One of the most useful quotes doesn’t have a name attached to it. I wrote it down in the days before I became methodical. It was certainly a dadaist, and might perhaps have been Tristan Tzara, the keenest of this anarchic tribe to rush into print and share his wonky wisdoms. Drop Everything, the poem is called. And before we stride into the Serpentine Gallery and attempt to avoid the traps set for us there by the wicked artistic imagination of Andreas Slominski, you, like me, might profit from getting up to speed with dada’s rhythms. Here we go:
Drop your wife, drop your mistress.
Drop your hopes and your fears.
Abandon your children in the corner of the wood.
Drop the substance for the shadow.
Drop, if need be, a comfortable life, What you have, for a better future.
And set out on the open road.”
I particularly like the advice: “Abandon your children in the corner of the wood.” That’s artists for you. Note also the ruthless Parisian democracy involved in dropping your mistress as well as your wife. The most useful line in here, not only in Slominski’s case, but in the case of all post-dadaists, of whom there are enormous numbers currently at work in the art world, is the one about dropping the substance for the shadow. These days, in art, pretty much everyone is doing that.
The first thing you see in Slominski’s show is a candle on a pedestal. It looks, let’s be honest, like a candle on a pedestal, and nothing more. But it’s actually a tiny and fragile shadow being thrown by the most enormous piece of substance. Listen to this. In the week before his show opened, Slominski had an artificial ski slope built outside the Serpentine Gallery, leading from Kensington Gardens, over the fence, and right into the foyer of the gallery itself. Then a company that manufactures real snow was brought in to cover the ski slope. Then a skier was engaged to spend the day skiing into the gallery. Before every pass, the skier would wax his skies afresh. At the end of every pass, he would scrape off the wax and start again with new wax. The old wax was handed to a candle-maker, who eventually made out of it the candle you see on the pedestal. Then — and this is the good bit, the hard-core part — the ski slope was dismantled, the skier dispatched, the snow melted and every trace of the event removed. Only the candle remains.
Thus, walking into the Serpentine is like walking into a bank vault after Ocean’s Eleven have stolen all the money. The simple emptiness that confronts you is the result of a convoluted heist. While you weren’t there, all these things went on, but now that you are there, there’s nothing left except a calling card.