One of the perennial criticisms levelled at the white cube gallery is its dissociative relationship with the ‘real world’. By minimizing any unnecessary detail, removing distractions and presenting a blank environment, the gallery isolates the artwork from the very source it came from. While this often gives the viewer a purer appreciation of works, it can also have the effect of distorting or diminishing the artwork’s original intention. Mark Houghton’s practice subtly reintroduces the real world to this rarefied environment via the back door, declaring that ‘Nothing can exist in isolation’
The back door Houghton uses to effect this reintroduction is the vast messiness of unsorted memories and associations carried around in the viewer’s head. As the practitioner, Houghton’s part of the deal is to create a resonant object or configuration of objects; as viewer we are asked to bring to his work our own personal encyclopaedic records that might give it meaning or significance. Of course, this relationship forms the basis of reading of any and all artworks that offer an interpretation of the world; but the unnerving experience of meeting Houghton’s work seems somehow closer to reading an instruction manual in a foreign language, but with lovely diagrams.
Houghton’s work is a prime example of that which confounds any attempt at a conscious, logical reading. It requires a lateral shift in thinking to be appreciated, which is often kick-started by a ‘key’ element in the work.
This refusal to any definitive reading is like a half-welcomed liberation for both the work and viewer, an encounter from which we may come away from feeling none the wiser, while actually being anything but.
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