The art of Josef Strau is contradictory, to say the least. It is a conflation of different path but is only faithful to one tradition, that of post-minimalism to the point of getting very close to the decorative. I am saying this because his textual concoctions present themselves as both metaphorically and literally cryptological. His writing occurs in a casual, haphazard, ‘disposable’ fashion, as he puts it, it would be a freewheeling stream-of-consciousness – an editorial mess of lowercase letters, missing commas and misplaced punctuation. Intensely personal, even diaristic, I might begin with how I woke up late and had left my TV on and the Somerset floods were on Sky News and I decided to get some cereal and a glass of water but I wanted to have a shower but was too lazy to do that but suddenly my phone rung and was Kevin who was going to his GP and then I decided to have that shower…. Do you know what I mean? The writing, in sum, would be about nothing and everything – a surplus of throwaway thoughts: eating habits, dining excursions, and the like.
If at first sight, Strau’s project emerges as just the free flow of consciousness, soon the ’viewer’ finds out that there is a logic that, according to the artist, is the outcome of the random recovery of texts and images which in the process appear as both objectified and objectualised. Let me unpack this.
The objetification, I am referring to, derives from the fact that his works are a readaptation of those ‘textual formations’ previously done by Marcel Duchamp and later on by the likes of Lawrence Wiener. Having said, here is where the conceptual relevance (or should I say, irrelevance?) of this show confuses. In his urge to justify his post-Duchampian cyber-Zizek approach, Strau puts too much emphasis in the modes of presentation which, as in post-minimalism, are tightly bound to the white cube of the art gallery.
It is also at this point that the viewer appears to need help from the artist in understanding the rationale behind the production of this ‘textual collages’ (?). In fact, the artists seems to be illustrating Italo Calvino’s own problematisations on language in the time of cyber-delete. The problem with this conflation of post-minimalist ready made and Calvino post-modernist mis-en-abîme, is that puts Strau’s work too close to that other level of textual objectualisation initiated by the likes of Mallarmé and visualised by collectives such as Art & Language. From this point of view, the work of Strau looks like the illustration of a theory without creating visual enigmas or raising other questions.
Although Josef Strau’s efforts are presented as aimless, objectless and effortless , his gallery painfully informs the viewer that there is a link between Calvino’s theory of mechanical writing and Strau’s work, in the following terms:
‘In an quite aimless, objectless trial once Josef Strau sought to follow the very early example by Italo Calvino. As early as in the early seventies, that suggests, although more theoretically than practically, to write a story structurally based on the search capabilities of the computer and that as well makes the search mode the theme of the story.
For him the application of the Calvino model primarily became an attempt to first of all recover the many of his own texts from earlier on, (something he should have done already anyways, but the procedure turned into an impossible one), as lots of the text seemed to have disappeared in old folders partly lost through bad file organization or computer crashes. Following the idea of Calvino Josef Strau made attempts to use very recent search software for recovering words and sentences sometimes instead of documents to reactivate parts of sleeping text recombined for new use.
During the same time period he discovered as well the extreme high resolution capabilities of the latest digital cameras – in particular here the new sensor of the sony rx-1 r – and their capability to read the text of the printed older text posters from far away and to record even the more occult texts in gloomiest light conditions. The “reading” productivity of both tools determined a new way to finally present the almost complete poster text works of the Josef Strau. Turning this therefore very special exhibition into the first publication of the complete works of the artist- in the form of a complete archive of the printed original text, as well as the photographic results of highlighting some of them in their original form and some recovered parts re-edited.
Becoming a new text by following the structure of Italo Calvino’s, “The Burning of the Abominable House”, the short resulting new text therefore, could have as author of the recovered fiction Calvino himself, be named “The Reconstruction of the Abominable House”.
But apart from the text mode within the works of the exhibition it is as well for the artist a, “statement”, of recovering photography as a tool to continue exploring the infinite search for a solution to turn production and representation of both text and image into one practice and procedure; the cameras reading activity seen as substitution for the reading imperative of the gallery audience.
As the whole exhibition with the photos from stories is relating often to memories of houses, particularly childhood house fantasies; the space of the gallery, although decorated with the text posters and the photographs appears very empty, but is immaterially somehow loaded with imagination of rooms and memories. This emptiness is only partly occupied by a little extra space, more a sculptural space than a room defined by a work that continues and alternates the older lamp practice of the artist. This enclosed space contains space dividing objects turned into lamps, beating fences into lamps’.
This poses two problems. Firstly, the fact that this show is the ‘illustration’ of Italo Calvino’s theory. Secondly, that the inclusion of the artist’s own ‘archives’ brings about a series of consideration not only about memory but also about a certain poetic flight that is completed by the inclusion of… lamps (?). In other words, this show is a very lazy post-minimalist presentation of Duchamp’s textual images filtered through Calvino’s views of post-modern randomness with a mix of Strau’s own Proustian narcissism. I think this show is much ado about nothing. Just a thought.