In the ink on paper work Point to Point (2011), a mirrored profile portrait of a man loosely resembling the artist Aleks Danko appears like an apparition of Pinocchio mutely staring out at the viewer, as if luring him or her to speculate as to the personality of the man behind the cheaply fashioned mask. Hung across three walls of Sutton Gallery are six more variously distorted and comically simplified renderings of the human face, several so anaemically detailed that, although legible, they deter any sort of emotional response; the mode of recognition is, rather, more akin to the cold registration of a statistical fact. From this perspective – in its strategic complication of the relationship between artist and artwork – ‘Pointless’ might be understood in the context of Danko’s enduring suspicion of the artist-as-oracle, which has remained a feature of his practice since his debut solo exhibition in 1970. In this particular exhibition, the possibility of encoding – while simultaneously withdrawing – subjective qualities into the content of an artwork is given its most provocative expression in the sculptural centrepiece PHHHHHHHIT (2011), a work that might be filed under the category of ‘modified readymade’.
A collaboration with the sound artist Dean Linguey, the work consists of a professional table-tennis table with four holes cut into the table-top; through each of the holes a palpitating speaker-cone protrudes upwards, causing the pile of table-tennis balls accumulated in each to quiver synchronously. The speaker-cones’ palpitations are generated by a looped Linguey composition, which is in itself inaudible to the human ear, and can only be perceived indirectly, through a series of relays: 1) the visual movement of the speaker cones; 2) the corresponding movement and rhythmic clicking of the table-tennis balls as they shift within the cones; 3) the LCD display panel on the CD player deposited below the table-tennis table. Every thirty minutes the speakers’ play back a (silent) crescendo, which triggers an audio amplification as the hollow plastic globes grow increasingly agitated in their nests, with some of these overflowing and bouncing onto the table, and a further few dropping onto the linoleum floor. According to Danko’s instructions, every two hours gallery attendants replenish each speaker-cone with exactly fifty-three table-tennis balls.
Two vacant chairs arranged adjacent to PHHHHHHHIT encourage the viewer to observe the work for longer durations. In the entertainment-parlour atmosphere of the exhibition they are reminiscent of umpire’s seats, functioning to ensure the courtside comfort of the viewer. And indeed, it is in the context of the suggested analogy between art and game – in the recasting of exhibition as tournament – that Danko and Linguey’s contraption triggers its uncanny effect. For despite bearing no immediately striking human resemblance, in the compositional structure of PHHHHHHHIT, complete with its predetermined periodic eruptions, overflows and scatterings, the artists have built a perverse model of a viewer into the artwork itself. Caught in a perpetual state of neuronal unrest, the artwork-as-viewer parodies by mechanical means the ideal spectator’s moment of illumination in front of a great work of art. By laying the blueprint for this endlessly stuttering mechanical mimesis, Danko and Linguey impishly gesture towards the inexhaustibility of interpretation, a game whose rules are constantly re-written and whose outcome is perpetually deferred.