Still Life

Once it was still possible to look with the notion that abstract painting’s function was to expose an order lying slightly beneath the material world. In art history, diagrammatic webs superimposed over works of the past fulfilled this same imperative, a skeletal underpinning for pictorial arrangement. With such reductive strategies however it is impossible to separate what is being concealed from what is being revealed.

For example, it has long since become impossible to attribute the origin of the horizontal and vertical strokes of Mondrian’s 1914-15 Compositions to either Scheveningen or Domburg Pier, biographical speculation paling against the concrete existence of the paintings themselves. If the digitisation of media culture has made us aware of anything it is the malleability of information, and the methods by which it’s graphic presentation actively distorts or occludes meaning. The graph stands now not so much for the clear articulation of information as it’s subjective re-presention, an opacity acting as a transparency.

A major strategy in Dan Miller’s work is abbreviation. Frequently the information taken from the original source has been abbreviated beyond the point of intelligibility. Here the painting’s sign-like quality is disabled; the resulting work becomes a cipher, a coded zero. Typically a theme is developed in series, the source gradually surrendering it’s original signification in favour of the painting’s own hermetic logic.

It is questionable though whether the self-reflexivity that emerges from this method of distilling is simply intended to privilege the optical experience of the viewer. With this optical transmissibility also comes a linguistic impenetrability. Furthermore a continuous shift between a number of pictorial vocabularies problematises an understanding of the work as a single authoritative language, disrupting its ability to be ‘learnt’ by the spectator. The viewer is free to see but ultimately left on the outside of a circuit of production that exists between artist and artwork.

The components of Arithmetic Composition are comprised of the voided spaces from a piece of cardboard packaging from the artist’s studio. Lexical to the production of the painting, these negative areas form an enclosed logic of their own. A similar preoccupation with disabling function is present in the sculpture Laminate: brittle facsimiles of polystyrene sheeting. Through these acts of disassembly Miller’s work renders apparent a function of reading that exists between the production and reception of an artwork, a process defined by encryption and deciphering. There are no innate truths to be learnt, just subjective realities to be found.


Neil Clements


Offsite project in association with SWG3 for Glasgow International 2010.

Head to the Exhibitions category on the Portfolio page to view other projects.

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