‘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.