Business Day, November 2 1993
Brilliant and beastly work
By Anthea Bristowe
Alan Alborough's latest installation is intensely discomforting - it is meant to be. Most people at the opening tended to head for the bar and the comfort of the courtyard once they had experienced it.Alborough has used the small lower gallery at Everard Read Contemporary. His materials are simple and meticulously assembled - charred squares of SA pine bolted to wooden frames.
In earlier works Alborough used glass as a barrier. There is no glass in this installation but there are barriers and none more so than the obsessive purity of his methodology. In accessing art, one looks for signs of mark-making, not only at a literal level but at a conceptual level as well. These incidental marks provide leads, an involuntary point of communication between viewer, work and artist. In Alborough's work there are no such clean fingerprints. It is wiped clean, or seems to be, although perhaps one should consider the powerful all-encompassing obsession.
As the viewer enters the space, he is confronted with the physical barriers, the larger being a frame hung from the ceiling reaching to chin height. The other barrier is a simple strip of black adhesive tape stretched across the floor. But it held people back, forcing them to stay on the outside. Crossing to get to the inside was a conscious act of violation for many. Having tested the viewer's unwitting respect for arbitrary authority, Alborough invites him to come inside. On the overhead board is spelled out a single word, Fulfil, suggesting the satisfaction of a desire, the fulfilment of an ambition. And so our viewer ducks beneath the board, lured on by the unseen promise of the inside.
On the wall around the space are more black boards, this time spelling out the words Fear, Faith and Force. The words are worked in black squares, embossed on black boards. The seamless black-on-black lettering is difficult to read. The matte darkness and the absence of shadow make pattern recognition tricky. Viewers are obliged to spell the words out, sounding clumsy and feeling foolish.
In his previous exhibition Alborough explored the question of literacy and the empowerment it brings. Literacy and the assimilation of symbols are so readily accepted by those who can read. So here Alborough sets up an environment where normally literate people can experience the panic and confusion that confronts the illiterate.
Alborough presses home his advantage using lights. The space has been lit with bright, hot light. It rebounds off the white walls but is soaked up by the black pit of the lettering - another uneasy metaphor. As the viewer is forced to spend more time deciphering, he gets hotter and more anxious. And the words, when he finally comes to them, offer no comfort, least of all bleak evocations of Faith. The viewer finally escapes, feeling disorientated. Glancing back, he will find his eyes have gone jumpy and there are dark smudges dissolving all over the whiteness.
The installation tears away at the viewer. In earlier work Alborough examined social conditioning through the medium of children's games but this installation is not a child's game. It is a physical and intellectual assault on the self-perception of adults. It strips them of intellectual control, and subjects them to physical abuse. In agreeing to play, the viewer is pitched into a situation where his responses have been thoughtfully determined by carefully selected stimuli. The viewer ceases to be spectator and becomes the game. It is a perfectly brilliant, perfectly beastly work.