In the same way that an idea need not be acted upon in order to exist, can an artist’s practice also exist only as thought? While for some people the idea of making something is only the beginning of a longer story, for Oscar Neuestern it is the end. It is all there is. It is precisely what defines his practice. It is simply a search, a precise one, that will most probably never reach any end. Could this be the epitome of the future, the future artist?
I first learned about Neuestern when I read an article on his work in the September 1969 issue of ArtNews. It was written by Kiki Kundri and described the (then) short career of the artist. It intrigued me enormously from the start. The still young Neuestern (born 1948, USA) had quickly developed a practice concerned with the absolute, based on absence, in search of the nonact. In fact, his practice had started to be shaped by the condition from which he suffered. As Kundri described it, that condition took the form of some kind of amnesia that prevented the artist from remembering what had happened the day before; any research he undertook one day had to start over again the next. Neuestern’s was a search that commenced every day afresh, with little remembrance of any leads that had been previously uncovered.
Since I first read about Neuestern – years back – I have been on a serious lookout for evidence of the artist’s practice, even if it has to be through abstract traces, even if what I might find is more about my projection on it than a concrete existence. How little can we do, and still create a thought?
Mario García Torres, Photograph of a window pane; the only clear surface at the post office building in Salt Lake City, USA where Oscar Neuestern installed an exhibition in 1970 taken years after the fact but where I went to try and find some traces of his most probably forgotten gesture, 2008. Courtesy the artist
Recently, I was able to hear the artist’s voice in some fragments of what appears to be a conversation between Neuestern and an unidentified interviewer. In it, the artist talks about transparency in a somewhat poetic way. He defines the translucent as the only space in which to reach the absolute, the ultimate nonact. For him, any trace of action will render the story opaque, which would prevent him from advancing his investigation. But even if I trust what I heard… does it make it the most concrete proof of this artist’s practice in existence? His voice seemed to fill the air with uncertainty as it obliterated itself. Might it be that it is precisely the doubt that surrounds the story that actually creates the potential for these ideas to be disseminated? That it is this that leads each of us ourselves to question our daily life and understanding of the future?
American Oscar Neuestern’s entire artistic career is built on exploring the concept of absence. In 2008, his work was included in the group show Out of Sight at Proyectos Monclova (who also represent Mario García Torres) in Mexico City. Selected by Mario García Torres, artist, Mexico City.
This article was first published in the March 2015 issue.