Image credit: Ibghy & Lemmens, vtls 004518389-79-1 (Fred Carpenter), by permission
of Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales.
With Intangible Economies still very fresh on my brain as I finish off the edits for an upcoming review in FUSE Magazine, the questioning of cultural value in an economic framework reared its head again as I met up with some people at the opening of The Space of Observation at 221A.
Curated by Mandy Ginson, one of 221A’s current curatorial residents, and featuring the collaborative workings of Richard Ibghy and Marilou Lemmens, the exhibition appears to be based on recent research from a residency in Wales, where an interest was taken in archival photographs of boxers from the 19th century.
Striving to literally connect the dots between economic basics such as supply and demand in the writings and drawings of British economist William Stanley Jevons, the Industrial Revolution’s demand for coal, and tying that to the popularity of boxing in working class Wales and their corresponding promotional portraits, the scope of the project seems to hinge on mental and abstract leaps from economic analysis of data to a musing on the the speculative successes of gambling on boxing.
I recognize the use of economic language, but the language fails to communicate anything to me. While some of Ibghy & Lemmens’ past works seem to be more fleshed out, this appropriation of economic language feels stretched beyond significance.
The exhibition did not inspire much exchange between the group who met to view it, with one comment lamenting that she just had no idea what the show was about. I had heard a similar comment about Intangible Economies shortly after the November conference with both comments made from different educated arts professionals, but there is a difference noted.
Unpacking the economic metaphor to get to the heart of the ideas, the vision was there in Intangible Economies and the concept could withstand critical engagement to continue the dialogue. I can’t say the same for The Space for Observation, as on a second consideration of the show, I still can’t sense anything more than a few half-interesting bits of research loosely strung together. The most resonating spark was the text copied from Jevon’s letter to his brother, expressing his commitment to keep drawing his graphs. There is a glory in the tone of his letter that was more inspiring and exciting than the exhibition as a whole, and unlike the show, actually meets at the intersection of language, economics, and research.