Bill Culbert

The Serendipity of the Readymade

VAULT interviews New Zealand artist Bill Culbert, whose project transforms the mundane into something quietly extraordinary.

feature by Tai Mitsuji

The work of Bill Culbert begins with the mundane, but ends with the magical. Take, for instance, 2 Drop (2013), which the 83-year-old artist made for the 55th Venice Biennale. On paper, the work almost invites dismissal; it has only two listed materials: furniture and fluorescent tubes. Just glancing at the description, one could easily be reading the side of an IKEA box rather than the front of an art plaque. Yet that is where the resemblance ends. Instead of sitting meekly in a room, Culbert’s chairs and table hang from the ceiling. The pieces are all inverted; they spiral as if they have been ripped from their terrestrial existence by a cyclone and, for the briefest of moments, hang suspended in this delicate, fugitive configuration. Rods of neon light penetrate the chairs, and frame these heavenly bodies, as lighting becomes lightning. But, of course, there is no force of nature or violent maelstrom here; there is only the patient effort of an artist. The success of the work turns on a visual paradox, which shakes the foundations of our reality and transforms the painfully familiar into the utterly alien. This is the world of Bill Culbert.

“I basically make things that I want to – even if they don’t exist, I’ll make them exist,” Culbert explains, when I ask him about his process. It’s a simple statement, yet the explanation really captures the manner in which the artist is able to impose his will on the everyday, and reimagine ordinary objects in the most extraordinary... Subscribe to read this article in full


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