Decay Constants
By Tom Trevatt

In Adam Thompson's work, highly aesthetic objects are selected and re-presented, framed through a minimal artistic gesture that both fetishises decay as form and renews interest in the constraints of what can be found, what can be discovered “ready made”, as it were. The artist is figured in these gestural acts as an urban magpie, prominent in the otherwise austere works that offer no conceptual description nor framework through which to approach them; Thompson's works are nearly all given the inflexible title Untitled, producing an ongoing series of significantly different but nominally identical objects. In this series each piece of work is individuated only by its material components – salvaged air filters, mylar, polystyrene foam – not by it's title, foregrounding a materiality reliant on a play between presentation and representation. Purely formal concerns are amended by a thoroughgoing complicity with the limits of the conditions within which Thompson finds himself, salvaging, selecting and reclaiming only what is close at hand, what can be accessed in the locality. Thus, each work acts as a kind of portraiture of the location, slicing an abstract representation of the nearby, a metaphorical picture of the regional. And the local, at least through Thompson's eyes, is a decrepit post-industrial landscape of discarded air filters, lost bits of timber, chunks of stone; unused or overused objects that seemingly have either total entropic decay or art as their final destination. Indeed, these objects seem to lure the artist to them, and he willing follows down an ongoing path through the object's lifespan towards their eventual degradation.

An entropic drive is at play; as these objects mimic death just as they approach it, teetering on the brink of material disarticulation, they evoke a relinquishment of human agency in the face of the ruins of modern progress. In the unintended expression of weather on matter, the work understands itself as a technological extension of natural processes. Thompson's work proposes we think of human activity as overlapping with natural history,(1) that we are but coagulated matter, articulated by energy that eventually dissipates, cosmically aligned, terralogically bound. The logic is that of the earth, a continuum of substrates, layered and entwined, articulated through a territorial framing, or site-specific entropic degradation.(2) Decay, here is understood as the signature of the topos of the earth. A near reversal of the readymade (purchased industrial, consumer products, framed by the act of titling and the signature), these works resist their frames, congealing time into ordered flat surfaces that represent the extended spiral of production and decay inherent in all material; these works are found after their use value has been exhausted, expressing the morphological effects of time on matter rather than the newness of the commodity form that the readymade utilises.

In a recent abstract for a talk, Iranian philosopher Reza Negarestani quotes Colombian mathematician Fernando Zalamea who “identifies the process of decay as an expression of a profound continuity in nature through which 'creativity expands without brake'”.(3) Lacking a brake, this form of creativity is based not “on obstruction (i.e. various modes of singularity such as the novel, the ideal and the sublime) but on acceleration”(4) For Zalamea, and by extension, Negarestani, these obstructions, halting processes in ongoing entropic degradation, are examples of a romanticism that they cannot abide. Instead, they propose decay be thought of as a building process of chemico-mathematical truth. Can we understand Thompson's work as expressive of this very truth? That through a minimal frame it presents an accelerative conception of decay, that thinks the oncoming rush of death not as an end, but as the continuation of natural tendency. Precisely because of the reversal of the commodity form the work upholds non-productivity over use value, thus accelerating through commodification into a form of exchange value reliant on the complicity the work holds with the market. The reclamation of decay for the work then, puts it to work as exchangeable, precisely because it shears it from the local and projects it through the art market into a generic site, topologically defined by the empty frame rather than the complex “natural” world from which it has been extracted as raw material.

(1) For a discussion of this see Ray Brassier's Nihil Unbound, Palgrave Macmillan.
(2) Reza Negarestani and Robin Mackay have written convincingly about this, see specifically The Barker Topos (forthcoming) Sequence/Urbanomic.
(3) Reza Negarestani, Decay Modernism:
(4) ibid. 

Seoul Art Space Publication
By Caroline Soyez-Petithomme

The contemplation of Adam Thompson's works easily leads us to imagine the artist walking around wastelands, like a post-industrial flâneur randomly picking up some disused materials and objects, which obviously fascinate him. That would be a comfortable way to approach the mute and puzzling set of elements he displays as sculptures, installations or wall works. This romanticized, not to say legendary, approach of his work draws our attention to its very poetical aspect and rich power of imagination, and this counterbalances with the cold and generic universe reinforced by the unique title, Untitled, of each work. To distinguish the works from each other implies to refer to their exact composition and compel to describe them. Untitled (2012) is a Polystyrene foam board leaning on the wall. It echoes the form of a John McCracken's rectangular sculpture which would have somehow completely lost any of its sophisticated features (perfect plane and polish surface and its sheer colour). Our look bumps into the irregularities of this synthetic surface, which reveals its own pictorially rich potential. Untitled (2012) is a stack of dented and mainly black aluminium water filters displayed on top of each other, in front of four filters "salvaged" from air conditioner units simply hung on the wall. Another work from 2012 consists of a pile of oxidized copper sheets. And Untitled (2011) also gathers material to create again a vertical sculpture, another cylindrical column — not black but transparent — in front of four rectangular Mylar boards leaning against the wall.  Here the thin plastic films have been found as such, damaged by rain.

All Thompson's works are directly taken from the archaeology of everyday life. Such as a collection of industrial residues and elements from the Junkspace of architecture and urban landscape, Thompson's works connect with the sci-fi literary or cinematic universes among others inspired by J.G Ballard, William Gibson, Philip K. Dick, Ridley Scott or David Cronenberg. With them, the artist shares a common visual environment, a colour scheme — cold, dark, blue and black — and a clinical or aseptic display.

However, beside this possible fictional interpretation, the artist has been developing a proper system of quasi self-generated forms, an atavistic version or retro-vision of minimal abstract sculpture. In each series of works, the found object, as a random starting point, ends being inevitably replaced in the open-ended loop of the artist's collection. The encounter with a single or a group of found objects generates the search for the next components belonging to the same typology or formal family. The reason why an object or a piece of material had been selected and what first triggered the curiosity and imagination of the artist always disappears remaining at the blurry border of a process that certainly distances any subjective decision from the final plastic composition. Untitled (2011) is a fragile vertical assemblage of sixteen damaged laptop screens. Their black liquid crystals offer automatic or random abstract patterns reminding a Rorschach test or some of the Hans Hartung monochromatic and translucent lithographies. 

Thompson's creation process and playful game consists of operating without any hand made interventions on the structure or surface of the object or with a grammar of minimum gestures restricted to juxtaposition or assemblage. His artistic strategy stages the belief, the eternal promise of the latent existence or perpetuation of those industrial and standardized elements, which used to stand as minimal sculpture. Relocating them in the field contemporary art, Thompson re-autonomises those functional but disused objects, however the damaged surfaces and traces of human use dissolve the anonymity and the generic aspect of those mass-produced forms. If those found objects have been removed from industrial series, they are no longer the reproduction of each of their fellow forms. The artist's decision to choose the object in order to individualize and affirm the status of the artwork is no longer at stake. This choice has been substituted by the combination of both the worn traces and the consumption logic whose consequential obsolescence anticipated the artist's decision to snatch the object from its functionality. 

Thus, some of the essential features of the minimal sculpture aesthetics have been somehow cancelled or rendered invalid, leaving those forms as empty shells ready to be loaded again with other meanings and new stories. Such as a meta-discourse on the collection, those dead objects had been arrested in time before the artist collected them. On the contrary of the traditional logic of the collection, this is not the replacement of those objects in another field, for some exhibition purpose, which subtract them from their functionality. They were already considered as scraps and wastes, as material without qualities. Therefore, putting them back in circulation in a new field of exchanges and values, Thompson establishes a meta-collection negotiating a new space in-between death and life again.

A conversation with Adam Thompson
by Vincent Honorè

(VH) Your new project at MOT International marks a somewhat important change in your practice. Your works (installations, sculptures) mainly focused on using what Dean Kenning had called "‘rescued residues". However, in this project, one of the four works displayed (Untitled (Components & Variables)), probably the most significant in the exhibition as you placed it so the visitor faces it when entering the gallery, includes a totally and carefully crafted model of a NASA telescope. To my knowledge, it's the first time one of your installations is incorporating so obviously an object entirely crafted by you, and moreover, a realist model of an existing architecture. So, could you explain what is the story of this telescope and why it was important to recreate a model of it? 

(AT) I first discovered an image of the object on an obscure Japanese website that archives a range of astral instruments and equipment. I was immediately drawn to such a weird and oblique form. It took a while before finding it to be a telescope used on a satellite during the late 70's and, now unoperational, is still circumnavigating the globe as space waste. In this sense, it carriers with it the obsolescence and redundancy of much of the found objects I've been incorporating previously. 

Not knowing its true scale and working from one image, making it was very much an experiment. NASA objects like this don't care for aesthetics and design which seemed to make the perfect sculpture in my mind, but making it brought these issues up to be problematic. I attempted to reconstruct the form as closely as possible, like making an Airfix model, in a way decisions were made for me. I made a few versions at different sizes and then selected one specifically for the space and installation at MOT International. Despite making it I still look at it as a found object, I'm wary of calling it Sculpture and placed it alongside another found object (broken plasma screen) as one work, in an attempt to draw a tension across the different materials and associations. Once the piece was installed then the different components created a situation, beginning a conversation that resonated, albeit in a kind of broken language or dialect with the other works in the show.

This object does not then contradict what you called, in the conversation we had when visiting your show, a "phobia to create objects"? 

Phobia may be too strong a word but i certainly hesitate, dwindle and distance myself from hands on making. I’m not adhering my practice to the dematerialisation of conceptualism, I want to engage with materiality and it feels more natural for me to work with what is already in the world, shifting and gathering material that crosses my path. The weight of everyday stuff around me hangs heavy and I see little interest in adding to it, preferring to keep my intervention to a minimum. Having said this, it’s not a rule; I do make things from scratch, in part to contradict myself. The ambivalence between the constructed and the found is important to me, in a way to nullify the differences, superseding my choices with that of chance, questioning control and the legitimacy of the accident on some level, dissolving my will. 

I’d like you to explain the title of your series, The Thanatosis of Objects, and what it implies as an artist, especially in the light of the "dissolving of your will".

This is a series in early development that is solely reliant on found objects, the series develops an ongoing collection of parts installed together in dialogue. A slight and fragile equilibrium holds together elements, usually installed in a dumb, disparate manner, I want them to appear like unauthored compositions, rendered by gravity and awkward balance. Thematically and formally, these works read as arrays of possibilities, where styles and subjects are collected and examined as if specimens. Taking this characteristic, the objects appear from a method of archaeology, a practice of collecting and archiving found objects. Things that were eminently useful in the world are constantly being interred as waste. Every single day a new batch of materials methodically emerges from the black hole of modern times into the light of such archaeological or artistic research. We often use the truism “out of sight, out of mind’, concerning waste, but in reality it is in sight everywhere. Like animals in thanatosis, objects lay evading unwelcome attention. (From the Greek noun meaning ‘putting to death’, thanatosis, is the process by which an animal feigns death in order to avoid attack, form of camouflage or mimicry in which the "mimic" imitates itself in a dead state such that the animals’ life hinges on the pursuer becoming unresponsive to its victim). 

Applying this concept, the material and immaterial logic of this theatre makes available philosophical insight into the relationship between objects, language and perception. My material begins to operate as phenomenological staging grounds which are highly tuned to their surrounding architectural spaces. The writing of Graham Harman has resonated this idea for me, he asks us to stop being concerned about what an object means for us, and consider the object itself, the way its constructed and constituted by our minds, alluring in its partial opacity. He calls his work ‘weird realism’, and wants to attune us to the incongruity of objects once they are liberated from common sense’s somnambulant gaze. In this sense, the series could be seen as a kind of ‘weird realism’, levitating objects from their state of thanatosis in order to scrutinize even the mundane of object relations. 

Despite the works phenomenological and philosophical associations, a central polemic is also, arguably, to challenge the terms of creativity. In a sense, there is not anything new here. It’s an unassuming process of collecting and composing found objects like the archaeologist. Simple composition of what already exists. Nothing is transformed. This points to a broader conversation about creativity and the creative behaviour of critical art today, when the consumer/subject faces constant and unrelenting injunctions to be creative, I want this deskilling to push the question of the importance of invention as a requirement of the artwork's agency.

This points to collection versus production (although your installation are not made of ready-made per se, understood as a Duchampian prerogative. Indeed, you carefully select the objects and materials whereas Duchamp claimed not to select his objects, and you alter them). In his essay 'Sculpture as Recollection', Benjamin H. D. Buchloh writes, addressing Gabriel Orozco’s Penske Project (1998) "the semblance of being attached to that which has passed, to that which has become dysfunctional, to the exhausted object, bespeaks – at least within sculptural propositions – a sudden turn. It signals resistance against the destruction of the object, solidarity with matter and memory itself". Your practice goes beyond the object and its material, it also points to a memory of forms: minimalism with the basic forms (sphere, rectangle) and their positioning in the gallery (directly on the floor), the post-minimalism with the perversion of the forms themselves (the violence sometimes attached to them: broken spheres, for instance), the land art, etc. A memory of forms that is at stake in a number of sculptural or semi-sculptural practices of artists of your generation (Oscar Tuazon, Cyprien Gaillard, Raphaël Zarka, Karla Black to name a few). But your work addresses more frontally the traditional genre of the landscape: what is your relationship with the landscape as a tradition?

It’s tempting to say the idea of landscape is a thread that runs through all my work, not necessarily as a scene but as a contingent space to move through in time. In much of my earlier work references were more obvious within a dialogue between nature and the built environment but now it’s hinged more delicately. Landscape for me simultaneously combines intimate proximity and irreducible distance, no beginning, no end. Some things known but all ultimately unknown. It’s this otherness of being within landscape that still interests me, the horror of the cosmos for example, philosophical questions of metaphysics and materialism, non-human worlds, the decentring of the subject. The correlations between man and the meaning of ‘nature’, particularly as a primitive or ‘wild’ state in opposition to human ‘culture’, still, despite its ageing traditions, seems ever fertile ground in our era that is scientifically dematerialised and saturated with trauma. I do tend to use a basic structure of framing landscape that is essentially referential toward the traditions and movements you mention but I’m more interested in a philosophical questioning towards landscape and our human comprehension of it than in deciphering and distilling its art historical underpinnings, or at least, I try a juggling of the two.

Some of your installation’s fragments or materials - possibly taken from construction sites - reference to the architectural dimension of sculpture and the sculptural dimension of architecture. What’s your relationship with the sculpture’s problematic in architecture?

My materials arrive from a variety of locations and sources. Some from construction sites yes, others from skips or the back of a factory, some from friends, some stolen. There is no logic or conceptual code for inclusion or exclusion, more an essence or relationship of a given time. I think the relationship between the objects, architecture and space is paramount. I rarely complete work in the studio, it’s only when installing in the gallery when decisions and space collide that the work draws to a close. The studio for me is a contingent space for objects and ideas to develop relationships but this always changes once moved into a different space. This problematic is exemplified by my upcoming project for Showreel, the space is very particular, a small shop window, framed by a beautiful facade, it acts like a frame within a frame, much like my work. I generally like work to be navigated spatially but this doesn’t allow this, screened off and sovereign the space develops a new set of issues for me. As yet, and until l visit the site, it’s impossible to select the work. I have a couple of suitcases of materials to take for installing, so on arrival the work starts. 

Catalouge Essay - Interview, Seoul
By Dean Kenning

Adam Thompson makes striking use of scale in a practice which engages with the dialectic of representation and the real. A bashed in globe rests on the gallery floor, both minimalist sculpture and the aftermath of some cosmic catastrophe which has rent the Earth’s crust apart. A globe is the most iconic of scale models, implying rational control over the physical limits of the human domain (until recently that is?the astronauts and cosmomauts of the 60s being the first people to gaze back at the home planet as if it were a model; but forty years of space exploration has not brought us beyond its back yard, beyond its gravitational pull). Globes shrink reality millions of times allowing us to hold the world in our hands, and make sense contemplatively of the terrain stretching endlessly before us. In fact, Thompson’s globe is a found object, discovered while on one of his scavenging excursions around the streets of South East London. Worlds collide: the serene intellectual endeavour of the study and the profane, everyday urban grime of dumped rubbish and skips. The object itself betrays an inelegant former life; it is awkward and bulky, (perhaps an abandoned art work?); cracks reveal a thick plaster shell. Now it is a smashed-pumpkin of a globe? the gaping cavern of the interior emphasized illusionalistically with added black paint (the only creative concession the artist has allowed himself).

Black pigment recurs in Untitled (Range), this time in pure powdered form piled on a cable suspended between gallery walls. The blatant physicality of the piece flips to a mountainous silhouette when juxtaposed against its tonal opposite?the white-walled backdrop. It looks like industrial heaps of coal newly excavated from the Earth’s interior. The work brings to mind what Robert Smithson?in his dialectic of representation and real? called non-sites. A gallery, in this sense, is a quintessential encultured, bracketed virtual space enabling so-called reality to be approached. Presented as a ready-made material rather than as an ingredient for traditional image making, the precipitous, uneven line of pigment puts in focus the symbolic function whereby the real can never escape an imaginative ordering?there is no ‘innocent eye’, no nature without culture. Another found object resembles a mossy rock, but is actually an amorphous lump of dried concrete with a chemically-induced patina of green and brown. Originally constituted from excavated minerals this material has become an urban rock?superfluous, unproductive, kicking around. Re-functioned in the gallery it seems to float impossibly against a wall to which it is attached with an unseen rod. On its surface are dozens of plastic model chairs, arranged higgledy-piggledy?on their sides, upside down, scattered on their ground as if washed up in a deluge. Chairs have appeared often on the stage of modern art, from Van Gogh to Bruce Nauman to Sarah Lucas. In their isolated un-sat-upon state they conjure the human body in its very absence, particularly as they mimic the sedentary posture they allow, with their reduplication of limbs and torso?arms, legs, and back. Signs of life then on this craggy island, past life perhaps?

Another ‘rescued’ residue, this time unadulterated. It looks like a natural object?maybe a small section of log. But on closer inspection what appears like splitting bark is seen to be paint chipping away from an old piece of skirting board. Only a man-made object can be abject. But as environmental attrition blasts away the coating and shape that enables us to name this leftover piece of detritus, a magical thing happens. It returns, regresses to its ‘woody’ status, to its original nature. It loses its domestic, encultured function in a process of entropy whereby the Earth reclaims what belongs to it.

Absence, Entropy, and the Self
By Richard Clements

To see a landscape as it is when I am not there. . . . When I am in any place, I disturb the silence of heaven and earth by my breathing and the beating of my heart - Simone Weil [1]

The work of Adam Thompson is entrenched in melancholia: the realization of the futility of human endeavour. The melancholic disposition is the perceiving or creating subject’s conscious realization of the fracture between materia and eidos/form[2]; physically objective reality pitted against subjective abstract thought, and the fallibility of attempted negotiations for reconciliation (materially instantiated or conceptual/philosophical). For Thompson, this cleavage is at it most potent and most evident in the relationship between man and landscape (natural environment).  The sense of dislocation or misplacement is philosophically existentialist, and ultimately leads to a dissolution of the self, not in an ascetic or mystical manner, but through a conscious skepticism of the potential of objective truth in the construction of the self, and the reliability of perceptual ability. This destabilization of self becomes symbolically mirrored in the entropic cycle or breakdown of the natural world; in Thompson’s work, nature becomes mournfully reciprocal and utterly devastated.

Contemporary thought tends towards fragmentation; we are hyper self-reflexive of how we subjectively construct ideas. Our created objects, our physically manifested ideological constructs, are now viewed as mere detritus strewn across the atomized landscape, flotsam floating between shores merging over deep time. In Thompson’s work Untitled (Globe) [2006], we see an object that illustrates the limitations of cartographical objects and their inability to represent the complexities of the world; the created idea and object are now embodied as debris.  But one does not see the destroyed globe as merely a failed or corrupted human creation; it symbolically mirrors a world unable to keep pace with our desperate production.

The concept arouses feelings of mourning and bleakness due to mankind’s unavoidable progressivism; to create we must destroy, and the effects are irreversible. Giles Tiberghie states “ For the Greeks, it was necessary to ‘follow nature’, since nature holds absolute privilege, in the moral as well as the physical sense. It is the same for art, whose sole justification is to imitate nature: not for its products – a crude version of mimesis as copy – but rather its production. Imitating nature is not reproducing its exterior, rather it is remaining a part of it to realize it completely. To use Pierre Aubenques’s expression, art is an ‘active tautology’ of nature.”[3]  However, the act of creation, whether artistic or cultural, cannot be separated from the created thing; while the act of replication may suggest an involvement or union with an evolving world, the created object itself is a perversity; this is particularly the case in an age where the sheer volume of the material we appropriate can harm the very object (the natural world) it attempts to inhabit through emulation.  Such concepts are expressed in Thompson’s work 29/10/04 [2007], where the ‘reality’ of the wall is forced into a dialogue with a photograph.  The creation of the photograph is dependent on the natural world, and is juxtaposed against the physical presence of the crumbling wall.  We have no confidence in the present existence of the photograph’s subject; it only exists through record; much like the internal eye’s ability to accurately recollect or replicate original experiences.  The potential harmony of the photograph is undermined by the physical presence of the decayed wall; the wall’s suggestion of creation as destruction throws into question any faith we may have in the integrity or benefits of human production.

Through a nihilistic materialist reading, the perceived inconsequentiality of our individual existence in the chronology of the universe reduces everything (mental/physical) to its microcosmic parts: to dust. When we attempt to personify this continuing entropic force we view it as an amoral juggernaut, but its true ominous presence is revealed in its inability to be humanized, its lack of central consciousness, the absence of presence. 

It is not to be thought that the life of darkness is sunk in misery and lost as if in sorrowing. There is no sorrowing. For sorrow is a thing that is swallowed up in death, and death and dying are the very life of the darkness - Jacob Boehme [4]

What is this void? How can nullity hold such emotive force over us?  For French Philosopher and mystic Simone Weil, this void was evidence of the existence of the divine. God, for her, because of His all-encompassing presence, needed to retract himself in order for exterior life to exist. The void, therefore, is symbolic of divinity, and the process of eradication of separateness provides cosmological alignment, and differentiation between Nature, God and the self is destroyed.  We find everything in nothing, and, although its presence is no comfort, it displays a profound spiritual absoluteness.  But void only occurs through complete annihilation; the debris of a mere shattering or scattering can be gathered up, and the reconstituted whole is a nauseating prospect, an object without essence; as Rudolf Steiner writes:

First you kill the whole world by differentiating it; then you fit its differentials together again in integrals, but you no longer have a world, only a copy, an illusion. . . this does not bring them back to life; they remain no more than dead replicas ” [5]

Void is nothingness, and its indivisibility aligns it with monism. Debris is the true opposite of void; it is a conglomeration of irreconcilable parts that suggests infinite difference. Thompson’s work explores both poles: nihilistic despair as well as the potential for grace through blackness. Is there potential for transcendence in God’s benign neglect? If void, can be seen as the ultimate assimilator because of it’s infinite inclusion, then perhaps we can think of entropic breakdown in similar terms. Is there a possibility for unity in the concluding atomization of entropy?  Does a deep time awareness of nature’s infinite mutability and flux create a sense of singularity or oneness? If everything is reduced to ash and unified in darkness , how can our consciousness distinguish differences?  Perhaps this can be viewed as the reconciliation of the micro and macrocosmic and of materia, form and eidos.

“the continuous is what is infinitely divisible. . .”[6] Aristotle

[1] Weil, Simone.  Gravity and  Grace. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972.  p. 37
[2] Latin Terms: Materia relates to physical material, Forma to Being, and Eidos to pure thought.
[3] Tiberghie, Giles. Qtd. in Tomato. Process; a Tomato Project. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, 1996.
[4] Boehme, Jacob. Qtd. in Cormac Mccarthy. Blood Meridian. (fronticepiece). New York: Vintage International,  1992.
[5] Steiner, Rudolf. The Origins of Natural Science. London: Anthroposophic Press, 1985. p. 55
[6] Aristotle. Qtd. in Tomato. Process; a Tomato Project. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, 1996.

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