The Unswept Floor, and the Secret of Installation

The sources of the sensibility behind Installation art might, possibly, draw breath from the ancient Roman mosaic technique of the ‘unswept floor’.1The Unswept Floor was also the title of one of the early exhibitions curated by Oxley and de Oliveira at Adam Gallery in 1985. This was commonly a floor depicting the remnants of a feast. The permanence of the mosaic means that the room is always displaying the afterwards of a feast. And a feast, a banquet, is a complex assembly of practices and performances (gastronomic, social, visual and, in one way or another, narcotic). All of these forms, in the case of an unswept floor mosaic, are held in suspension, in representation, and in perfect installation. The remnants of food depicted in the mosaic represent their presence and absence at exactly the same time, with the added imperative to represent the ever-present likelihood of such a feast being present, and they also represent the act and effects of their consumption. They represent, in a way, the way in which a work is a record and display of its being made. And the name of the form, the ‘unswept floor’, refers not to what is present, but to what has not been done to a space. The artefacts have not been removed, they have been left.2The technique of leaving material from an Installation for others to use in the production of new work has been used as a critical and productive tool over several decades as exemplified at Büro Berlin in the 1980s. The project, curated by artists Herrmann Pitz, Raimund Kummer and Fritz Rahmann introduced the recycling of works from one exhibition to another as a curatorial/artistic principle. The exhibition Jetset (2003) by the Mexican artists José Dávila, Gonzalo Lebrija, Fernando Palomar, re-employed the central architectural feature of the previous exhibition, curated by Ron Haselden. This free-standing, double-skinned wall, measuring 35ft, was painted black by the Mexican collective and tipped over, and came to function as a large-scale obstacle, in an oblique reference to Richard Serra’s seminal work Tilted Arc.

The images one finds of these mosaics remind me of the work of a Belgian artist not to be found in this archive, Sophie Anson. Her works also rethink the uncanniness of the trompe l’oeil, and display the thought or the sight that occurs at the periphery of the moment of illusionistic effect. This might be called illusion’s peripheral vision, or indeed the peripheral vision of the trompe l’oeil.