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Bufardeci, Louisa - 2015.23

Louisa Bufardeci

I know I don’t know 2014
animated coloured neon
360 cm diameter
Commissioned by the Faculty of Science 2014

Bruce and Bufardeci

If scaled correctly in sequential PowerPoint slides, Bruce Nauman’s neon The true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths 1967 makes an excellent after-image of Louisa Bufardeci’s neon I know I don’t know 2014. In material rather than digital reality, the scale of the two works, made some forty-seven years apart, is quite different; it is quite possible that Nauman’s nuanced deadpan backhander would fit snuggly inside the void that Bufardeci’s animated neon sign creates. Bufardeci’s neon is bounded by alternating flashing combinations of ‘I know’, ‘no no’, ‘o no’, or in full illumination ‘I know I don’t know’, in graded colour reminiscent of the Munsell Colour Tree. This is thought made material through light, glass and gas – alchemic science.

Commissioned by the Faculty of Science at Monash University and finding its home on the external facade of a building at 16 Rainforest Walk on the Clayton campus, Bufardeci’s neon is a reminder of that which can drive the desire for and distribution of knowledge. A series of questions forever reform, rearrange and remake themselves to illuminate that which may have been overlooked, forgotten or ignored.

Topology is the science of place, and perhaps Bufardeci, like Nauman, is attempting to demarcate thought as topology. As has been noted before, the coffee cup and donut have the same topology, and here both Nauman and Bufardeci are pointing towards ‘holes’ or ‘voids’. Nauman uses the ‘put-on’ in order to occupy a space between earnest sincerity and cynical observations, where Bufardeci uses the complexity of contradiction and flashing combinations, both revealing the impossibility of revelation. When Nauman made his work, American troops were still in Vietnam and neon signs were the material of sidewalk shops. Brought into art, the neon in this case acted as a kind of parody. Bufardeci’s sign sits clearly in Nauman’s legacy, but instead of flipping art on its head, the neon acts as a kind of illuminated conscious chopping and changing, offering other combinations. Pointing towards Jacques Rancière’s parable about French teacher and educational philosopher Joseph Jacotot, The Ignorant Schoolmaster, Bufardeci’s sign eludes to Jacotot’s contention that when the starting point assumes an equal exchange, you can teach what we don’t know in order to achieve emancipation. For Jacotot, learning and emancipation occur in an exchange of not knowing, a recognition of shared ignorance.

In previous works, Bufardeci has drawn upon statistical data, sourcing information freely available. Be it the CIA Fact Book, the national census or opinion polls, the information is often translated into charts, maps or architectural diagrams in an attempt to highlight and illustrate the contradictions, biases and gaps we are often presented with. One does not want to reference post-truth here, due to the questions of what constitutes post, but as a linguistic currency indicating condition we are currently experiencing, one does ask: has there ever been a time when this hasn’t been the case?

Bufardeci’s current work, sans factual data and statistical modelling, still presents us with these gaps and biases – a linguistic game, a semiotic site-specificity. Powered by the Faculty of Science building on Rainforest Walk – reminding us to look beyond what we might assume to be the apparent logic and reason of science during an era of cultural cannibalism and government attacks on all forms of research (science or arts) – I know I don’t know reminds us there is more, and more than just one of us. Jacotot’s emancipated intellectual is generated in a shared space, cultural, scientific or otherwise; in an ecosystem of knowledge – biological, environmental, material and of gas and light.

Lisa Radford is an artist and lectures at the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne.