In 1979 at the Whitney Museum of American Art, American avant-garde filmmaker Hollis Frampton gave a lecture devoted to the origins of film and the utility of defunct technologies. Toward the end, Frampton paused to vaguely describe a work of art composed of the accumulating detritus, by-products, and disparate actions piling up in his studio, which he called A Partial Disassembling of an Invention Without a Future: Helter-Skelter and Random Notes in Which the Pulleys and Cogwheels Are Lying at Random All Over the Workbench. Despite Frampton’s decision to name and then publically announce his piece, it is a work that was nonetheless never made and never begun—a work that hangs in the air of the filmmaker’s oeuvre: absurd, poetic, unrealized. That is, until Walead Beshty (a self-confessed fan of Frampton’s work) decided to breathe new life into the filmmaker’s project for his recent commission for the Barbican Center’s Curve Gallery by appropriating the title and promise of the unfulfilled piece.
Made of over 12,000 cyanotype prints and photograms carefully placed and pinned to the undulating curve of the gallery wall, the work documents fourteen months in the material and relational life of Beshty’s Los Angeles studio. Thus, every item used, broken, or exhausted in the process of the work’s creation found its way into the work, either as the material matter of the installation itself or as the object photographed. As a representation of an artist’s practice, the work finds a way to acknowledge and render visible the aesthetic compost that is often kept out of sight when objects are placed within the clean white walls of an exhibition space. For Beshty, it is this waste that signals the work of the “work of art”—the constellation of decisions, actions, labor, institutional interventions, and mistakes that inform how objects and projects manifest themselves in dialogue with the world around them.