A CERTAIN LEVEL OF TERROR, The work of Denis Masi

Deanna Petherbridge


1977 - 1987


one large black dog

one cast aluminium floor consisting of 108 38cm sq. tiles

one lead table cloth

one timber table

one club hammer

two timber chairs

two wood and lead trays

two buckets of sand

a length of black cloth

two 1K profile lights

three 1K fresnil lights

immediate area of construction invested with an odor

This list of objects, this straight-forward, uninflected specification of hardware is placed on a wall next to Denis Masi's assemblage. Prompt. In it, relationships are not specified, modifying adjectives are avoided, there are no nuances. It is a chilling list. As chilling as the artwork.

Such lists are often hung in association with Masi's work. They informed the work of Steven Brook when he saw Masi's ICA exhibition in 1979 and some of Brook's poetry has been used on the sound tracks of the recent pieces, exemplifying the collaboration.

These lists set the philosophic tone for Masi's work: assemblages of actual objects, chosen or fabricated with exquisite precision, but largely unmodified in themselves. The transformative aspect resides not in the objects but in their relationships and in the relationship of the spectator to these.

A chair is a chair is a chair until it is seen to be an empty chair. In Prompt the chair in the lead and wooden tray facing the dog-as-judge is empty: it could be the chair of the accused, the chair awaiting the accused, the chair awaiting you, the chair awaiting you-the-accused, the chair as accused. And linking it with the 'judge', alert and besilked behind his lead-clothed table and hammer, are a series of dog prints-traces of relationships, fossil imprints cast into the floor, a network of transient comings and goings, linking accuser and accused. The empty chair then, is only ascribed value by its relationship to the other objects in the assemblage, and that valorization (imprecise, fluid and ambivalent) is granted by the spectator. The artist, too, is at a remove from the art work, not directly shaping and modifying his materials but engaged in a directorial strategy.

By working in this way Denis Masi maintains the procedures of the '60's and of artists such as Edward Kienholz, although the content is radically different. Specifically he acknowledges a major influence from film, and aptly likens himself to a film director, not only because he is ordering so many complex technical resources but also because his idea base is multilevelled and time-based. There is also a theatrical aspect: with their special lighting effects, accompanying tapes and odors, the works are tableaux into which the spectator wanders or stands without.

A Certain Level of Terror - Page 1