Leanne Failla
An Untitled Series of Original Reflected Duplicate Works
SEVENTH Gallery, 2015

Is a chair still a chair when in powder form?

For An untitled series of reflected works, Leanne Failla presents four monochrome grids. The grids have quite a tactile quality, consisting of an original Eames DSR and a replica. Dis-assembled, grated, drilled and blended, the chairs have been reduced to pigment and fragment, brushed out systematically upon a paper backing. untitled (original), untitled (replica), untitled (original duplicate), untitled (replica duplicate), the works reflect and mirror each other, creating a space of soft contemplation. 

Focusing on the process of making, Failla’s grids rest within a site of making and non-making, a tension between the brutal force of deconstructing the chairs, and the calm monochrome lines of squares, gently adhered. Through a meditative process of repetitious dabbing, each square (and space between) is laid out with meticulous care, brushed out upon the paper base. Simple in its materials, considered in its affect. 

This repeated process allows the works to be considered in terms of their processes and materials. For painting, this is paint, canvas, and the action (process) of painting. Failla’s work is similar in this regard in its simplicity - recomposed chair, adhesive, paper, and process. There is, of course, an obvious difference within An untitled series of reflected works: Eames DSR and replica are not commonly listed as materials in the construction of a painterly form.

The undulating flow of soft grey to white grid sits in soft contrast to the destructive process in which the works have been prepared. Not that I see these works, or their process of making, as a display of aggression towards the former chairs. Instead, the process can be viewed as a form of ‘de-creation’, a term curator Omar Khoelif uses to discuss Christodoulos Panayiotou, Two Days After Forever, presented at The Cyprus Pavilion for this year’s 56th Venice Biennale. 

De-creation refers to the reduction of an object to its base material form, transforming it so far as to be rather unrecognisable as the object it once was. It speaks of arts ability to manipulate and reconsider materials. It also reflects upon arts reliance upon its materials, the concept of a work embodied through the materials chosen. Particularly, Khoelif is referencing Panayiotou’s untitled, 2015, seven pairs of custom-made shoes, tailored using the leather from fake designer handbags purchased through the street vendors of Venice.

Both Failla and Panayiotou are quite consciously questioning notions of authenticity, and how we construct an objects value. Does the craftsmanship of a tailored shoe make up for its fraudulent beginnings as designer fake? Does the powder and fragment of the Eames DSR hold more value than the replica? Deliberately leaving these questions unanswered, both exhibitions leave them tangibly present, lingering within the exhibition space. With Failla’s untitled series, replica, original and duplicate are indistinguishable but for title; the title of authenticity becomes the differing mark.

Failla and Panayiotou’s works are linked by this common questioning of authenticity and the cult status of rarefied objects, commodities whose value is increased due to their scarcity or expense of supply. The very fact that replica Eames chairs and knock-off designer bags exists highlights the economically driven cult positioning within which these objects exist.

This phenomena of the cult object is one with a long back-history of thought, particularly linked to contemporary mindsets through the writings of Walter Benjamin. In his text, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Benjamin considers the positioning of the cult object through the aura it emanates, and its use within ritual. 

When Benjamin discusses the aura of an object, he does so through a phenomenological perspective, discussing its affect upon you, the sensation of feeling the shadow of a tree, the responsive feeling we experience when viewing a mountain range or painting. It is a relational way of considering the objects around us and spaces we inhabit, quite clearly focused on our perception as a driving force for the meaning created.

Written at a time in which mass production was being comprehended for its advantageous social uses, he argues that the aura of the cult object is diminished within the age of mechanical reproduction, the aura being the singular qualities inherent to the object. As he argues, mass reproducibility, “substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence.” The unique conditioning in which the cult object exists is diminished and denied by the ability for the object to be reproduced at a mass scale.

As Failla and Panayiotou highlight, however, the potential for mass reproducibility has done anything but reduce the aura of the cult object. Creating further cult objects themselves, Failla and Panayiotou highlight the mass-producible cult object as a product of our times, within the ritual turns of late capitalist thought.