Seventy-year-old beggar Verniot, of
Cl ichy, died of hunger. His pall et disgorged
2,000 francs. But no one should make
In 1906, Félix Fénéon spent half a year writing three-lined news briefs
for the French newspaper Le Matin. Anonymously he published more
than a thousand such entries in a relatively new section of the paper,
the faits-divers–terse stories of curious incidents whose rubric is typically
translated in English as “sundry events.” Fénéon's fait-divers gleaned
details of accidents, crimes, and coincidences from the daily news
stream; they salvaged names and places that would have otherwise
been disregarded and shaped them into a singular account. Categories
repeat–murder, suicide, car accident, rape are constants–but details
remain, fixing individual items as particular events.
The fait-divers is a kind of sculpture of insignificance. Its format requires
a mastery of the art of the extraneous detail, rather than a haphazard
selection from conversations or events, and the briefs aim neither
to immortalize nor to instruct, but instead to isolate in the stubborn
ground of fact. The Fénéon fait-divers is, as Luc Sante describes it, “a dry bundle of small slivers of occurrence that lie beneath history, but [it]
represents the whole world, with all its contradictions.”
If Fénéon chose his characters from the bits of news and gossip that
littered nineteenth-century France; Carlos Little and John Furgason,
craftsmen of the contemporary art scene and inheritors of the fait-divers
style, gather theirs from the tossed-out tokens of New York City’s past.
Little and Furgason condense history into stories, novels into three
lines, greased with snake oil and offering no moral.
In 2008 the artists installed Little & Furgason
Present at Art in General. Wooden crates served
as sculptures, pedestals, and containers. Five assemblages
presented the artists’ tools (a crowbar,
a wrench) and their plunder (terracotta shards
dipped and set in tar, pieces of metal and glass) and
were hung in sight of an oversized poster of Moses
Kimbell, the all-but-forgotten rival of PT Barnum.
A small room, roughly ten-by-twelve feet and built in a corner of the
exhibition space, served as an “office,” housing a makeshift cigarette
factory. Workers entered through a large porthole with a wooden door
raised by means of a pulley attached to a crate-cum-counterweight.
Throughout the exhibition’s run, the works were rearranged: lids were
removed, crates opened, posters pasted.
Many of the materials had been culled from abandoned buildings,
such as the American Express stables in lower Manhattan. For four years,
Little served as a contractor the conversion of the historic structure into
luxury condominiums. Built in the 1860s to house the securities and
transport company’s horses, the three-story warehouse was more recently
home to a series of nightclubs. Both artists harvested building materials
and objects from the site and recruited participation from the construction
crews working there, as well as images from the company’s history. As the
building was dismantled, floorboards, ceiling beams, wooden joists, and
even roof tar were used to make the crates and cartons in which discarded
items and assisted ready-mades were stored, along with the leftovers of the
artists’ consumption (empty bottles of Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark, cans
of spray paint, water bottles, all labeled with the L&F insignia).
Hidden in plain sight at the building, while architects, contractors,
and crews passed through, these crates awaited their move to Art in
General. Declared obsolete but unwilling to disappear, this architecture
became sculpture for traveling.
Al though it had arrived at the
station in Vélizy, the train was still
roll ing. The impatient Mme Gieger
broke both her legs.
Little and Furgason’s work is necessarily transient. The artists
work in the marginal spaces of derelict buildings, without an established
studio, and so their works must be flexible, mobile, portable. Like a traveling
circus, the artists must be able to carry everything with them, to
pack up and move on. Little has noted that the danger of eviction means
“we have to be very secretive about our actions.” Squatting necessitates
a measure of modesty, if not invisibility.
Even items without an apparent role in the installation are carried
along as extras that may be used for defense at another time. The debris
that Little and Furgason use in their constructions are like the bits of
personal detail Fénéon used in his newspaper entries: connected by
pulleys or syntax, they draw connections and establish relationships that are not necessarily causal. Their frequent false leads and gratuitous
details are not like the embellishments of Rube Goldberg’s contraptions
that make simple tasks humorously complex. Little and Furgason’s installations,
without an obvious goal and without a desire for resolution,
employ an inventiveness of use that allows the artists to slip past any
danger of cohesion.
Af ter finding a suspect
device on this doorstep, Friquet,
a printer in Aubusson, filed a compl aint
against persons unknown.
It can be unclear what the objects in such works do and why they
are there; of obscured origins and outlived use, they must take on new
roles and gain new functions in new settings. As in Buster Keaton’s
The Scarecrow (1920)–a film that the artists name as a direct influence–
everything in Little and Furgason’s world is maneuverable and multipurpose.
In Keaton’s single room setting, a turntable is lifted to reveal
a stove; the bed, when pushed to the wall, becomes an upright piano; a
roll-top desk doubles as a sink; the bathtub is the couch. Most elaborate
is the breakfast table and its setting: bowls and shakers are lowered
from the ceiling, hung by ropes with counterweights; an elaborate
vaudeville accompanies the basic acts of pass the salt, butter please,
another cup of coffee. At this early stage in Keaton’s tour-de-force
exploration of object relations, the simple machines are sympathetic
characters as much as props; they are not gags but objects to which
we relate on multiple levels, defined as much by our interactions with
them as by their functionality.
Little and Furgason’s somewhat absurd re-inscription of man’s
relationship with objects, and their conviction in the adaptability of
that relationship, aligns their literal approach more with Keaton than
with Charlie Chaplin. Unlike Chaplin’s films, in which one’s interactions
with objects are determined metaphorically, most often by their visual correspondence to other objects, in Little and Furgason’s
installations, a boot will not transform into a Thanksgiving turkey,
nor shoelaces into spaghetti.
Neither do the artists internalize the modern machine age by mirroring
its rigid modes of production. Little and Furgason retain
a relationship to production that is more artisanal than mechanic.
Even the manual labor that occurred during the exhibition’s run was
made personal: interns not only assembled but also named boxes of
cigarettes. These could be bought or bartered, and were handed out
for free at the opening, but there were no quotas and no streamlined
Their Keatonesque interactions with objects were highlighted
during Art in General’s “Breakfast in General” held in March 2008.
The invitation-only event was a chance for visitors–supporters of the
institution, curators, and collectors–to see the exhibition and meet
the artists over coffee and pastries. Upon the guests’ arrival, however,
the artists were nowhere to be seen. Furgason was in the back control
room, streaming music that surged from a huge pyramidal speaker,
and Little was crawling in the rafters, filming the guests below. The
film records those brief moments of awkwardness that occur when we
enters a space without knowing what to expect; it documents anxieties
held at bay by the checking of cell phones and doctoring of coffee. As
viewers approach the wall of reliefs, Little’s hand enters the frame
and from a trap door drops something to the ground below. Before we
can identify the object, he slams the door shut, occluding the camera’s
view. The next time, however, the door stays ajar, and several curious
faces are caught on tape: some guests are hardly bothered enough to
interrupt their conversations with more than a wry smile. Others look
up in surprise, but almost always they catch themselves within seconds,
replacing the shock with, again, the wry smile. More visible discomfort
is recorded when the construction crew from the AmEx building stops
by, hard hats and all. Invited not as props or performers, but as guests,
the workers’ entrance is perhaps the most awkward moment, as the
“sophisticates” struggle to situate them. The scene radicalizes Little and Furgason’s redefinition of the relationship
of humans to objects and people on display.
A man of 30-some years committed
suicide in a hotel in Mâcon.
“Do not attempt to find out my name,”
he had written.
Félix Fénéon maintained in his life a level of obscurity not unlike
the calculated mystery of Little and Furgason. In part this was a
matter of prudence, for as a clerk for the French War Department
and an anarchist dogged by the rumor that he had bombed an established
restaurant, discretion was well advised. The writer denied a
proposal to publish his collected works with the response, “I aspire
only to silence.” Little and Furgason share this aspiration, both to the
noun (“silence”) and the verb (“to silence”). Theirs is the aggressive
silence of one who stays hidden long after the game has been called.
In the visual script for one of the early performances, Little and
Furgason map out their actions for a tour of Art in General visitors
gathered at the AmEx building to see the artists' work in progress.
Directions include “secretly smash spent light bulbs” and “apply hide
glue.” Such unconfirmable actions (after all, if secret, who would
know whether or not bulbs had been smashed?) are significant, as the
actions call attention to the elusiveness of their artistic gambit.
But although the tour was guided, neither Little nor Furgason
actually led it. Instead a stocky African-American man, bald-headed,
mustached, and likely in his 50s introduced himself as Little, and a
tall, elderly man with coke-bottle glasses as Furgason. Most of the
audience could not have known that these two men, hired by the
artists to play the roles of Little and Furgason during studio visits
and to pose as the artists in posters and press materials, were not the
“emerging artists” they were supporting. In a comical spoof of artist duos like Gilbert and George, Little and Furgason constructed an
identity that masked and mocked their own physical appearances.
Like the L&F brand labels that cover bottles, cans, and boxes,
the actors provide a layer of anonymity while seeming to assert an
identity. Little and Furgason hedge identity by ducking beneath labels,
actors, and walls, hailing the trickster behind art production.
As M. Poulbot, a teacher in
Il e-Saint-Denis, rang the signal to
return to class, the bell dropp ed,
nearly scalp ing him.
The fait-divers may divert, satirize, or confound, they may raise
anxieties or expose hidden truths, but rarely, as Sante has noted, do
they tolerate second acts. M. Poulbot, Friquet, and Mme Gieger will
not return to the page, and Little and Furgason will not return to Art
in General. The works were presented with full knowledge that they
are impermanent, for the fait-divers seals the lid on an individual’s
activity, holding a life or a work still for a moment but always moving
on. Here today, gone tomorrow. _Essay by Rachel Churner_
From "Little & Furgason Present":/store_items/101