and video.

Factor Green opens with a close up shot of a large parcel being opened. As hands and scissors tear through the layers of packaging, a lime green oblong with bevelled edges is gradually uncovered, lifted out, and set on the floor of what, as the camera moves back, appears to be the painting conservation wing of a large museum. The young man who opened the parcel first sits then stands on the green block, shifting our perception of it from abstract form to an item of furniture and then to a plinth (which form recurs throughout Nashat’s oeuvre). He balances on one leg before a seated, older man, striking a classical pose, which he holds, giggling to himself, for a few seconds before allowing himself to drop to the floor in a move that suggests a shifting, choreographic relationship to this odd green object’s protean simplicity.

Next, the same young man is shown holding the object to him at chest height in a shot cropped so that we can’t see its lower extremities. Therefore, as he releases it and it appears to remain hovering in mid air, we understand that something off camera is supporting the form. Has he balanced it on another object? No: as the man retreats, the next shot shows the green oblong floating in mid air – no longer a support, but a mark in space, free itself of any visible supporting mechanism. It becomes clear that the object is at this point rendered in C.G.I. As it hangs motionless among paintings awaiting the conservators’ attentions, it seems a refugee from a future history of painting unknown to the Saints and Christs that surround it, at the same time as occupying a pictorial space which, while virtual in a very particular and contemporary sense of the word, also shares much with the spaces of Renaissance perspective. This elegant conflation is only furthered as Nashat’s by now purely notional and pictorial sculpture slowly sidles up to the surface of a murky descent from the cross, fitting its broadest flank flush to the canvas and then moving across the painted surface in a slow, deliberate arc, almost like an eraser, coming to rest under the back of the Christ figure as if attempting to restore its plinth-hood, to bridge (or rub out) disparate pictorial and historical orders so as to support his sagging body.

  1. John Holland said…

    Very nice, but it does sound more like an illustrated lecture than a fully-realised work of art.

  2. Sam Cornish said…

    Thanks Lee

    The cube seems to have changed at some point from being assertively non-art to being something which frequently acts as a signifier of art – and much could be said about 2 other forms frequently associated with minimalism; repetition and the grid.

    The cube as a signifier of art / sculpture and as a thing which is shifted to denote the multiplicity an artwork either has or acquires as it physically moves or different perceptions are brought to it has a long tradition, dating back (as far as I know) to at least the sixties. Roelof Louw carried a block of metal around the streets of London in the late sixties, taking a photo of it whenever he felt he needed a break. Bruce McLean performed as a sculpture on a plinth. Didn’t Lawrence Weiner bury a cube (or say he was going to)? Something similar was also a feature of one of the videos in the Matter exhibition at ATP; and a recent show I saw somewhere had packaged cubes sent through airmail to denote (I assume) the working of the globalised art market. These examples could be multiplied enormously. How about the relation between 2001 A Space Odyssey and minimalism as a example slightly out of an art context? (not an original idea of mine).

    The cube (or repetition or the grid) are handy signifiers of art as they are 1) easy to construct and 2) blank; as with the first reviewers of minimalism we are forced to take in the details of the context because the object we are confronted with is itself basically unexciting.

    I have to say I find all this jiggling around (in out, in out shake it all about) interesting and quite fun. But could it ever really be more than fun or interesting? I would certainly not deny this sort of practice a place (it would be like denying a place to art criticism), but wouldn’t a more compelling, genuinely exciting form of abstraction (whether sculpture, installation, painting) concentrate on the thing itself, rather than taking this thing as an – easily – accomplished fact and then musing as to the possibilities as it moved context? Perhaps this sort of work would be valued when it was felt to be resistant to change rather than when its entire reason for existence was to illustrate change?

    • Paul Keller said…

      HI think this work/object/sculpture is actually resilient because what Sharyar Nashat used is the green chroma key color that represents the ‘everything’ because it has this potential of shape shifting. And the fact that it is happy remaining its ‘technical’ color makes it radical.