There are those moments when, half-asleep, you can’t tell whether a sound you heard came from your dream or the real world. There is a mutual interjection, the sound inserting itself into the dream, the dream diffusing into the waking world, as you muddle awake uncertainly, trying to tell what’s what. A similar sense of sifting hesitantly through things balanced precariously on the edge of existence characterises Ian Kiaer’s work. His sparse, humming arrangements of flimsy, worn materials might position him simply as a poetic postreadymade formalist. Huddled around the work like shadows, though, is a host of explicit references and allusions to a set of artists, architects, writers and aspirationalists that I’d prefer not to recount here. Kiaer’s work is, for me, at its best in that loose, associative oneiric state, where his inspirations hover over barely constructed objects that can’t possibly bear their weight, half-gestures and incomplete ideas that haven’t yet been abruptly awoken.
On the island in Lake Vassivière, a manmade lake in the middle of the sparsely populated logging region of Limousin, it’s hard to ignore the Centre d’Art. A postmodern building jutting imposingly out from a hill, its focus point is a conical lighthouse, with the adjacent main building conceived of as its ‘aqueduct’, designed by Xavier Fabre and Italian urban theorist and ‘analogical’ architect Aldo Rossi, and completed in 1991. Kiaer has, as much as is characteristically possible for his work, dealt with the building directly. The exhibition is a series of five sculptural tableaux, each assemblage simply named after the room it occupies. A.R. Atelier (A.R. Studio, all works 2013) is the bluntest, scattering the floor with disassembled model versions of the centre itself, some stained with old bird shit. Three slide projectors flick through photos of the building under construction, rough preparatory drawings, shots of the island landscape, one of them refracting onto the model ruins. A plastic sheet covered in frayed silver leaf crumples on the floor like a distant to-scale mountain.
In his spatial propositions, Kiaer is adept at quietly shifting between direct and indirect metaphors for material (silver leaf or plastic sheeting as water, cardboard or more plastic sheeting as brick, adhesive tape or, again, plastic as glass) and scale. (Are we to take on the height of the sole tiny figure on the floor in A.R. Salle des Etudes (A.R. Study Room), meant to occupy the odd little half-built maybe-buildings strewn about the place? Or are we giants standing outside looking down? Being just the way we are, right where we’re standing, suddenly seems awkward: a suspended option.) Here, alongside his usual sly understatement, Kiaer deals with such an overbearing housing for his work through a particular sense of presence.
In A.R. Phare (A.R. Lighthouse), a projector dangling from the ceiling sways slowly back and forth as it shines a black- and-white image on the concrete aggregate of the structure’s inner cavern. A black sphere with an adjacent flat box bobs erratically on a water surface, a live CCTV transmission from a model sitting in an inlet from the lake just below at the base of the hill. Just next to a small square window, facing out to the lake from the back of A.R. Petit Théâtre (A.R. Little Theatre), is a smudged painting attempting to replicate the view. These displacements unsettle the consonance of place asserted in the titles of the work; they’re all self- underminingly elsewhere. Kiaer’s unsteady, paradoxical indexing of spaces is fragile, and while the precision of, say, an archival photograph can puncture the fugue, they suggest the amniotic state in which most dreams and aspirations remain.
This article was first published in the Summer 2013 issue.