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Revisiting Rasheed Araeen’s Structures: 8bS at Manufactured Art, 1970

Research Lunch – Kylie Gilchrist

  • 2 June 2023
  • 1:00 – 2:00 pm
  • Paul Mellon Centre

In May 1970, Rasheed Araeen's work 8bS appeared in the group exhibition Manufactured Art presented at London’s Camden Art Centre. Akin to Araeen’s other “structural” works of the mid-1960s and 1970s, 8bS comprised eight blue lattice-like structures mounted on the wall. The work’s forms closely resembled the functional bracing and truss structures that Araeen regularly deployed in his employment as a professional civil engineer for the petrochemicals wing of British Petroleum. In an artist statement submitted for inclusion in the exhibition catalogue, Araeen proposed that by presenting pre-fabricated functional structures in the “non-functional” space of art, he aimed to produce a new critical awareness of contemporary technology while challenging the rarefied, elitist character of object-based art. “Art should not only be manufactured but mass produced to make [it] accessible to everybody”, he wrote, “so that in the end art is no longer a sacred/precious object, but it becomes an IDEA”.

Although Araeen’s statement spoke directly to the curatorial concerns of Manufactured Art, it was subsequently distorted during the exhibition’s presentation and appears to have been excluded from the exhibition catalogue and archival record. This exclusion was part of broader pattern of marginalisation in which Araeen was unable to secure gallery representation due to a climate of widespread racism. This paper revisits Araeen’s structural works through a close reading of his recovered statement, supplemented by additional unpublished texts that Araeen sent, alongside the 8bS statement, to the critic and curator Guy Brett. Recovering Araeen’s statement does not simply correct the exhibition record, it also elicits a new interpretation of Araeen’s break with modernist sculpture and movement towards conceptual art – a turn that is typically narrated as a form of “British minimalism”. This paper also proposes that whereas Araeen’s structures achieved a similar mode of postformalist practice as US minimalism, they deployed artistic strategies distinctly different from those used by the minimalist object. Araeen’s artistic strategies also enabled his work to enact a more successful critique of the culture of advanced industrial technology in which the minimalist object, alongside Araeen’s structures, were ambivalently embedded. This paper is based on a forthcoming article in the journal Art Margins.

Listing image caption: Rasheed Araeen, 8BS, 1970 (installation view). Acrylic on wood, 183 x 394 x 28 cm. © Rasheed Araeen. Courtesy the artist and Grosvenor Gallery.

About the speaker

  • B&W Kylie Gilchrist

    Kylie Gilchrist is an AHRC-NWCDTP PhD candidate in art history at the University of Manchester, and was a visiting assistant in research at Yale University in Autumn 2022. She is completing a dissertation titled Structures of Transformation: The Politics of Artistic Form in the Work of Rasheed Araeen, 1952–1978.