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Cell with Conduit
1988
Acrylic and Roll-a-Tex on canvas
Dimensions: Diptych: 152.5 x 320.2 cm
Reference: ACF0437
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The cell is a recurrent theme in all Peter Halley's work. Whether as a jail cell—indicated by a barred window—or as an inhabitable unit—crowned with a smoke escape—it has always referred to the gradual isolation and confinement which are so typical of modernity. The cells, which take on a rectangular shape surrounded by some free space, are stations or marginal destinations on a far vaster circuit. In the pictures we can only see one section, in which the conduits enter and leave rectangles which we take to be homogeneous cells with no particular features. But, as he has said himself, these are not specific objects but rather "visual models". Those models have undoubtedly become icons of our spatial organisation. In a Foucauldian sense, the representation of power has also acquired a schematic appearance. The relations between interior and exterior, heightened by the inputs and outputs marked by the strips of colour or conduits, synthesise a personal vision of postcapitalist administration. In some cases the conduits which keep the different cells connected, creating a network of spaces, also ignore and pass by a rectangle. That is the case with Cell with Conduit. Alongside the interpretation we suggested in the previous paragraph, like almost all Halley's pictures Cell with Conduit can also be interpreted solely according to its formal and geometrical character. In that case, it would be reduced to a rectangular form underlined by a strip of the same colour. If we separated the two stretchers that form the whole painting we would obtain, on the one side, an elongated Barnett Newman, with his characteristic strip of colour, and, on the other, a Josef Albers in which a rectangle is superimposed on the one that makes up the canvas and, as usual with Albers, rests on the lower side. In short, Cell with Conduit would consist of modern DIY, in which two authors from the abstract tradition are assembled. The reductionist and synthesising spirit is confirmed, in the end, by the use of colour. The two orange tones used vibrate so intensely that they produce a dazzling effect. As a result, the relation between figure and ground is practically neutralised. With this picture, the critical vision of French post-structuralism rubs shoulders with Gestalt theory. The former is a vision of the modern subject in which individuals have been scattered, shredded and locked up in units, as Foucault saw in Discipline and Punish. The second is an aseptic vision of our mechanisms of perception. However, the two live side by side in this painting, although the almost monochromatic appearance does not seem to give any sign of that dialectic. On the contrary, it looks as if they have been made compatible in it. Indeed, Halley loads the iconography of aesthetic utopias with a critical meaning. The same language which had announced a better world now serves to represent the material and inhuman consummation of utopia. By continuing to use Constructivist language, he shows how it has been turned into a sign stripped of permanent meaning. The independence and autonomy of the signs reveal that these images are increasingly distant from their real referents.

Other artworks in the Collection by the same artist Other artworks in the Collection by the same artist

  • Sun Gun / 1993

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