Derek Kreckler: Accident and Process: PICA

Derek Kreckler: Accident and Process

By Graham Mathwin

In contrast to the formal installation that was upstairs in Consuello Cavaniglia’s in the distance a pool of light was not what it seemed, Kreckler’s mid career retrospective accident and process was characterised by relative formal and media diversity – photographic, installation, sculptural, audio-visual – and a diversity of subject – though it was all primarily figurative and clearly bearing the stamp of conceptual art. Both the form and subject are bound by a continuous, yet elusive sensibility. There is, primarily, a sense of deliberate incompleteness or fragmentation in many of the works – but also, to complement this, a deliberate removal and elision of information as well. Every image, and every video, gives the impression of only a part of a narrative or logical progression, and we must often retroactively attempt to piece together the puzzle Kreckler has left for us. Kreckler’s work is not direct, and its simplicity belies the complexities that it evokes.

In his early bicycle work, racers circle ungracefully, crashing into each other and finally into a man on crutches carrying a weight behind him. The development of this work sets the tone of Kreckler’s work, that begins simply enough with an elegant premise, yet is frequently (and deliberately) troubled and falls apart, the structure dissolving. The game is interrupted, the rules are changed, and we reach the state that I feel symptomatizes Kreckler’s investigations: absurdity. I feel it is worth mentioning here that humour was also one of the devices of Samuel Beckett’s work. The pointless is often entertaining, and nihilism and laughter are not irreconcilable, meaninglessness is perhaps even conducive to it. Though Kreckler’s work is not nihilistic, there is a definite sense of absurdity, and the implicit loss of meaningfulness within it. Even the presence of chance, wherever it sits in the work (as even that is uncertain), implies that things happen without reason. There is, however, no certainty in where Kreckler’s construction ends and chance begins. The deliberate construction or post-production of accidents, particularly in the documents series, I would interpret as a case in underlining the pointless, just as in Ballard’s Crash, Vaughn seeks to construct the perfect psychosexual automobile accident, to end his life in the metal embrace of Elizabeth Taylor’s car, so Kreckler’s work, somewhere between Ballard’s and Vaughn’s (though usually less malicious), placed people who were not there in the path of accidents he was witness to, or imagined occurring. I am reminded in particular of Vaughn’s various photographic constructions that imagined his death. Our own propensity to imagine our deaths, and the many near misses we can recall, all play into these imaginary, theatrical photos. The rules and games that Kreckler plays, all have a tinge of this absurd and existential thought to them. Their interest in repetition, their investment in failure and falling, and of course in accidents, all indicate a vision of the world without precise or logical goals or origins. Kreckler’s work is as indeterminate as the seas that his images often depict.

This constant presence of water in the work – in various states and places –suggests a certain repetitious (and by extension Sisyphean) and also uncertain space. There are parallels in Kreckler’s relationship with it to Bas Jan Ader’s interactions with it, and the other processes, the forced accidents, which each artist undertakes. The water is ambiguous though, never definitely presented as hopelessly as being lost at sea, and is often just as delightful as a day at the beach (Holey). In this exhibition, it is not only in states of agitation, but also calm and calming. One of the most indicative images of the show, however, is part of the series big wave hunting. The image is of Kreckler, dissolved in the spray of the sea, and it feels to me like the moment that the exhibition is aimed towards. It is the glimmer between a presence and an absence, the space between dissolution in chaos and the presence of the individual. This dissolution is re-enacted in many of Kreckler’s works, from the spatial and visual interaction of Littoral, where fan-blown cut paper shows, disrupts and blocks its subject simultaneously, and Holey, where small circles of the photographic image are twisted into spheres that lie beneath it. In all the works there is a strong presence of the natural world, and Kreckler is often seen giving himself over to it, or accidental occurrences resulting from it. The chaotic formation of the seas and plants and waterfalls all seem to inspire or reciprocate with Kreckler’s own investment in absurdity. The elusive goal of Kreckler’s practice seems to sit in the chasing down of the moment where the nonsensical begins, where it breaks through systems of order.

The coast itself is an unclear division, the water is never in a precise place, it indicates to us the very problems we have in definition – its edges constantly merge and overcome one another. Kreckler’s work exemplifies this indeterminacy, the edges of intention and occurrence, and the construction and finding of images. It is the difficulty and the fascination of the work. It is by no means a deliberate obfuscation; it is too simple to lose itself in detours and references (although there is a definite nationalist critique that it proffers, and references to photographic history). The work demands an emotive engagement. In a deadpan serious tumble into the sea, one leg akimbo, Kreckler seems both the comic figure in his suit and tie, but also extremely serious about his disappearance, and the possibility of letting go.

The sea keeps time, and so does the waterfall. Olafur Eliasson often talks about the difficulty of judging space in Iceland, but the constant rate at which water falls providing a measure of the landscape it is falling from. Yet while Eliasson’s work recreated the waterfalls in Manhatten, putting a measure up to the city, as it were, Kreckler’s work is less quantitative. In his video, six projections of a waterfall are chopped and cut to different times, as is the sound. It is a destruction of the calm we may have experienced, and seems instead to tumble us through the waterfall ourselves. We are not distant observers in this work, whether it is in our shadows that cut through the floor-based projections, or the very proximity of the water to us in the projections, the images press themselves on us, and do not remain distant, as in Romantic painting. There is no view to be had in the work, rather there is a kind of abstract patterning, in it we can perhaps experience what the photograph of big wave hunting sought to present: a kind of dissolution.

The bicycle race and Ned Kelly, however, seem to hold quite a different intent and feeling. There is maintained the humour of many of the other works, and a continuation of the absurdity evident in all of them. Yet they speak in different registers, deadpan and narrative, they inhabit quite a different space. Their intentions seem less conducive to sensation and more to a kind of extrapolation of logic, and a playing with the consequences. Ned Kelly in particular is the most humorously aggressive to the myth of Australian identity, blind Ned stumbling along through the bush, filtered through the scratched and abused nostalgia of old representations. In the context of the show, it feels somewhat idiosyncratic, but along with white goods and some of the documents series, forms the more critical of Kreckler’s works.

The extreme heterogeneity of Kreckler’s work is its great strength. Though it is difficult to pin its precise effect, there does seem to be cohesion in the show, as broad as Kreckler’s interests may be. The interest, however, is more in the idiosyncratic and the absurd than how well each piece fits together. The pointless and the nonsensical dominate the show, and yet it is not only a violent or aggressive meaninglessness, it is an acknowledgement of chance, happenstance, and the accidents that inform all our lives and worlds.


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