Benedict Hawkins writes on Miguel Ferrer's work in exhibition #2
I like mornings. Or, rather, it would better to say that I like the idea of mornings. I’ll lie in bed, in those blurred moments between wakefulness and sleep, and imagine in exquisite detail the routine that I so rarely achieve in practice. The fantasy (often nothing more than fantasy) goes like this. I rise at the same time as the sun, when the light hasn’t yet settled into the stable grey or yellow of the day, pale shadows and a cool, blueish freshness in the air. The silence, or at very least a palpable quiet, is just as important as the light. That is what morning has over the rest of the day, the expansive sense of a world subdued, no interruptions or interferences, no pressure to be productive, active or in any way accommodating of the demands of the rest of the world. First noise: the kettle. This isn’t an annoyance, though; it’s necessary, because by the time I’ve shaken myself awake enough to appreciate the world’s quietude I’ve developed the aching need to supplement my enjoyment, to enhance the moment and accumulate the pleasures. I leave the kettle to boil and a cup with some coffee granules in it waiting on the counter and roll my first cigarette of the day. I do it quite automatically; one moment I’m thumbing the filter out of its plastic casing, the next the finished article lies on the table in front of me, a compact white cylinder except for the straggle of brown fibres exposed at one end, like smoke from an industrial chimney. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to put in the kind of effort required when learning to roll (though the memory of those hours of fruitless exertion return when it’s cold or windy); sometimes I’m so unconscious of it I find that I’ve rolled one before even registering the desire to smoke it. Over time, my fingers have become accustomed to finding the right angles, performing the little twist that enables one edge of the paper to slip under the other, holding the filter in place so that it fits tightly in one end when, moistened with saliva, a gentle roll of the fingers and thumbs folds the disparate elements together into single little, contained structure. My hands have internalised the system I so painstakingly, meticulously practised and revised between the ages of sixteen and seventeen, stood with the other already irredeemable addicts in an alleyway during lunchtimes, peering in the lamplight in my bedroom at night.
I sit on the back doorstep, relishing the morning’s chill even while feeling it clawing at my bones, invading my marrow. The first cigarette is the slowest of the day, but I’m not doing it for a quick fix. It’s part of the fabric of the waking process, and sitting in the encompassing silence, cigarette between my fingers, coffee beside me, with either a book to on my knees to read or the gathering daylight to contemplate is the in-between that brings me back to reality, the slower the better.
I’m no psychologist, but I imagine that what routines, movements and rituals are required to get from sleep to consciousness says a lot about an individual. What exactly I don’t know, but I for one can definitively state that I’m not someone who can jump straight from the bed to the shower and out the door, and that precisely not being one of those people is part of how I see myself as me. There are differences between me and Miguel Angel Ferrer, whose floor level installation is composed of a black yoga mat on which are placed two white pill bottles, a gold-coloured mould of another on its side spilling its contents, and, dead centre, an ashtray is, I’m told, a representation of the equipment and paraphernalia of the artist’s morning routine. At any rate, the yoga is a step too far in the direction of strenuous activity, though it might be the pills might that make it possible. But there is a stillness and silence in the piece, for which the circular ashtray (the element I most relate to) provides the locus. It’s the spinning model, the kind with a cover which, when a lever is pressed down, rotates and descends, dropping your discarded butt into the space beneath and then spinning up again to hide the unsightly and smelly remains. I like these kinds of ashtrays; they demand to be touched, to be fiddled and played with even by adults who should be able to control themselves. A grown-up spinning-top. The gold moulded pill bottle seems static and silent next to its found-object charm.
You can’t generally touch art, but these works remind you that you might want to, and even seem to invite you to. They remind us that touch is integral to how we understand the world, and that how we move our hands, how we gesture and sign, holds powerful communicative potentials and disclosures of our personality. Once, working at Tesco, I was talking to the checkout girl behind me when a customer set down a heavy, rough faux-granite flowerpot. He bent down to pick up something else, and she reached out and stroked down the length of it, all the while still talking. It was a simple gesture that seemed out of place, inappropriate even, but as humans we have a powerful impulse to touch (maybe animals do too, I’m not sure).
A piece on the wall reminds us of the social uses of our hands. Two large scrolls of paper show diagrammatic drawings of inexplicable sign language, drawings of two hands in black paint, with red painted arrows, charts and compasses indicating the hand’s movements and direction. They are suspended between two pieces of copper piping, and from the top pipe also hangs a piece of rope, knotted at one end, like a dog toy waiting to be pounced and grabbed at. Further along the wall is a plaster cast of a fist, suspended on two brackets. Again, the whole piece is tactile – different materials, different methods of creation and composition are united, exposing the practical efforts of bringing these things together, of making art. Every schoolchild knows the immense difficulty of rendering hands in drawing or painting, and an adult might be reminded of their childhood failings by the confidence and success of the large diagrams of hands. The limitations of hands: from ‘Do Not Touch’ to ‘I could never draw like that’.
It’s through our hands that we often make contact – actual, physical contact – with the world around us. So routinely do we do this that we’re liable to take it for granted, just as the skin on our hands might become thicker, and the nerves less sensitive, if we frequently use our hands for more than just typing or pushing pen across paper. Visual art is not, generally, about typing or pen-pushing, at least not the finished product (though I imagine admin accumulates around art as much as anything else), but the sensitivity remains. Gilles Deleuze, in his book on Francis Bacon, recognises the importance of the hand in art. He writes of
this direct manual activity that traces the possibility of fact: we will capture the fact, just as we will “seize hold of life.” But the fact itself, this pictorial fact that has come from the hand, is the formation of a third eye, a haptic eye, a haptic vision of the eye, this new clarity.
The ‘fact’ that he references is the fact of ‘sensation’. In some way we have a circular logic: we experience the fact of sensation through touch. Touch creates sensation; well, the ‘haptic eye’, that organ in which vision resonates with touching, and touching with vision. For Deleuze, Bacon’s paintings vibrate with, are energised by, this sensation. But all art, surely, involves the synchronisation of hand and eye, working in knowing or not-quite-understood unison.
So whilst I want to touch the art, to push the lever on the spinning ashtray, to wave the blue flags or the pieces of copper piping, or poke and handle the ball at the end of the rope (make of that what you will), I can’t: that joy is the artist’s alone. My right-hand middle finger is stained slightly yellow, the only visual evidence, once the cigarette is smoked and disposed of, of the movement of my fingers when I make one, of my hands’ reliable and unconscious positions, of my posture and deep inhalations. Miguel Angel Ferrer’s work here draws attention to the possibility of making something lasting from our tactile pleasures, something that is in itself pleasurable to look at. The sources range from the objects we handle and which give us comfort when we first face the day, to the complex and unknowable gestures which supplement or replace our language and communication. As Deleuze says: ‘seize hold of life’. We seize something in order to stop it getting away, to imbue some permanence into experiences which, as all do, have an entropic tendency to melt away, leaving nothing but traces. I write about my perfect morning in order to know it better and, though this is a secondary and speculative motive, to try to tell others about it. I don’t know Ferrer, but these installations composed of found and created objects give the impression of someone seizing at those sensations which would otherwise go unnoticed, arm outstretched, hand open to touch as much as possible the fleeting matter of life.