Graham Gussin: Studio Monte Palace
Graham Gussin: Studio Monte Palace
Though Graham Gussin is based in London, he has exhibited in Portugal on a number of occasions over the last 25 years, often because of his links with curator Miguel von Hafe Perez and artist Miguel Palma. It was the latter who made the connection with the hotel Pico do Refúgio, where Gussin was artist-in-residence in April 2017. Ironically, when Gussin wasn’t in one hotel he was in another, the Hotel Monte Palace, a derelict building which became the site, literally and conceptually, of all the work he made in the Azores, and all the work on show at Galeria Fonseca Macedo.
There is a short history of deserted modern hotels being used by artists for their subject matter. Two pieces have particular relevance for Gussin. The first is ‘Hotel Palenque’, made by Robert Smithson in 1969/72, originally as a slide lecture for his students. A decade later Wim Wenders used the abandoned pool of a hotel on the Praia Grande (the Arribas Sintra) as the setting for his filmDer Stand der Dinge (The State of Things), set in a post-apocalyptic future. These two works contain many of Gussin’s favourite tropes: modern ruins, obsolete technologies, escapist narratives, circuitous references to other famous artists and films. In the work ‘Lens’ (2012) Gussin already returned to Wenders’ film location to make equally anachronistic sepia photographs. In the works made in the Monte Palace (closed in 1989), Gussin returns more explicitly to Smithson.
There is however one key difference between Hotel Palenqueand Hotel Monte Palace. Smithson’s sound track makes his slides something other than they are; knowing, arch, dissembling. Gussin on the other hand does not attempt to describe the Monte Palace in words, but to use it in good faith, and primarily as a physical space. Whereas Smithson’s slides are those of a laconic observer, Gussin’s presence is embedded inhis images, he inhabits the building with his work, exploring too how others inhabit it when he is not there.
Inhabiting space, and finding new ways of documenting that inhabitation, has been a leitmotif in Gussin’s work. Like a scientist, he designs the experiment with its material proof. At the Monte Palace he had a bigger space than usual, and has found more ways of inhabiting it; from simple photographs and drawings, to complex films of spectacle and sound (fireworks; bouncing balls) and locally commissioned embroideries of graffiti from the site. The stripped back building is like a test pad for different kinds of material and sonic intervention.
Although Gussin has evinced a fascination for the modern hotel, it is hardly the subject of the hotel itself which carries his interest. These sizeable concrete ruins are closer to military installations than to places of comfortable accommodation. As such they accord with Gussin’s larger interest in vision and surveillance, and the threshold between the futuristic and the obsolete. The title he has given the group of work – ‘Studio Monte Palace’ – carries within it this double sense of a place of work and a place to stay, as well as locating it as a place that is high up, a vantage point, a place of command. Stepping outside Gussin’s familiar sphere of reference one might also be reminded of famous literary frontier settings. Joseph Roth, Dino Buzzati, J.M.Coetzee all write compellingly about isolated fortresses where men go mad waiting for the unseen enemy. The ambiguity of the title echoes that of the artist’s residency: a new kind of retreat which is at once a time of indulgence and of denial, of introspection and of challenge.