Tim Silver

Moped combined web

Untitled (What if I Drive?) 2002, crayon

Tim Silver has made cars, trucks, skateboards, guitars – even a life-size motorscooter – out of crushed reconstituted crayon. In these works there was a purposeful confusion between the meanings associated with form and with content. In being driven, a car was also a crayon being drawn, and what was drawn were tyre marks as a kind of writing. All the objects were carefully chosen to render these multiple cadences at the threshold between drawing and sculpture, text and image, reading and looking, such that they seemed to flicker in our consciousness, alternately one thing then another, a conundrum.

Motorbikes on wall

Untitled (What if I Drive?) 2001, crayon

Literally, the meaning was fluid, the liquefying of materials transformed these associations as it did the shape. Picture the artist – an alchemist – melting crayon, pouring the fluid into various empty moulds. It solidified and was then used to draw with. It was perhaps neither drawing nor sculpture, really, but simply melting and pouring, a transformative process that passed from solid to liquid to solid states, and from one form to another (the ‘object’ and the ‘picture’ being merely two of the familiar forms of art). Silver also worked with other materials, including rubber, cheese, jaffas, fairy floss, chocolate, and copha. Many of these works have putrefied, broken, been eaten, or turned to dust soon after their exhibition. The artist’s decision, then, like the alchemist’s, is at what point to arrest the process and to what effect.

Chewing gum figure combined web

Untitled (Chew You up and Spit You out) 2003, chewing gum, saliva

In some works, that fulcrum moment is altered again where the objects are not just partially spent but completely obliterated; they have dissipated in the continuing process set in train by the artist. A half-metre-long model of a stealth bomber made out of match-heads has exploded and been incinerated. A lenticular photograph simultaneously renders the moments before and after its explosion. A row boat made of watercolour pigment is gradually dissolved in water over a period of hours. Intact human forms are left to decay and dissipate in a forest clearing, becoming mulch, and, pounded by waves at the beach, turned to sand.


Untitled (Killing Me Softly) 4.4 2005–6, ink on paper (original photos: Jamie North)

These objects are now totally consumed by their analogies, overtaken by their symbolic associations, evoking obvious points about the futility of war, the obsolescence of landscape painting, the brevity of life. Precisely, the small boat – a favourite subject of the watercolourist – does not float but sinks in its medium and, by some stretch of the imagination, we might call that final cloudy suspension ‘a painting’, at the very least, we would agree that painting is in some sense undone.

Boat web

Untitled (Adrift) 5 2004, ink on paper (original photo: Jamie North)

The model plane, rough hewn and handmade yet representing very recent military technology, combines its form and function in a useless self-destructive flight, and that’s the brief kinetic duration framed by the artist, the complete annihilation of the model (of sculpture). Indeed, figurative sculpture, the portrait in particular, is a frozen moment, which, when freed from this constraint, let loose in the world, would run ineluctably to its end in time and space, just like any other.

Plane on fire combined

Untitled (Burning Up) 2004, video

The audience is left with photographs and video documenting this ‘dramatic entropy’, which also seems to chart the artist’s further remove from sculpture and drawing, towards a photographic instant in which a material transition is captured. Silver has also remade some of the objects and set them alongside the documentation, which suggests that the destruction of the objects is implicit in their origin, emphasising the elliptical process in which form, substance, and consequence are drawn from the inchoate.

Skull web

Untitled II 2005–6, type-C photograph (original photo: Jamie North)

Like the film stills that Silver has made for a film that doesn’t exist – in this case a schlocker where our hero, washed ashore, must be content with love and cannibalism – there is no proper order to these images. Rather they elicit our common will to ‘narrative’, a film in potential only, a cinematic intertext composed by artist and audience, mixing well-known genres and our own private desires.

Perhaps the stills even give it away: all that physical, material dissipation in earlier works was simply a melodramatic search for meaning (fixity) somewhere between substrate and representation, from which the work’s ultimate significance might derive irrespective of materials. Evidently, Silver now seems more interested in things losing shape rather than taking on new shapes, rendering them in the few moments they are nearest to formlessness, in between form and content, immaterial, without beginning or end.


Untitled (Killing Me Softly) 4.12 2005–6, ink on paper (original photos: Jamie North)

Courtesy Breenspace, Sydney.