18.NOV.2004   22.JAN.2005


It might seem paradoxical to use the title Reasons for Lightness for the exhibition of an artist who
has taken a small, three-wheeler Ape truck and weighed it down with an enormous block; or used a desk but replaced the worksurface with a heavy slab of marble; or realised drawings almost automatically with the help of heavy falling stones. Behind this exterior that parades the victory of the force of gravity over our daily lives, I do though believe that a lightness in thought can be perceived, in line with the ideas expressed with such sophistication by Italo Calvino in his American Lessons. Going a little further, it can even be said that a search for lightness is an integral part, if not the ultimate goal, of all Jimmie Durham’s work, which is based on a constant and progressive subtraction of weight from the concepts, structures and prejudices that often constitute our culture and our ideas about art. “I try not to have a point,” Durham affirmed recently in a public conference. This statement too should be understood as a need to refuse the idea of basing oneself on an ideology rather than entrench oneself in a precise stable position, which, can give us security on the one hand, but on the other bounders on prejudice and certainly prevents curiosity, encounters, contradictions from letting us proceed in different directions from those already known. Durham’s work is also a way of contradicting established power, whether it is political, economical or simply power weighed down by tradition. However, I would not call his path nihilistic: rather, it seems to me, he starts from the impossibility of accepting things passively and from the need to make an effort to observe, read and re-discuss them. The lightness, therefore, of those who attempt to free themselves from weighty stereotypes by demonstrating that “a lightness of thoughtfulness exists”. Recently stones, with all their simplicity, similarity and yet uniqueness, have taken the stage in Jimmie Durham’s work. Used as tools or as irritating natural obstacles, as building elements or as raw material for our ‘mania’ for art-making, stones ignore us from the apex of their position as objects much older than the human race, and destined to survive our passing. Jimmie uses them for their weight and for their history, for their possible utility as working instruments and for their atavistic and enthralling beauty. At the same time, he treats them with the greatest respect, showing them to us in many different situations, lending an ear to their voice as the first tool of man and at the same time as elements that are autonomous and distant from us. The weight of these stones does not then communicate to us the security of solidity, just as their antiquity does not transmit to us the imperturbability of the passing of time: on the contrary, fragility and lightness emerge from this encounter. And so we are led to wonder whether the artist’s use of stones is a game of mirrors, a rule that he places before us to contradict the characteristics that the stones would seem to bring with them: fixity to express rapidity, uniqueness to express multiplicity, casualness to express exactness, hiddeness to express visibility. The stones almost seem to be a self-imposed iron rule, a self-discipline that functions in similar ways to the absolutely perfect mechanisms in Perec’s novels. And once more Calvino comes to meet us: “To escape the arbitrariness of existence, Perec like his protagonist needs to impose rigorous rules (even if these rules are sometimes
arbitrary). The miracle is that this poetics which one would call artificial and mechanical results in a freedom and a never-ending inventive richness.” “Surely we will be confused” was the title of the workshop that Durham led this summer at the Ratti Foundation. And even in his works there, doubt, confusion and uncertainty were still the necessary fundamental values for a professional de-mystifier, for an artist who has successfully found an absolutely unique equilibrium between intelligence and evocative skills, between freedom and communicative possibilities.