From Berlin to Hastings: an Art
Journey Through Delayed Reaction
Upon receiving artist Nick Fudge’s invitation to his exhibition in Hastings, Berlin curator An Paenhuysen was dubious. But despite this English coastal town not being on the art map (yet), the curator took up the challenge. There, she discovered the new unlikely refuge for London artists, and even found time to share a pint with bad-ass YBAs.
Islands are always a little odd, aren’t they? As I arrived at London Gatwick I looked for the exit, only to realise that in this neck of the woods it’s called “way out”. The artist Nick Fudge was the one who made me cross the channel, and I’d introduce him as a post-Internet artist, but, curiously enough, he was already thinking about the moment after the internet as early as the 1990s. Do you remember that time when sitting behind a computer made you feel excited, or even, it blew your mind? So, I could call Fudge avant-garde but the term seems to suggest he’s always busy running ahead of times. I happen to know that Fudge doesn’t run and prefers above all a Duchamp-esque delay, which was the first thing we talked about when he picked me up at the rail station in Hastings. No, the train wasn’t late, but I was still feeling touched by the Agnes Martin show at the Tate Modern: her lines bringing about a halt in my mind, a suspension of movement. “Delayed reaction,” Fudge said with a nod.
To delay something involves a certain escape, and like Marcel Duchamp, Fudge is the ultimate escape artist. I came to Hastings for the opening of the artist’s show at the Observer Building - his second exhibition since leaving Goldsmiths at the end of the 1980s. Indeed, some of his art school contemporaries went on to become YBA art stars; Nick Fudge, however, chose anonymity. It was right before Fudge was about to finish college and enter the art market, that he decided to go underground. Apparently he wasn’t too eager to play along with the entertain us! ambiance of the 1990s. It was, nonetheless, in the YBA context that I met the artist for the first time. Not in the 1990s (I was only half conscious back then) but in 2015 at the opening of the British Pavilion in Venice - where Fudge’s bad-ass friend Sarah Lucas provided an amazing show, a blast of custard yellow. “Supportive anyway?” I asked the underground artist. Fudge laughed, and only a few months later he invited me to see his very own resurrection in an exhibition entitled “Obscured by Clouds”, displaying Fudge’s work alongside Phil King’s paintings.
Fudge reckoned that I came to his exhibition for the sole reason of meeting Sarah Lucas in person. “She’s a fan,” he told her upon introducing me. And I won’t deny that I couldn’t believe my luck when sitting opposite to Lucas at the pub after the opening (if only her London accent wouldn’t have thrown me so off track). But besides being starstruck, the very reason why I’d come to Hastings, was that I was curious to see what a delay in exposure in Nick Fudge’s quick mind had brought about. The first visible expression of this delay are the dates in the titles: 1994-2015 for the prints, less years for the paintings, but all in all, quite a time span to go about. The years, however, didn’t result in an oeuvre that has an overdone look. Rather a development in consistency seems to have taken place, one that’s not so easy to get your head around. In the 1990s Fudge started off by thinking about the Internet in a 2010s post-internet kind of way. But in the 2010s this same work is also an exploration of the media archeology of the 1990s.
Simply put, Fudge never updated his computer programs. I don’t know how he did it; the flashing sign of updates alone makes me feel nervous. Fudge’s working material is the now obsolete technology of the 1990s. Let’s take as an example his “Machine of Connectivity and Undo”, printed to stainless steel, dated 1994-2015. It is post-internet in the way that it uses the tools of the Web to create an object that in the end exists in the real world. The long incubation period of the work (1994-2015) refers to (and let me quote the artist because digital materialism is a thing on its own): “An (editable) digital image (file) shows no trace of work over a period of time (excepting the file's metadata ie, graphical icon etc.)” Fudge’s “Machine of Connectivity and Undo” also makes clear why his art work never gives the impression of being overdone. Fudge prefers to push the “undo” button. Yet not to the point of total annihilation. A digital deconstruction comes about. In this case, so the artist explained to me, “a cubist version of an Apple Newton, the first personal handheld assistant device dating from the mid 1990s.” As such, Fudge’s prints are simultaneously dated and futuristic. They are modern, postmodern and post-postmodern, all in one; or “meta-modern” as the artist pointed out.
My favorite work in the show was a greyscale, metallic-colour print titled “FDP V.2.0_DES01009_2”. It somehow reminded me of the early glamour of the silver screen, displaying a computer desktop.
The desktop shows us a moment in editing, I’m guessing it’s Adobe Illustrator v.8.0.1, a program that Fudge seems to be working with. Standing next to me in the show was media archaeologist Alex Casper Cline and he was so kind to enlighten me about codes, barcodes, QR codes, data, the configuration of pixels, a video game called “GeoGuessr”, and the material culture of digital economy.
Meanwhile the computer language on “FDP V.2.0_DES01009_2” started to reveal its beauty: Tool Box, Brush Size, Colour Palette, Brush Behaviour, Brush Stroke Designer, Pixels. I’d never considered it before, but isn’t there poetry to be found in Multiple Bristles, New Brush Model, Spread Bristles, and Edge Bristle Soften? Yes, even Trash and Save seems to make things swing. That’s how I discovered that “FDP V.2.0_DES01009_2” is like a Kurt Schwitters poem of the 21st century.
Whereas Fudge materialises digital images as prints (although, if he delays, they stay rested in a file, never reaching the point of output), he does the opposite with paintings. He makes them immaterial. Fudge’s painting are like an augmented reality platform, its visual and discursive cues are better detected by looking at it through your smartphone. But also if you lay your eyes upon the canvas, Fudge’s paintings tend to fluctuate in and out. At moments, they even meld with the surroundings of the Observer Building, whose walls are layered and graffitied, which might distract some artists but it actually makes Fudge feel elated. Those walls are “a visual history of undo/redo,” he told me, “a kind of contextual deconstruction of (gallery) space.”