Micah Lexier: I’m Thinking of a Number

Micah Lexier: I’m Thinking of a Number, pages 36–37: No. 011 Mr. Caldwell, 1987 (exhibition invitation on card) and No. 012 Mr. Caldwell (Reference), 1987 (white t-shirt). Images courtesy the publisher and the artist.Micah Lexier: I’m Thinking of a Number, pages 36–37: No. 011 Mr. Caldwell, 1987 (exhibition invitation on card) and No. 012 Mr. Caldwell (Reference), 1987 (white t-shirt). Images courtesy the publisher and the artist.

By Lise Hosein

Micah Lexier: I’m Thinking of a Number
NSCAD University Press
Edited by Jan Peacock, with Garry Kennedy, AA Bronson and Christina Ritchie
Hardcover, 300 pages, 4 B&W and 196 colour
Includes an original multiple created by Lexier for the publication.
Price: $50.00

Ephemera is a word that tends to put me on edge, calling up piles of papers that have nowhere particular to be filed. I have a couple of shoeboxes full of exhibition invitations, buttons and bits of paper that refuse categorization and, thus, will remain in their containers forever. For people averse to clutter and reluctant to confront mess, the idea of ephemera may simply connote a frightening kind of entropy.

So, while I love Micah Lexier’s work, I was a little intimidated by I’m Thinking of a Number: Selected invitations, books, catalogues, packaged prints, objects in multiple, t-shirts, projects in and for publications, coins, and other printed matter, 1980 to 2010, a meticulously detailed presentation of materials associated with Lexier’s practice for the past 30 years. Larger pieces like his A work of art in the form of a quantity of coins equal to the number of months of the statistical life expectancy of a child born January 6, 1995, which is installed at the Art Gallery of Ontario, are riveting. They have a purpose that seems (as it turns out, misleadingly) greater than an invite to a show or a deflated balloon could transmit.

My anxiety was misplaced. I’m Thinking of a Number presents the smaller elements of Lexier’s work in an extremely ordered format: working chronologically, the artist describes each image that appears in the catalogue in sometimes exhaustive detail. Years from which no work has been selected are not left out of the timeline, leaving an intermittent mysterious black hole in the sequence. All included pieces are represented by photographs that offer them, in many cases, in their natural habitat: on a table, in the gallery space or as pieces of paper held by human hands. The revealing collection of essays appears in the middle of the book, interrupting the flow of images and necessitating a pause in one’s rifling through Lexier’s overwhelming production.

Micah Lexier: I’m Thinking of a NumberThings I learned (and was seduced by) while reading I’m Thinking of a Number include the sheer extent to which Lexier works his way through a simple idea. There are countless iterations of his works focused on drawings made in one minute or the pieces tracing his fascination with his own life expectancy. It quickly becomes clear that these items are not ephemeral at all; they are, in fact, vital components of the exhaustion of a concept, making them as compelling as the larger works they support, respond to, or expand upon. Bits of material that seem transitory achieve a much greater weight and sense of permanence when placed in this chronology; one feels as if they are moving with Lexier through the negotiation of an argument.

Another engaging element of this collection of materials is the opportunity to see how the various multiples live, and how their context affects their meaning in a manner that is less available to larger works. Number 62 in the chronology, listed as A Minute of My Time, 1998, is described as follows: “Five-page newspaper project on newsprint, webpress-printed in black; five drawings, published on a day from Monday, February 23, to Friday, Febraury 27, 1998; a separate advertisement for the exhibition appeared on the following Saturday, February 28, 1998; The Leader-Post, Regina.” The explication of this piece alone is compelling; one becomes almost hypnotized by the impeccable descriptions of every piece of cardstock. But, this particular piece, an example of Lexier’s famed one-minute drawings placed in this case in a daily newspaper, takes on a radically different life than the one it enjoys on the gallery wall. It appears underneath the story of the trial of a man from Regina accused of attempted murder with a crowbar. Accompanied by no label or didactic text, Lexier’s drawing exists underneath this narrative like a sort of crazed scribble or renegade Rorschach inkblot as it takes on the weight and inexplicability of the anecdote above it. And, while this disrupts the extreme control Lexier maintains over his work, the idea of a multiple that “got away” from the chronology is irresistible and adds to the deeply satisfying quality of this collection of Lexier’s ephemera.

Lise HoseinLise Hosein is a writer and doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto, working on animals and violence in contemporary art. She currently teaches at the Ontario College of Art and Design. In her spare time, she plays music to strangers on benches in the middle of the night.