Walker and Walker
Walker and Walker
The following is condensed and edited from a conversation between Benjamin Stafford and Walker and Walker, November 2018.

BS: You have spoken about “the undoing of that which is perceived to possess a singular identity”. How important is ambiguity in your work, both during the process of creation and in its public presentation?

W+W: Ambiguity is something we wish to avoid, insofar as it might be considered as being wilfull obscure. We would like the viewer to encounter something of an understanding of the work, but we are not didactic about the nature of that understanding. All works of art in general, including ours, can – or at least should – be read on multiple levels.
How the viewer navigates a physical space is key to encountering our work – the installation is equally important to the actual artworks, in how it can influence the order in which the viewer experiences the work. The domestically scaled spaces of IMMA, and the East Ground galleries in particular, lend themselves to presenting exhibitions that can be read as chapters of a fragmented narrative that is supported by the architecture.

BS: Baudelaire is a central reference for you, and you have mentioned his proposal of a “right to go away” – this could be considered in the context of contemporary notions of ‘a right to be forgotten’. As artists who frequently reference their forebears and incidents from art history, how do you relate to the question of authorship? And can you talk about the influence of poetry and literature in general, and any works that have been of particular significance to you?

W+W: We are specifically drawn to the relics or remnants of past efforts, countercultures or individuals, of people who believed in change, in looking at the often overlooked details that exist in personal chronicles that can form a wider political, social or cultural narrative. Charles Baudelaire’s experience is symbolic of a field of particular interest for us: how he navigated himself around a particular work of fiction by Edgar Allen Poe, ‘Mesmeric Revelation’, an account of a man being called to a deathbed to relieve the dying man’s suffering and their subsequent discussion on the theory of matter, of matter’s gradations and the hierarchy of beings.
Return Inverse, the play within a play we wrote, centres around a hypothetical interview with Baudelaire which addresses his personal development as a poet and essayist and how this correlates with his ardent political views. At the heart of this work is Baudelaire’s essential misreading of Poe’s ‘Mesmeric Revelation’, which served to initially prompt his political actions when he viewed it as a factual account, associated with Charles Fourier’s brand of social mysticism. Later it served as a means to withdraw from politics altogether when he came to a fuller understanding of it as a work of fiction. He finally brings himself to return to his political beliefs but cannot speak of them except in verse.

This oscillation between states that Baudelaire seems to embody is a major reference in our work. The play adopts a tripartite approach to language, through the formal language of the play itself, the interpretative suggestions of the director and the informal social exchange between the respective parties as they rehearse the play within the play, including moments of idle chatter.

If there is a figure that is central to our practice, it is [philosopher, writer and theorist] Maurice Blanchot. Blanchot wrote extensively on poetry and literature, including on [Symbolist poet] Stephane Mallarmé’s phrase “I say: a flower!”, arguing for the creation of idealised forms in literature, as distinct from reality. What’s engaging about that quote is how it is removed from the materiality of an actual flower into a conceptual iteration. We are interested in the role of language within concepts of immateriality. Mallarmé was one of the first to suggest that the literary word is not just utilitarian but can in certain contexts conjure up many ideas that are removed from the substance of reality. It is not simply the signifier but something more.

BS: Time, measuring it and arresting it through a moment of anticipation or a space where something could – but won’t necessarily – happen, is seen in works such as The Owl of Minerva Spreads its Wings with the Falling of Dusk (2012). And in new work Morning Star, Evening Star, the audience only sees a fragment of the completed work, as the time it takes to complete – eight years – makes it impossible to view the whole thing. Can you talk about these in relation to your works, contained as they are within a certain time and space?

W+W: Temporality is an important part of our practice, and manifests in numerous works. Many of them contribute to a sense of suspension between the physical presence of a work and the uncanniness conjured by its meaning, as in The Presence Before Him Was a Presence (2019). It’s important how a work is delivered, whether it’s in reverse (as in this work), so the viewer is suspended within a work that articulates an absence through the declaration of a presence in its more ephemeral articulation, a reflection.

In Morning Star, Evening Star, we were considering how the two names for the planet Venus, though structurally the same, are nevertheless unique in their identity. Exploring Frege’s challenge of explaining the cognitive value of an identity statement such as “The Evening Star is the Morning Star”, what will be generated by the work is a series of ones and zeros that are continually changing, mapping the planet’s trajectory over an eight-year period and rendering a subsequent drawing called the Venus Rose, an intricate circular pattern which forms a five-point star, which has broad cultural references throughout history.

BS: Related to the idea of Romanticism or the sublime are conceptions of utopia/a heaven/other places, as arguably examined through such works as Mount Analogue Revisited (2010), included in this exhibition, or your 2012 work Higher Beings examining Sigmar Polke’s Higher Beings Command! (1968). Do these suggest an interest in spirituality (or, at least, notions of it), and can you tell us more on this?

W+W: We are not so much interested in utopias, as we are in the times and individuals that have articulated or acted out the possibility of change, such as Stewart Brand with his The Whole Earth Catalog. Brand has described the experience of looking downtown through San Francisco, having taken LSD, and becoming aware of the curvature of the earth. This prompted his campaign for NASA to release rumoured pictures of the earth taken from space, hitherto unseen by the public. It is no coincidence that a short time later the first Earth Day, a day of support for environmental protection, took place.

But part of the romance of these countercultural efforts – in this example and in more overtly political ones such as the unrest in Paris of 1968 – is that with the benefit of hindsight they seem doomed to fail through the very thing that at the time gave them power. Unarticulated demands paradoxically create a strong position, because there’s no measure of grievances that can be satisfied. Again, looking at these moments comes back to this oscillation – as seen in Baudelaire, in language, in time – where the work, or the source of the work, can go in multiple directions.

BS: Thank you both very much.
W+W: Thank you.