An unremarkable rug sits on the floor of an exhibition space. Visitors familiar with the work of Tully Arnot may be aware of use of altered objects and dry, bathetic humour in his practice. A fan slowly wafts a photograph of a torso in homage to a TV star’s dance routine, a toy helicopter is fitted with a motor which (in theory) should allow its rotors to move at the pace of a clock’s hour hand. A glass of water – at once so neutral and yet so loaded an image, appears to agitate without any obvious source.
Arnot says he is aiming for a kind of ‘alchemy’ within the work, a change wherein an everyday object acquires a value as an artistic object. He proposes a non-telic approach to invention – namely a process without a specific, prescribed outcome. The idea for the recently exhibited work Teppich, he says, came about from working on carpets and fans in an ‘organic’ way, rather than focusing on a finished product – the processes of invention, their operation and unexpected turns, is more important to his practice than a finished product.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty invited us ‘to turn an object upside-down to deprive it of its meaning’. There is something akin to this happening in Arnot’s practice. Just a slight adjustment of the everyday object, or a tweaking of its function. Sometimes the punchline comes afterwards; Teppich features a carpet which has been fitted with a concealed bladder, set to inflate and deflate roughly every forty seconds. Then there is a delay of a couple of minutes before the next cycle. A visitor might easily pass over the rug never knowing its double identity. A kind of anthropomorphism is evident too, as if the rug were haunted. This is all the more apparent when the work is seen speeded-up in an accompanying video. Slow-motion slapstick might go some way to describing the way these works operate. But it is the very subtle and understated nature of their jokes which makes them that much more disturbing.
While his practice is now very firmly in the field of Fine Art, Arnot’s training was in Design, and his practice still reflects a professionalism towards the making process and an embracement of current technologies which marks it out. His current position has come after lengthy and close questioning of motives and outcomes in the state of being an artist. So that rather than simply creating objects for sale, or objects which putatively fulfill a (often contrived) need, his practice focuses on the making thinking-through process, and the outcomes, be they three dimensional objects or videos, are not necessarily ‘finished’ products.
1. Quoted in Formless, by Yves-Alain Bois and Rosalind Krauss 1997
Text by Matthew Crookes