Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Uncanny 2010

Sigmund Freud’s essay ‘The ‘Uncanny’’ suggests that familiar things can sometimes have an unnerving effect. He uses the home and what is strange in it, peeling wallpaper or scratching mice, as an analogy for what we don’t know about what is inside our head, our individuality, our consciousness or the ego. Freud explores the modes of the uncanny in things like doubles, twins or reflections, coincidences, superstitions and suspicions that there might be something malevolent going on behind your back or under your floor.   

Daniel Price ‘When someone you love is dying’ an MPRG

Price’s entry into the Beleura National Works on Paper award, a diptych, two identical graphite drawings—a portrait of man who recently died: probably of old age. Through this stereoscopic image Price associates the uncanny double with death. A repressed double is created in infancy through identification with the small child’s reflection in a mirrora sort of narcissistic disavow of death. However, once the child develops beyond this stage the other ego becomes an uncanny harbinger of death (Freud). The idea that the soul—the body’s immortal double or a function of the ego like a duplicate backup that will preserve something of ourselves is ambivalent. It threatens to replace our very individuality with its own warped image. A phantasmic power of preservation attributed to art itself—to contain a certain emphatic characteristic, does so at the cost of a dismissal of the living subject. 

Erin Crouch & Rylie James Thomas ‘Someone Else’s House’ at Blindside
‘Someone Else’s House’ is a double slideshow of tight details of rooms focusing on elements like bathroom tiles, empty shelves and plugholes. These images suggest an unoccupied accommodation by their lack of the objects necessary for living. The projection quality is faint and the photos have dim vulnerability which alludes to the camera as ruminate or zoned-out. There is a sense of a distracted double vision—a disinterested gaze which once noticed evaporates. This correlates with the way the artists’ realised this project—both unaware that the other was documenting the details of their house as they moved out.  The coincidental nature of this artwork brings into being something surreal: some inescapable destiny.

Damiano Bertoli ‘Continuous Moment: AndAndAnd…’ shown in ‘The Nothing’ at West Space
This slide show of home interiors employs tropes of Lynchian horror in a corny and ironic way. Stills of rooms, furnished as normal, comfortable and completely expected, are empty as if the occupying family have gone off to work and school. However, these images are accompanied by menacing cords played on a synthesiser. Despite the humour in this artwork there is still something that is unnerving. The question is: is it because these familiar images are in some way alienating or are these genre tropes so pervasive that we emotionally respond to the cues? If the answer is the latter then our minds are a bit like the former—empty, alienating and clichéd.

Tony Oursler ‘Incandescence’ shown in ‘Mortality’ at ACCA
In a darkened room a bear light bulb flickers in the cadence of a mumbling man’s voice. Oursler is inspired by the same subject matter as Bertoli (horror, haunting and the disembodied ego as other). There is a spooky sense that this artwork is purely a delusion that we can’t trust our own senses. The voice is disconnected, detached as if we perceive it as coming down the wire. The voice gazes back at the viewer. The dim light evokes a primal fantasy.

Susan Jacobs ‘Speculative Measure’ & Phil Samartzis ‘The Large Glass’ shown in ‘Opening Lines’ at Gertrude Contemporary
‘Speculative Measure’, a hole in the floor, revealed an uncanny interior/exterior space in our built environment.  ‘The Large Glass’, a sound based artwork displayed next to ‘Speculative Measure’, produced a drone that perfectly suits the character of the hole. This couplet of ear and mouth evokes an internal monologue. Like the way we sometimes explain our thoughts to ourselves. The labyrinth of our mind provides uncanny hidey-holes just as the space below the floor does. Whether we consider our thoughts to be told to us or that we are articulating them to someone there is always a fantasy “other” entwined in their speech. ‘Speculative Measure’ & ‘The Large Glass’, emphasis the “other” in our thoughts; it dematerialises the voice—disconnects it from having an origin other than an underground void.

Monday, December 13, 2010

‘Extreme Beauty: Approaches To The Real’

Like a partially cooked cake, Ellen Pittman’s ‘Fold’ (2010) a plaster cast of an artwork has sunk—the picture has submerged to expose a human like form. An artwork, a painting, framed in a shadow box lies face up on a plinth. The painting’s image, the portrait’s face or the landscape’s ruin is replaced by a sinkhole that looks like an armpit. The basic bodily source at the origin of our interest in the form Pittman casts represents desire formed through fascination with bodily orifices and sensory stimulation associated with these apertures. Pittman evokes the unseen. The squishy abstract cave like form suggests the hissing noise of escaping air, an exhale, or a pulse or thrill—the body replaced by its functioning, its noises, its excesses and its voids. Its void is some kind of erogenous zone.

Elizabeth Newman’s ‘Untitled’ (2010) with its domestic geometry of off cut fabric could be considered in relation to Melanie Klein’s notion of creativity. The soft folded smalt blue shape which is defined by a diagonal cut across the artwork’s image has the quality of an evening shadow. The artworks stripped white borders evoke the discolouration of household paintwork noticed upon removing an artwork. The picture poetically defines the absence of an artwork. In Klein’s essay ‘Infantile Anxiety Situations Reflected in a Work of Art and in the Creative Impulse’ (1929) this empty space, this lack, is what motivates her melancholic heroine to become an artist. Klein portrays the Danish modernist Ruth Kjär, as a beautiful and urbane woman, who collected modern art and decorated her home with taste and sophistication. Kjär also suffered from depression. She described an empty space inside her which could never be filled. One Christmas a treasured artwork is removed from her collection. The empty space on the wall triggered the void inside to cause her deep and inconsolable sadness. Her symptoms were overcome when she replaced the painting with her own accomplished maiden artwork.

Janet Berchill’s ‘870 (Emily Dickinson c. 1864)’ (2010), a series of seven brightly coloured hessian panels’ explores the nature of the trophy. The text in one announces the ‘Third, Expedition for the Golden Fleece’, in black on gold. The trophy is an object of desire which is fundamentally related to personal achievement—guaranteeing the prestige of the self image. The trophy like the void is an object of symbolic identification—an object that can bring into reality a conscious state of being. Possessing the Golden Fleece allows a heroic self image just as filling the void on the wall allowed Kjär to fill the void inside. The exhibition’s curator Kate Briggs asserts “Their work designed not merely for acquisition” but for a fantasy acquisition an incorporation with the psyche through acquisition. ‘Human Landscape II’ by Maria Kozic depicts a breast. It is an object of beauty, of pleasure, nourishment and plenitude. Yet it is only a “partial object”. In the Klienian sense it is only part of the body. In the Lacanian sense it is the object of partial desire—a desired body part through which only a temporary satisfaction attained. A work of art can always be said to depict desires. However, the creative process will inevitably defer the attainment of the object of desire. Desire, by its nature, must continually take new forms.

These artworks all seem like they will silently insert themselves into our psyche. Pittman’s ‘Fold’ seems to cast our unconscious urges. Berchill’s work seems to represent our desires. Newman’s depiction of light now seems turned inward as the symbolic form of Kjär’s suffering. Beauty is turned inward. Artworks on the walls in the lounge face inwards to someone walking up the drive.