Drawing

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I go undercover into arms fairs – and secretly draw caricatures of the ‘hell’ I find there

I go undercover into arms fairs – and secretly draw caricatures of the ‘hell’ I find there

© Jill Gibbon, Author provided

Jill Gibbon, Leeds Beckett University

The arms multinational BAE Systems is in the final stages of a deal to sell 48 Typhoon fighter jets to Saudi Arabia, despite mounting evidence of war crimes in Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen. International humanitarian law prohibits attacks against civilians but the Saudi-led coalition has bombed Yemeni schools, markets and hospitals, killing more than 10,000 people including children, while survivors face disease and starvation with the collapse of infrastructure.

Fragments of bombs made in Britain and the US have been found in the debris of some of these attacks, yet both countries continue to sell arms to the Saudi regime.

Such deals take place in arms fairs, away from the public eye. I have drawn undercover in fairs in Europe and the Middle East for the past ten years, in an attempt to understand how international arms sales are normalised and legitimised. Access is restricted, but I get in by dressing up as a security consultant with a suit, heels, fake pearls, and a sham company. My performance is a metaphor for the charade of respectability in the industry.

A sales rep.
© Jill Gibbon, Author provided

Arms fairs emerged from the globalisation of the military industry in the late 1990s. At the end of the Cold War, defence budgets were cut. There was a brief opportunity to convert military production facilities into civil areas such as medical equipment, transport and renewable energy; instead, arms companies merged into multinationals, expanded into security, and focused on a global market. Arms fairs were set up to provide venues for these deals.

The largest, DSEI (the Defence Security Exhibition International) takes place every two years in London, with similar fairs in Paris, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi. Here, weapons are displayed to an international clientele including countries at war, unstable states and repressive regimes.

DSEI welcomes 75% of the countries that the UK Foreign Office has listed as “Human Rights Priorities”, where “the worst, or greatest number of, human rights violations take place”.

A tank salesman.
© Jill Gibbon

Inside a fair, missiles, bombs and bullets are arranged under spotlights; guns are available to try out for weight and size, and to aim at imaginary targets; mannequins pose in camouflage offering private military services and tear gas; tanks are open for viewing. “Lethality” is a sales slogan. Manufacturers boast of the precision of their products, as if war could be refined through science.

As with most advertising, such claims turn out to be exaggerated when the weapons are actually used. Bombing is inevitably inaccurate, compromised by an inbuilt margin of error, malfunctions, mistaken intelligence and the weather. The difference between a combatant and civilian is also increasingly unclear, as Yemen shows. Yet such claims make war more likely.

String quartet.
© Jill Gibbon, Author provided

Many stalls hand out gifts as an alternative to business cards – stress-balls in the shape of bombs, grenades and tanks, branded sweets and pens. A gas mask manufacturer has condoms with the slogan, “The ultimate protection”. Waiting staff hover with trays of wine, beer and grapes, while a string quartet plays Handel and Mozart.

Grenade stress relief.
© Jill Gibbon, Author provided

There are also promotions. The BAE subsidiary Bofors has a live satellite link to its weapons testing facility in Sweden where a military vehicle explodes in a cloud of light and metal. Alongside the video screens, bowls are filled with toffees in wrappers saying, “Welcome to hell”. Brochures explain that the Bofors test centre is “Hell for your product, heaven for your investment”. The impact on people of the weapons that pass through the test centre is oddly missing. In an arms fair, missiles are forever products.

How to draw this? My drawings veer between caricature and observational methods. Mainly, I focus on the etiquette that gives the industry an appearance of respectability – the handshakes, pinstriped suits, hospitality, and violins. I also draw cracks in the façade – a lewd advance, a rep slumped in a chair with his head in his hands, the continual, desperate drinking. Brecht used the Latin word gestus to describe an attitude that expresses a social role or condition. In his plays, gestures are frozen so they seem strange. Perhaps drawing can be used in a similar way.

Drinking.
© Jill Gibbon

Or, perhaps the gifts are sufficient in themselves to reveal the strange amorality of an industry that uses war as a sales opportunity. The BAE Bofors toffees might be intended to convey the impact of a test centre on weapons with the slogan “Welcome to hell” – but sweets are usually meant for children.The Conversation

Jill Gibbon, Senior Lecturer in Graphic Arts, Leeds Beckett University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The post I go undercover into arms fairs – and secretly draw caricatures of the ‘hell’ I find there appeared first on Interalia Magazine.

Through his art, a former prisoner diagnoses the systemic sickness of Florida’s penitentiaries

Through his art, a former prisoner diagnoses the systemic sickness of Florida’s penitentiaries

Moliere Dimanche would use anything he could scrounge up – pieces of folders, the back of commissary forms, old letters – as canvases.
Moliere Dimanche, Author provided

Nicole R. Fleetwood, Rutgers University

In 2007, Haitian-American artist Moliere Dimanche was sentenced to 10 years in Florida state prisons, where he ended up serving eight-and-a-half years.

While imprisoned, he made art – a series of pencil drawings on the back of stray sheets of paper – to document the brutality of his time spent behind bars, much of it in isolation.

In 2017, I was introduced to Dimanche, one of the dozens of currently and formerly incarcerated people I have interviewed over the past several years for my forthcoming book on visual art in the era of mass incarceration.

Often using state-issued material or contraband, imprisoned artists use a myriad of genres and styles to create political collages, portraits of other imprisoned people and mixed-media works that comment on abuse, racism and the exploitation of prison labor.

In Dimanche’s story, I see the stories of thousands of others in U.S. prisons who are using art and creativity to shine a light on their experiences and advocate for systemic change.

A malignant system

Florida prisons, in particular, have become notorious for their pervasive culture of neglect and abuse.

In 2016, investigative reporter Eyal Press wrote about the torture and routine abuse that took place in the mental health units of Florida’s prisons.

Central to Press’ account was the case of Darren Rainey, an incarcerated man with a history of schizophrenia who was scalded to death when prison officers forced him into a shower of boiling hot water.

According to The Miami Herald, at least 145 people have died in state penal facilities so in 2018, making Florida’s prisons among the deadliest in the country.

In response, many inside have resisted or continue to resist the inhumane treatment and prison conditions. Earlier in 2018, prison laborers in Florida organized a strike to protest unpaid labor and brutal working conditions. (Many of the participants were punished with solitary confinement.)

In August, incarcerated people in Florida joined others across the country in a nationwide prison strike. Their demands include being paid prevailing state wages for their labor, reforms that would allow prisoners to file grievances when their rights are violated, and a reinstatement of Pell grants in all U.S. states and territories.

While these strikes can certainly bring attention to dire prison conditions, the stories of incarcerated people can also emerge in creative and clandestine ways – in drawings, photographs, paintings, letters and poetry.

Incarcerated activists like Kevin “Rashid” Johnson – whose Guardian essay denouncing prison labor as “modern slavery” went viral in August – also use art to communicate with the public.

Because prisons are institutions of constant surveillance and censorship, art can serve as a crucial conduit for self-expression and as a tool for survival – a way to earn money, document prison conditions and stay connected with the outside world.

Drawing to survive

After Moliere Dimanche was sentenced, his family was unable to financially support him. From the costs of phone calls to commissary items to the expenses of visits to see imprisoned relatives, prisons can be a financial drain for families already struggling to get by.

Dimanche soon realized that he could use art as currency for toiletries, clothing, cigarettes, writing utensils and coffee. Other incarcerated men – and even some prison staff – commissioned him to make portraits, drawings and greeting cards that they would then give to their loved ones. He also designed tattoos and fashioned a tattoo gun and ink from prison supplies.

Dimanche ultimately created a series of fantastical, highly symbolic, allegorical drawings during his time in solitary confinement. They are bold, cartoonish representations. Filled with dark humor, they provide a sustained lens into the abuses inside Florida’s prison system.

Moliere Dimanche realized that his drawings could accomplish much good: He could take care of basic needs, document his experience in prison and relay messages to the outside world.
Moliere Dimanche, Author provided

While art gave him a way to provide for his basic needs and acted as an outlet for creative expression, Dimanche also became an expert of the state’s penal system and how it stifles the rights of the imprisoned. Early into his sentencing, he began to study law and to advocate for himself and others.

He became a writ writer – a jailhouse lawyer – filing grievances and writing briefs on behalf of fellow prisoners and himself.

But he believes his legal advocacy only subjected him to more punishment and surveillance. He was held in solitary confinement for much of his sentence.

Even in isolation, he continued his writ writing and making art.

In a piece called “Pills and Potions,” Dimanche depicts himself as the Monopoly Man, and converted the Monopoly board into the Florida Department of Corrections, with each property representing a different prison.

‘Pills and Potions’ is an allegorical drawing that depicts Moliere Dimanche as the Monopoly Man ‘bouncing around from prison to prison.’
Moliere Dimanche, Author provided

“I had been bounced around so much for writing grievances,” he explained,
“I just depicted myself as the Monopoly man running around the board, bouncing around from prison to prison.”

“I had to find a way to laugh about some of this stuff.”

There’s nothing funny about some of the brutal forms of punishment depicted in many of his pieces.

There’s what Dimanche calls “the strip” – a punishment in which guards “take your linen, they take your mattress, and they take your clothing, and they put you in a cell for 72 hour restriction and you don’t have anything in there … and it’s absolutely freezing in that cell and you have stay in it without clothing or anything the whole time.”

According to Dimanche, “saving a life” involves a corrections officers shackling a prisoner to supposedly take him to a medical appointment. But once he’s out of the cell and out of sight, they slam the prisoner’s head against a wall.

Dimanche also documents a common abuse practice in Florida where officers gas people confined to their cells. These practices have led to reported deaths. Dimanche calls one form of gassing “Black Jesus”: Guards lock someone an isolation cell and gas them through the porthole. The gas, he explains, “comes in a big black can and it’s known to make people scream for Jesus.”

Dimanche titled one of his pieces after this punishment by gassing, and depicts a guard gleefully spraying a hanging Dimanche.

‘Black Jesus’ is a searing critique of the ingrained racism of Florida’s prison system.
Moliere Dimanche, Author provided

“Black Jesus” also highlights the racism of Florida’s prisons, where an ACLU study found black people are subjected to more abuse. In 2017, two former Florida prison guards who were Klan members were convicted of plotting to murder an imprisoned black man.

Dimanche witnessed this racism firsthand. “I was in a couple of institutions where it was revealed where a lot of the correctional officers were Klansmen,” he said.

In “Black Jesus,” he portrays a man who is half dressed as an officer and half dressed in a Klan robe to symbolize, according to Dimanche, how each group uses force to “reinforce old Jim Crow ideas.”

A connection is made – and a bond forms

Eventually, another prisoner in solitary confinement put him in touch with Wendy Tatter, an artist living in St. Augustine, Florida. Tatter’s son had also spent time in Florida prisons, and Dimanche wrote to her asking if she’d be interested in seeing his art.

Tatter recalled to me Dimanche’s first letter – sent in September 2013 and written in a tiny font, so he could cram as much information as he could on the few sheets of paper available to him.

She agreed to see his work, and he started mailing her “these gorgeous original pencil drawings.”

She told me that each was made with a broken pencil and no eraser. They arrived “on just random pieces of paper that he managed to find” – on the backs of order sheets, Manila folders and old letters.

One of Dimanche’s drawings was made on the back of a canteen order form.
Moliere Dimanche, Author provided

The two wrote back and forth for three years until his release in 2016. Since then, he and Tatter have worked together to exhibit his work.

On Sept. 9 – the day that the national prison strike ends – Moliere and Tatter will host a program on mass incarceration and prison reform at the Corazon Cinema and Café in St. Augustine, Florida.

“Even though there’s a lot of talk about prison reform now, it’s bigger than sentencing guidelines,” Dimanche told me. “We have to address the physical abuse in prisons.”

Lack of transparency and access to prisons and detention centers makes this work extremely difficult.

Dimanche hopes that his art will open some eyes, and eventually end the American tradition of locking up, neglecting, exploiting and abusing millions in prisons across the country.The Conversation

Moliere Dimanche wears a T-shirt he designed using his prison art.
Moliere Dimanche, Author provided

Nicole R. Fleetwood, Associate Professor of American Studies, Rutgers University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The post Through his art, a former prisoner diagnoses the systemic sickness of Florida’s penitentiaries appeared first on Interalia Magazine.

Drawn Forms

Untitled 1 (no plan is foolproof), 2019
Graphite and coloured pencil on paper, 66 x 91 cm (Courtesy of the artist and Selma Feriani Gallery © Adagp Paris)

Richard Bright: Can we begin by you saying something about your background?

Massinissa Selmani: I grew up in Algeria (Algiers and Tizi-Ouzou) where I studied Computer science. In 2005 I moved to Tours (France) to study Fine arts. I live between Algeria and France.

RB: Have there been any particular influences to your art practice?

MS: As a teenager, I was very fascinated by cartoonists. As I got older, I discovered artists such as Saul Steinberg, Tacita Dean, Adrian Piper and the Belgian surrealist Paul Nougé as well as others who inspired me.  Algerian francophone literature also has an important influence on my work.

Untitled 2 (no plan is foolproof), 2019
Graphite and coloured pencil on paper, 50 x 65 cm (Courtesy of the artist and Selma Feriani Gallery © Adagp Paris)

RB: What is the underlying focus of your work?

MS: My practice is related to drawing and its various fields of experimentations in terms of aesthetic or graphic approach. I am interested in drawing as it relates to the documentary form, drawing as movement, the media coverage of events in the print media as well as more fictional modes. This body of research results in what I call drawn forms.

RB: The subjects feeding into your work originate in current social and political events. Would you say your work is political and/or documentary?

MS: Many of my formal sources come from newspapers and from press photography. I take fragments of these stories as a point of departure by drawing. I am particularly interested in the construction of those stories that are related to historical or social events. The event itself—in epistemological terms—can act as an object of research. My work is at the crossroads of these questions.

Untitled 3 (no plan is foolproof), 2019
Graphite and coloured pencil on paper, 50 x 65 cm )Courtesy of the artist and Selma Feriani Gallery © Adagp Paris)

 

Untitled 5 (no plan is foolproof), 2019
Graphite and coloured pencil on paper, 90 x 135 cm (Courtesy of the artist and Selma Feriani Gallery © Adagp Paris)

RB: Can you say something about the concept of simplicity in your drawings, that is, of making work with the minimum of materials and components?

MS: My work is constituted by very little and is characterized by fragility or lightness. I have always worked in this way because I try to get to the point, to the essential thing. This process generally produces light forms as opposed spectacular ones. Conflict is inherent in the subject matter of my work, but it does not appear immediately. Instead, it is revealed slowly at different levels of encounter. My exhibitions are sometimes conceived as investigations linking different graphic elements. The content of the investigation is revealed in the overview or by making associations between drawn forms. This way of working allows me to remain independent and to be able to work in all kinds of circumstances.

Balances précises, 2019
Graphite and coloured pencil on paper, 76 x 56 cm. (Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Anne-Sarah Bénichou © Adagp Paris)

RB: What can you say about the concept of space in your drawings?

MS: My drawings generally create unlikely situations. This construction of space is linked to a question of context. The drawings are constituted with graphic elements from different sources with different contexts. Drawing these disparate forms together provides them with a new context that is dissociated from their original one. I try to occupy the space in such a way that everyone can project themselves into its mental space. I usually say that my work is made up of absences that need to be filled.

Trajet , 2019.
Graphite and coloured pencil on paper, 14 x 18 cm. (Courtesy of the artist and Selma Feriani Gallery © Adagp Paris)

RB: A mix of the comical and the tragic is very much present in your work. How do you reconcile the two in your drawings and how important is humour in your imagery?

MS: In the environment in which I grew up, comedy and tragedy were often entangled. Humour is a defence mechanism against violence, a way to live through or deal with it. As I mention above, my first sources of inspiration are the cartoonists in the daily newspapers. Their state of mind partly shaped the way I work with material.

Mémoires potentielles. Altération #1, 2013-2017
Looped animation projected on wood, perspex and paper, variable dimensions.
With the support of the DRAC centre, France
(Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Anne-Sarah Bénichou © Adagp Paris)

Souvenir du vide, 2011-2015. 42 animations projected on calque paper cubes. Projection :168 x 192 cm (66,1 x 75,5 inch )
With the support of Mode d’emploi, Tours.
(Courtesy of the artist and Selma Feriani Gallery. Collection of MAC Lyon, France).
Installation view: “la vie moderne”, 13th Biennale de Lyon, 2015. Curated by Ralph Rugoff
© photo : Blaise Adilon

RB: Can you say something about your project 1000 villages?

MS: At the beginning of the 70’s, the Algerian government launched a large public-works project known as the 1000 “socialist villages.” The initiative aimed to relieve the rural population’s isolation and poverty and to return land to them that had been taken away during colonization. This project also aimed to encourage the rural population to adopt modern agriculture techniques and to involve it in the Algerian socialist project via agriculture.

Despite a laudable initial intention, the project could not be fully implemented because the implementation and construction of these villages, with few exceptions, often involved ideological or administrative considerations that imposed standards of production at the expense of the farmers’ real needs. The population gradually lost interest in the project, which was terminated a few years later.

1000 villages, 2015.
Drawings on double pages and notebook cover. Graphite, marker and transfer on paper and tracing paper.
With the support of the 56th Venice Biennale, All the world’s futures. 2015
Collection of the Frac Centre Val de Loire, Orléans. France

1000 villages, 2015 (detail)
Drawings on double pages and notebook cover. Graphite, marker and transfer on paper and tracing paper.
With the support of the 56th Venice Biennale, All the world’s futures. 2015
Collection of the Frac Centre Val de Loire, Orléans. France

1000 villages, 2015.
Drawings on double pages and notebook cover. Graphite, marker and transfer on paper and tracing paper.
With the support of the 56th Venice Biennale, All the world’s futures. 2015
Collection of the Frac Centre Val de Loire, Orléans. France

The related body of work is composed by twenty drawings on two-page spreads of note book paper. They are arranged narratively as elements confronting each other: house plans, furniture drawn on tracing paper; drawings of spaces, agricultural land and animals. The images, reproduced using the transfer technique, are drawn from newspaper clippings from the 1970s. They are increasingly illegible as the series moves towards the collapse of this utopia. The last image is almost a ghost image. The only way to read these images in light of their context is by a caption printed on tracing paper, which restores the mental space of the original newspaper article.

A drawing on the cover of a notebook is based on illustrations sold in the 70s-80s in Algeria that promoted the Algerian agrarian and industrial revolution.

 

Exhibition view, CCC OD, Tours, France. 2019
Le calme de li’dée fixe, curated by Delphine Masson.
(© Photos : Vincent Royer)

Exhibition view, CCC OD, Tours, France. 2019
Le calme de li’dée fixe, curated by Delphine Masson.
(© Photos : Vincent Royer)

RB: What projects are you currently working on or have coming up in the future?

MS: Currently I am working on a new body of work exploring the landscape through graphic research based on the “disappearance” of the outline. I will be in a residency at the Civitella Ranieri in Italy and at the Fayoum Art Center in Egypt, in addition to several exhibitions projects.

Exhibition view, Palais de Tokyo, Paris. 2018.
Ce qui coule n’a pas de fin. Solo Show. Curated by Yoann Gourmel.
With the support of SAM Art Projects.
(© Photos : Aurélien Molle)

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David Haines and the Black Mirror/Facing faces

Portrait of a Boy With Two Hearts (2015). Pencil on paper 113 x 140cm

David Haines and the Black Mirror

Now, this image of ourselves is obviously not ourselves, anymore than an idea of a tree is a tree, anymore than you can get wet in the word water.”

Alan Watts quoted in ‘Two Way Mirror,’  a two channel video installation by David Haines

Every new medium is a Russian doll.  The radio and the cinema sit inside every television, just as the television sits inside your smart phone.
Because there have been so many Russian dolls over the years, each containing the other, it’s easy to forget that the mirror is a medium, or that the simple act of making marks on paper is a technology. David Haines invites us to consider these things in the reflection of the black mirror. (1)

We carry the black mirror everywhere. It blindly reflects our image when it sleeps and every time we wake it up (with the swipe of a finger) it illuminates our desires. It sorts our personal chaos into order. The black mirror is a good servant. It files, classifies, orientates, and informs. In this respect the black mirror surpasses its master. Because the black mirror’s actions are unconscious, it is able to chart a map of the unconscious.

Casper With Gloves and Sneakers (2015). Graphite and nero pencil on paper 164 x 129 cm

In a group of portraits, images taken from a cam sex site, a series of young men look at themselves. The view is parallax, Narcissus is refracted. A man, his face in repose, gazes at the camera on his laptop. To see himself he must look away from the eye that records his image. We see a boss-eyed double image through the layers of mediation, the video and the shiny glass, the code churning unconsciously beneath the surface.

We never see ourselves, and when we see ourselves the image we see is not part of us. You might catch your image on the surface of a still pond. You may surprise your self as you lope past a shop window; your image may move unexpectedly on a Skype call; you may see your ghost on the black mirror of a sleeping smart phone. Our image is always mediated, always de-centered. Our image is reserved for others and implicitly addressed to others. Because the black mirror extends us and because it surrounds us we forget that, like every interactive technology, the black mirror is a technology of self. It records an image of us whilst simultaneously constructing us, presenting us, and teaching us how to behave.

Still Life with Flyer ( Sweat) 2017. Graphite and nero pencil on paper 27.5 x 36.5cm

Still Life with flyer( Fur- Real) 2017. Graphite and nero pencil on paper 29 x 38cm

A series of Trompe-l’œil drawings, Still Lifes with Flyers, are unlike Haines’ other portraits, they do not survey an interior, subjective, space. The bodies are on display, they project an image produced explicitly for others. But the medium on which the image is carried tells a specific history. It records the wear and tear of being folded, it tells the story of its circulation as a medium; this is in turn translated into a drawing.

Still Life with Screen, Cutout and Chicken Legs (2017). Graphite and nero pencil on paper 56 x 50.5cm

 

Still Life with Screen, Cutouts and Heart (2017). Graphite and nero pencil on paper 60 x 56cm

A further series of still life drawings, this time with  iPads, screens, cutouts, meat and bones takes this abstraction further. This is not a formal abstraction – in the sense that they divert from realistic depiction or break down into simple forms – but rather they invite us to read images of ‘real things’ on different registers: as things in ‘real space,’ as reflections of those things, as two dimensional cut-outs nested within a prospective three dimensional space.

Composition with Screen, Cutout, Hand and Plastic Bottle (2017). Graphite and nero pencil on paper 39.5 x 38cm

Still Life with iPad, Cutout and Celeriac (2017). Graphite and nero pencil on paper 33 x 33 cm

In the two large drawings Meatboy and Bob Starr  and Your Fluffer  the moiré pattern (the matrix of the printed image) slips between the register of dots and the register of an image. This is set against figures of a much finer definition where graphite and the grain of the paper tangle in a tight net of information. (2)

Meatboy and Bob Starr ( 2016). Graphite and nero pencil on paper 201 x 140 cm

 

Your Fluffer (2017). Graphite and nero pencil on paper 205 x 184cm

As we travel through the different levels of abstraction the subject is mediated and remediated. Of course, the image is not the thing it depicts, any more than the menu can be mistaken for the meal, or the map mistaken for the territory it charts.

In Haines’ work every medium reflects another but this does not leave us abandoned in a hall of mirrors because we are grounded in the materiality of the drawings, we are drawn to the specificity of the medium – this particular sheet of paper, these specific particles of graphite.If every image draws us to a receding horizon, beyond which the ‘real thing’ is situated, in Haines’ work we comprehend the different levels of abstraction that allow us to negotiate with the reflection of ourselves that is always fugitive, always extensive: a projection, a reflection, an image in process.

Steve Rushton

Steve Rushton’s Masters of Reality is published by Stemberg Press

(1) Charlie Brooker on his TV show Black Mirror: “If technology is a drug – and it does feel like a drug – then what, precisely, are the side-effects?” The Guardian 1/12/2011

(2) Here I use ‘abstraction’ in the sense Gregory Bateson’s used it in Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972) and Mind and Nature (1980). Bateson’s notion of abstraction provides the basis for a holistic aesthetic and ecological epistemology. Bateson identifies Alfred Korzybski as the originator of the phrase the map is not the territory.

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Facing faces

David Haines, when I gaze at his works and, more often than not, covet them, remains a strange artist. There is really no point in going into his methods and techniques, into their enigmatic virtuosity and untiring capacity to present so much complex and, I guess, labour-intensive surface treatment as a true sight, or a bewildering delight. The relation between what must have been his absorption in the finding and then the making of the images and our oh-so rapid absorption of them and by them is unsettling in its asymmetry. It generates both turbulence and desire in turbulence, crafting each time a singular enigma of our own desiring.

Dylan’s Reflection (2017). Graphite on paper 16 x 17.5cm

But in these drawings of faces and torsos something new has appeared before us, befallen our look. Until now Haines work has presented a recognisable iconography, hermetic, secretive, as unyielding in its private use of the plethora of public images from the internet, their fragments or their apparent stories, as it was relentless in its extreme exploitation of what we trivially call representation or realism, alluring in the ways that it made precision itself into a near delirium. You could then think, at the same time, of the Signorelli of his Last Judgement or the arcane assemblage of a cabinet of curiosities;

Arnold’s Reflection (2017). Graphite on paper 18.5 x 20.5cm

 







But here the single figure or body or face, albeit adorned with textures and tattoos, comes to the fore to fill its space, to front it; and even as it does so it goes out of focus and blurs; the unsettled outlines behave like, but remain distinct from the smudgy backgrounds, and this blur itself outstares us as something other than the immediate presence of the ‘subject’. Now I think of another artist of the high Renaissance, of the uncanny and ever so slightly unfocussed figures of Dosso Dossi, sometimes conventional, sometimes hermetic, but ever withdrawing from view in the very substance of their presentness. With Haines, as with Dossi, there is a peculiar movement in which the image, even as it draws us to it and then stares us down, does so by staring down itself.

Dosso Dossi: Apollo, fragment

Circe, fragment.

In Haines’ new work precision is lavished on the indistinct. In defeating our gaze, in despite of its promise of a fleeting sexual encounter, the commodity of flesh so freely offered, the image does so through self-defeat, through the startling contradiction of seeing within the image its own precisely controlled desire for invisibility. And they, the whoever within, fragile enough, ripped from the half infinity of the electronic, at what now might they be looking?

Adrian Rifkin

 

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David Haines forthcoming exhibition will be opening in Amsterdam on March 28 2020 at Upstream Gallery. Info here:

https://www.upstreamgallery.nl/exhibitions/170/the-skins-gaze-and-other-thoughts

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http://www.davidhaines.org/

All images copyright and courtesy of David Haines

All images are made by Ger-Jan van Rooij

The post David Haines and the Black Mirror/Facing faces appeared first on Interalia Magazine.

The human condition and the question of personal identity

Blood Head, monoprint

Richard Bright: Can we begin by saying something about your background?

Shelly Tregoning: I was born in Mauritius, spent most of my early childhood in the West Indies and have been living in Cornwall for over 30 years. My father is English and my mother Jamaican. My dad’s work with Cable and Wireless meant that we lived in many countries – the ones that probably had the most impact on me in terms of my art practice were Barbados and Bahrain.

From the West Indies, the use of the silhouette in traditional West Indian art has seeped into my work, the ‘cartoon-ness’ and immediacy of simple drawing, the use of primary, bright colour, the sense of humour, and a sense of the naive. From Bahrain, the strangeness of it all; the fact that people are ‘wrapped’ in cloth – completely (so very different from the comfortable show of flesh in the west indies), the stark nature of the light, the emptiness of the landscape, the simplicity of the lines in the architecture, the exotic nature of pattern, the embellishment, the intricate filigree and repetition pressed into material, copper and stone. And from both, the recognition of the ‘otherness’ of human features (other meaning other than the European features). And perhaps because I experienced these anthropological forms early on, they are written onto my retina, and as I get older I seem to be drawn in by the physical differences in facial structures between three cultures.

I moved to The Lizard, in Cornwall, in 1989 and have been here “every since”, as the Barbadians say. Although I studied Art at A level, it took a while to get back to it, completing a degree in Fine Art at Falmouth University in 2011.

Pete, charcoal on paper, 150 x 122cm

  RB: Have there been any particular influences to your art practice?

ST: Big Paintings. As part of my Degree at Falmouth we travelled to Berlin, New York, Amsterdam and Istanbul. I got the opportunity to stand in front of many paintings I had only read about. I felt like a kid in a sweet shop. The very large paintings….. and the very tiny paintings ….. left their mark. The drama of them, the physicality of them; the immersive nature of them. Rothko, Kline, Jackson Pollock (somehow you have to use both his names), Rothenburg, Oliveira; Kentridge and Keifer; Rembrandt, Vermeer, Dumas, Klee. Mama Anderson, Chantelle Joffe, Rose Wiley. The sweep of brush strokes, black and white, drips, scribbles, scratches. Colours that hum.

Paintings …… because I like the fact that the work has been touched by the artists’ hands. Of course, there’s also the smell of turpentine and oil.

The Printing press. The large presses in the print room at college, the very physical nature of winding the press, sticky ink, the plate, the touch of paper. The endless possibilities.

A sense of the modern – fashion, social media, the now.

Dance – the performative observation and portrayal of physical form and gesture.

I did a lot of dance when I was younger – got a place at Laban – never went. I was constantly in and out of dance classes. So the body and how it moved was very important. Looking at form continually, trying to understand and copy the smallest movement, the tiniest gesture, hones your curiosity – something not lost through the years.

Finally, Cornwall itself has had an influence on my work. Living on The Lizard means you cannot escape the elements. You walk amongst them on a daily basis – the rain, the mizzle, damp defuse light; the horizon that worms its way into your consciousness. The monochromatic nature of the greys that make up the ‘horizontals’ in this daily view. The colour of gorse – a rich, English mustard yellow. Granite. 

Mellow Yellow, 2020, monoprint,

 RB: What is the underlying focus of your work?

ST: Probably the human condition and the question of personal identity. Life happens to all of us, those familiar human things, love, happiness, disappointment, pain, fear – they are experiences that are played out in all cultures. These things are base, primal, if I can call them that. I am drawn in by the physicality of the human form and how this physicality, despite our best efforts otherwise, can betray our emotional state.

Phone Check, monoprint, 38 x 53.5 cm

 

Frequent Visitor, monoprint, 38 x 53.5cm

 

Second Chance, monoprint, 38 x 53.5 cm

 

Tentative Steps, Oil on Linen, 76 x 91 cm

I am interested in the way in which people hold themselves, and how they decide to portray themselves to the world – in the way they stand, or sit, how they dress, how they enter a room, the angle of their head, how close (or far apart) they stand in a group, how they engage with each other.

A person’s physicality betrays so many things, and I find this eternally fascinating. No matter how a person tries to ‘be’ there will always inherently be that telling physical moment when they reveal what’s going on beneath the surface; perhaps in the way that they stand, or turn or even sit, a vulnerability behind the eyes. I am interested in how a person holds themselves, the angle of their head, the curve of their body, the way they rest their hand or arm in that moment.

So gesture plays an important part in what I am trying to get to. The figure in my drawings and paintings stand for an inherent communality between all human beings.

Simon, Charcoal on Paper, 152 x 122 cm

 RB: What inspires and ‘informs’ your work?

ST: Everyday things. Family. Friends. Magazines. Fashion. Social Media. Books. Visiting Galleries. Film.

The need to illustrate my observation of the world and how we behave in it.

RB: Can you say something about the variety of processes that you use and how they inform one another?

ST: There are three main elements to my practice – drawing, painting and printmaking. The most important of which is drawing. Source material can come from a variety of places – my own photographs, magazines, newspapers, film.

Everything starts with drawing for me. If I have an idea, I need to draw it out. I will make many drawings of a particular image or gesture that has caught my eye or that I need to investigate. The first drawings are ‘learning’ the form. Subsequent iterations are about paring things down to the essence – which few strokes will sufficiently describe a particular gesture or emotion?

Drawings can be made in so many ways, in a linear fashion, blocks of light and shade, marks and scribbles and spills. All these methods will give the drawing different ‘lives’, different senses of emotion. The stillness of a simple pencil line, the agitation of scribbled marks and scratches on a printed plate; the richness and drama of blocks of light and shade in charcoal.

I will then usually then move onto printmaking.

Out of Silence, monoprint, 38 x 53.5cm

 

Ice Shadows, monoprint, 44 x 32 cm

I think people still see print as a secondary art form, a way to sketch up work before you do the bigger, more important painting. But I use monoprinting as another way to express my ideas and the process satisfies me enormously – the wiping away of ink from the plate, of the subtly different, fading versions that can be lifted from one printing plate to another – the journey between ‘ghost’ copies – the making of a different image every time. It’s almost like a film strip. I enjoy the painterly quality of mono prints – it can get you away from ‘line’, the ability to layer paint up, plate by plate, and retain the ability to draw onto it. The joy of printmaking, for me, is that it breaks down the accuracy of the work and therefore broadens its potential. It is in these accidents that things can start to get interesting. It takes away the coordinated hand/eye control of a pencil on paper and leaves instead the ‘wrongness’ of the bleed of ink or pattern that can occur through pressure, adding something for the eye and the brain to ‘worry’ at in a final image.

From a selection of experimental prints, ideas for paintings occur.  My painting process has become more successful the closer I try and replicate the printing process. ’Mistakes’ in the printing process can be taken into the final painting working in layers rather than working paint into paint on the canvas.  I still try and draw the figure with the edge of my brush. I like brevity, a line that suggest the form, a moment captured in a very few descriptive lines.

Quiet Revolution, Oil on Linen, 152 x 183 cm

 

The Game, Oil on Linen, 122 x 152cm

RB: What can you say about the concept of space in your drawings?

ST: So for me it is important to focus on the figure, the gesture. Making the figure the main focus is a way of exploring the inner self in order to talk about things we cannot express. The human figure resonates across time and space to connect with everyone and images of the body allow us to project ourselves into other worlds and find our common humanity.

I feel compelled to get rid of everything else because I want the focus to be on the emotional state. I do not want the distraction of place or time – the gestures I am attempting to capture are universal and the human eye understands the slump of the hip, the tension in raised shoulders, the melancholy of a downturned head.

Space keeps everything still, it suspends time.

Space invites the viewer to fill in the blanks. It lets you paint your own story. The lack of narrative leaves you with a sense of ‘feeling’ – almost fixing emotions in space and time.

Space invites reflection and contemplation and gives the solitary figures a universality and symbolic quality that alludes to the human condition.

Simple horizons creep into the picture plane – the influence of living on the coast, I guess.  The space seems eternal, and the things I am trying to convey are also eternal.

Nathan Oliveira was a big influence on me when I started out. He was the youngest of the Bay Figurative artists – a group of artists who shied away from the the Abstract Expressionistic style that gripped their time in the late 40s. I used to have a copy of Oliveira’s ‘Manolette’’ 1958 on my wall. It is a painting of a solitary figure that appears to be frozen, slightly off-balance, light emanating from it. He chose to use the solitary figure to express a sense of spirituality. Maybe I am trying to express this too.

RB: Can you say something about your recent works on paper, Twisty Feet and The Wall? 

Twisty Feet, monoprint

 

The Wall, monoprint

ST: ‘Twisty Feet’ is an image of a girl, hands in pocket, who stands alone. I made this for an exhibition called ‘Fragile” and at a time when my own two daughters were about to leave home. The figure in this image is placed at the edge of the picture plane, as if she is about to step off the paper into the unknown. Hands firmly in her pockets, hesitant. The tension in this image lies in her feet – the gesture harks back to childhood and a familiar pose taken up by the very young when they are unsure of what to do next – they stand, toes facing inwards and feet rolling onto their outside edges – uncertain.

The picture is very flat and the yellow background alludes to the colour of gorse which comes out in the Spring and is the reminder of new possibilities. The figure itself is a silhouette described in two tones of grey and is pared down to the bare essentials. The title reinforces our focus and the point of tension in the piece.

In ‘The Wall’ , a young girl sits alone on an imaginary wall, legs dangling loosely as she stares at something off to the right. The space that surrounds her, keeps her suspended in time, in quiet and in stillness. It’s a curious piece, emphasized by the curious marks that make up her body – the process of happy accident in the printing process that works to the image’s advantage (purpose). The title gives you a starting point – a jumping off point – if you will – for her story. The rest you have to come up with yourself.  The only clues are the subtle leaning forward of her body – she moves towards whatever is catching her attention, and the loose nature of her legs. She is relaxed. 

Faith and Folly, Oil on Linen, 122 x 152cm

RB: Your recent exhibition, In Search of Our Perfect Selves (Arusha Gallery, Edinburgh), explored both the presented and perceived self. Can you say more about this exhibition?

ST: This exhibition included paintings – large and small, and a number of monoprints, set together closely, one against the other.  I explore physicality and the interpretation of gesture. I was very interested in the modern phenomena of social media and the way in which we need to ‘present’ our best self – or rather, a constructed self to the world. But it seems to me, that the very nature of how we decide to present this construction, gives away the very truth of our nature.  Subtle physical clues lead us to that truth.

The packaging and presentation of this carefully constructed ‘hyper-self’ seems to me a very real social expectation, but at what cost?

Selfies, oil on prepared paper

Selfies, oil on prepared paper

Selfies, oil on prepared paper

Selfies, oil on prepared paper

RB: In terms of the viewer, what are you trying to communication with this exhibition?

ST: In this series of paintings and prints, I present moments frozen in time, and try to pose a variety of possibilities in the reading of these gestures. One denim be-decked man sits, sprawled across the canvas, filling the entire space – the lines of his legs lead us to his crotch where his hands rest. He is stares at you – daring you. He looks very self-satisfied. This contrasts with another image of a man perched on a narrow stool, hands clasped between his knees, a tension in his legs which are pressed firmly together. These two paintings are set before you – it is left to you to interpret their physical gestures to get at the truth of the sitter. In a series of tiny monochromatic paintings, I started looking at how my daughters and their friends used social media; how they create their ‘perfect lives’. These small paintings were presented in a clear acrylic box-like frames – possibly alluding to the mobile phone cameras on which the images were originally taken. But it didn’t escape me that, in these bold, over-sexualised pouting self-portraits, their vulnerability screamed out.

The collection of work sets one physical gesture up against a contrasting one – perhaps like a set of cards. I guess I am hoping that by seeing a variety of possibilities, the viewer may recognise themselves, or at least, recognise humanity.

RB: What projects are you currently working on or have coming up in the future?

ST: I have been filming and drawing in the performing arts department at University of the South West College here in Cornwall. I would like to make a series of drawings, following the continual flow of movement of a body across a space – still very much looking at the physicality of human gesture, but instead of taking a frozen moment in time, tracing this movement across a space.

I would like to work in collaboration with performers, focusing on the interpretation of physical gesture, and out of this study, to create a number of large scale drawings and mono prints and perhaps present them in the form of an installation – a space combining live performance and drawing.  These ideas are very much in their infancy, but watch this space.

…………………………………..

www.shellytregoning.net

All images copyright and courtesy of Shelly Tregoning

The post The human condition and the question of personal identity appeared first on Interalia Magazine.

Mutatis Mutandis

Mutatis Mutandis

There are two forms of invariance, two ways in which something can persist in being amid the unceasing flight and flux of forms. There is that which is changeless, the cliff-face rigid and immutable against gale and tide, the frigid polestar-constancy of that which does not alter where it alteration finds. And there is that which, taking leave from itself, nevertheless is able to come back to itself. Unrelentingness: resilience. The one stands against and outside change, the other finds constancy in and through it. The rock that seems sternly to rebut the mutable; and then the boiling maelstrom that is never the same thing for one microsecond, but builds constancy through rotation, repetition. As Michel Serres has said, le dure ne dure pas; seul dure le doux – the hard does not endure, only softness survives. Hardness melts or is eroded, softness persists in being by yielding, by dying easily, like flies, like snow, giving way, expiring without a thought, like a breath, like a mist, like a thought. When the going gets tough, only the weak, giving way, going under, can last out. The condition of Annie Cattrell’s work is this oscillating condition of mutatis mutandis: the things that have been changed being in their turn changed.

Exactitude

Art is not the only way in which humans have battled against variation and inconstancy, though it is one of the emblematic ways, the way that affects to figure forth all efforts in general to instance the general, the unchanging.

Art long ago had to concede its claims to exactitude to what are sometimes, oddly and anachronistically, called the ‘hard sciences’. Exactness implies exaction, that is requirement, severity, coercion – exact being the past participle of Latin exagere, to drive out. Exactness is exigent, obdurate, hard to please. Exactitude used once to guarantee the authority of the absolute, of that which is exactly and precisely itself. To be exact always implies some correspondence, some exact fit between two measures or registers, between an original and a copy, an inside and an outside, a prescription and an action. But as exactitude increases, becoming ever more exacting, something unexpected happens. The closer one approaches to absolute exactitude, the more it recedes. No two measurements of a given phenomenon can ever be exactly the same, or only will be if those measurements are in fact inexact. No observation can take account of precisely all the positions and velocities of all the molecules in a given volume of gas. The only way to be exact is in fact to estimate statistically. To begin with, as certainty increases, variability declines, until that certain point at which it begins once again to increase. At very minute scales, exactness merges once again into approximation. Exactness begins by being hard and rigorous, but as it increases, it becomes ever more frail, and almost infinitely weak in its susceptibility to uncontrollable fluctuations. So what is called ‘art’ and what is called ‘science’ change places once again. Art, ethics, politics, can allow themselves to aspire to the absolute because they make fewer demands of exactitude on themselves. Science must nowadays earn its name through a precision that must expose the inevitability of fluctuation and the necessity of approximation. At its limits, finitude meets the infinitesimal.

Annie Cattrell’s works seem to be drawn towards this indeterminate zone where the exact and the fragile converge, at the point at the heart of every state of being at which there seems to be some tremor, some fading, flicker or deflection from itself. To be sure, her works are often characterised by a high-resolution, pinprick-sharp exactitude. They seem to offer the precision that we expect of perfectly-adjusted apparatus, in which form and function, appearance and effect, are locked tightly together, with neither residue nor deficit. The actions of casting and moulding are frequently employed or implied in her work, for example in the delicate bronze eggshell of From Within, which maps from the inside the delicate channels and filiations inscribed on the interior of the skull. The hard and the soft here  seem here to be brought into improbable association, the tough lustre of the bronze mingled with the buttery softness of an infant’s head. A cast seems like the ideal, absolute form of reproduction, in which some original form is induced to replicate itself exactly, without superfluity or omission, as though something could depart from itself while remaining itself, and 1+1 could magically still equal 1.  It is not surprising that the history of casting, seal-making and minting has such sacred associations, implying the divine power of self-divergence without diminution, of that which, like divine grace, or the head of the sovereign, can become many while never ceasing to be one.

But Annie Cattrell’s castings and rapid-prototype three-dimensional scans are so precise that they go beyond static exactitude to encompass variation. Depending on the light and angle of viewing, concavity and convexity change places in From Within, in a version of what is known as the Hollow Face illusion, which turns declivities into lines of relief. A similar passion of the surface is apparent in Currents, which is a rendering of some surface agitated by undulations, whether of a body of water pestered by a stiff breeze, or of the score of a complex piece of music, or the ripplings of a mountain range seen from above. The piece is not just a breathtakingly exact rendering of a natural process of fluctuation, it is itself a kind of fluctuation between possibilities. It seems struck off in and from a single moment, as though it were possible instantly to scan and cast all the infinite complexity of a single stretch of mild turbulence. But the prototype becomes protean – reminding us that the ungraspable Proteus derives his name from the fact that he was the first-born of the sea-god Poseidon. In the beginning, at the first, there was variation, the manying of the one.

Annie Cattrell’s drawings play variations on these processes of variation, the rippled striations of Pressure and the interlaced tendrils of Sustain instituting for example a shimmering quiver between plane and depth. Their titles hint at material processes, lifting, pouring, parting, rather than the forms of matter that effect them or that they affect. Annie Cattrell’s art not only attends closely to processes of variation within each piece of work, the works themselves enact variations across and between each other. The title of Process establishes an interchange between the alimentary process it figures and the process required to make it, as though it were in some sense figuring its own workings, a machine made to make itself.

Interiority

As above, so below, writes Hermes Trismegistus in the Smaragdine Tablet, and continues,  in the translation of Isaac Newton, ‘to do the miracles of one only thing’. One might rotate this mystical formula (or turn it inside out), as many adherents of mystical doctrine have done, to assert likewise ‘as within, so without’, Much of Annie Cattrell’s work dwells in this logic of coincident contraries, in which the further inwards one goes, and especially into that interior of all interiors, the inside of the body, the more the forms seem to resemble the forms of the exterior world. Lungs, digestive system, cerebral tissue, bloom like clouds, and branch like coral-forests. Everywhere, there appears to be morphological rhyme: a brain swells like a mushroom, like a bomb burst, like a nebula, like the lacy fistulae of blood from a wound held underwater. Annie Cattrell’s collaborations, with neuroscientists, meteorologists and foresters, seem designed to limn these rhymings. And yet her forms seem to decline the unanimity of the ‘one only thing’, that mystical allergy to number, or to any number but one. The world of forms she patiently tracks is one that never quite becomes one or comes back to itself, in which the formative principle is endlessly branching and budding off.

Annie Cattrell is drawn and detained by secret, hidden, normally inaccessible spaces and forms, especially parts of the body which we not only rarely see, but of which can also form no real continuous conception. But these forms are not merely inward. They have the quality that Gilles Deleuze called ‘increscence’. They bloat and blister, but inwards as well as outwards, turning into, rolling over on themselves, delving inwards into the inner space they themselves scoop out. Where leaves and flowers seem to grow the very space they bud and branch out into, the bronchial and cerebral arborescences that draw Annie Cattrell’s eye and hand complexify space rather than rarefying it, multiplying it inwards. They brood and breed, they go on out in, curling, tucking in and doubling back on themselves even as they billow outwards.

The lungs that are figured in Capacity are an image of this astonishing involution. Small creatures, such as flies, do not have lungs, because they do not need them, their volume being small enough in relation to their outer surfaces to be able to absorb the oxygen they need directly from the air around them. But as creatures grow, their volume increases by the cube of their length, while their surface area increases by its square, so, the larger creatures grow, the greater their oxygen needs in proportion to their surface areas. For a creature the size of a human, or indeed for most creatures larger than Craseonycteris thonglongyai, or the bumblebee bat of Thailand, which weighs only a couple of grams, and is the smallest lung-breathing creature in the world, the only way to be able to absorb enough oxygen is in effect to turn themselves inside out, or outside in. They must, in the words of Marlowe’s Barabas, ‘enclose/Infinite riches in a little room’, approximating the effect of a large surface area within a very constrained space. This is achieved through millions of alveoli (Latin, ‘little alcoves’) which bud out from the end of capillaries to maximise the exposure of the blood to the tissues which extract oxygen from it. The human lung contains 700 million of these structures, the equivalent if opened out of a surface area of 70m2, or around the size of a tennis court. Capacity not only mimics the maximising of space through interior folding, it folds together time and space too; the work of countless hours is compressed into the image of a single inbreath, as though the work had spontaneously formed itself out of air made palpable and visible. We not only need room to breathe, it seems, but breathing also remakes space, burrows out room for itself.

Anne Cattrell’s works are a serenely seething contour map of prepositions, out, back, on, in, through, along, beside. Mystical materialists like Teilhard de Chardin have evoked a kind of awareness in introversion, as though an energy that turned towards itself rather than jetting out and away were all that were required for consciousness to stir, whether in the coiling of the molecule, or the slow wheelings of galaxies. But Anne Cattrell’s forms seem to have a kind of consciousness without self-consciousness. This is why there can sometimes seem to be a kind of fungal horror in this obese blooming, amid all its delicacy; we recoil from the blind, shoving nescience of what seems to teem without limit or plan, a becoming-other that wants to become everything and to go everywhere, making everything itself, making itself everything, yet without ever quite coming back to what it is.

Sense gives us sculptural reconstructions of the areas of the brain activated by the work of the five different senses. Where previous ages emblematised the senses with different animals – the monkey or the spider for touch, the lynx for sight – Annie Cattrell gives us a more abstract morphological bestiary, presenting each of the senses as though it were not just the animation of an idea, but also the idea of some kind of animal, flaring into intermittent being. The piece might seem to offer the same kind of reassurance that neuroscience can often seem to offer to the incautious, that there is an inner architecture that answers precisely and predictably to an outer, and that the ideas we have about ourselves – that we have precisely five senses, for example, and not four (as Aristotle thought), or as many psychologists would nowadays prefer to say, 9 – are verified point for point by what happens in the brain. But a sense is not the simple reflex in the brain of some equally simple cause in the world; it is the predisposition of a brain, acting, as brains always must, in complex concert with the body that it is both a part of and apart from, to make certain kinds of sense of the world. Few will now be surprised by the news that the brains of synaesthetes show more connectivity between different areas of the brain used to activate different sensory responses than non-synaesthetes. But the real question to ask may be why non-synaesthetes with no such immediate experience of, say, hearing colours or tasting shapes, can nevertheless can make perfect sense of such experiences in narrative or metaphor.

And where, one wonders, might coenesthesia – the powerful, yet oddly fluctuating sense of the mineness of my senses – have its seat? Responding to Descartes’s conviction that each of us have immediate and undoubtable access to what we must all infallibly recognise as a self, David Hume protests, with mischievous, magisterial coolness, ‘I am certain there is no such principle in me’. Where might that certainty reside, if not somewhere between the brain that formed these words and the words themselves? Does the idea of nowhere have a location? Where or what would be the ‘I’-ness that is so positive about its nonentity, so certain of its inaccessibility to itself? There can be no doubt that there must have been some kind of brain state at the moment at which David Hume inscribed these words, very likely one that would seem roundly to contradict his statement, and that there may be some kind of equivalence between equivalent brain states induced in various readers, including David Hume and me and you, reading these words at various times. But David Hume’s point is not that there is no such thing as perception, but that there is no such thing as ‘pure’ perception, or perception as such, since all perception is perception of something else.  What happens on the inside of brains is not a mere reaction to what happens to them, it is a construing of a relation to that exterior. The brain is constantly at work actively producing the forms of its responsiveness. It ceaselessly projects, from the inside, the kind of outside it takes there to be, just as it also constantly projects – for example in works like Sense – the kind of inside it takes itself to be, in relation to that outside.

Sense shows us what sensing neurologically is – seeing seems to have the form, for example, of a handkerchief suddenly ravelled by a gust of wind, or an egg splatted messily on a moving windscreen, while hearing is a pair of headphones or cauliflower ears. But we would be mistaken to see the sense regions as simple, invariant objects. As the brain functions modelled in a work such as Pleasure/Pain indicate, these apparent condensations of function are in fact the reified forms of connections, patterns of interchange between areas of the brain rather than sealed chambers. It is a stochastic silhouette formed by the possible thickening into the probable. It is the sculpting of a neurological conversation rather than a portrait of a single interlocutor, a telephone network rather than the profile of a speaking head.

And these connections ramify not only within but beyond the brain. As we look into and through the cool, translucent acrylic cubes of Sense in which these abstract sense-homunculi are suspended, we sense that there must be some kind of answering topology in our own perceptions, that our brains must be miming out some kind of anagram of what they are seeing. But this very action adds our perception to the series. Are we outside the series, as its observer, or an extension to it? Are we looking out of what we are looking in on? And when we see hearing, or tasting or smelling, what new neurological ravellings, what new forms of consensus, are being effected? Are we to read this sequence of shapes as primal engrams, the Platonic solids of sensing? Or do they form a sequence of variables, a meteorological phase space of feeling, contouring Dylan Thomas’s restless ‘process in the weather of the heart’?

Iffiness

As the title of the recent piece Conditions suggests, Anne Cattrell’s art exists in a world, (the world, there evidently being no other), of conditions. To say that some statement is true is to claim to define the conditions under which it will be true. To affirm that something exists is always also to assert the conditions under which its existence will be possible. Given certain conditions of existence, certain kinds of thing may exist. To say that something existed absolutely would be to say that no conditions exist or are conceivable under which it could not exist. And perhaps there are no such unconditional truths or existences. Everything is what it is only under certain conditions, certain forms of speaking or agreeing together, for, indeed, condition is from Latin condicere to speak together.  And that concordance is never complete, there are always at least two parties, the entity and its conditions, two halves to a compact that can never compact into simple unity. And, if things are what they are only under certain conditions, those conditions are never absolute or wholly and exactly specifiable, so there is never an exact fit between what something is and the conditions under which it comes to be that thing. All existence is, in this sense, as we say,  iffy, making the being of what is almost infinitely fragile, infinitely open to the shifting contingencies that alone permit or prohibit its being. This makes being both finite and fragile.

In the case of Conditions, there are many images of this conditional agreement. There are first of all the cloud-forms themselves, etched by the same kind of focussed laser that is used in some kinds of surgery to reach into the inaccessible heart of the brain and other areas of delicate tissue in the body. Our looking in on these forms is a similar kind of action-at-a-distance, the kind of optical tactility provoked by inviolable interiorities of the snow-globe or the ship in a bottle. The etched cloud-forms suggest that they may be variations on some primary form, a lexicon derivable from some degree-zero of in-itself vapour, prior to any deformation, swervings away from some elemental or archetypal or as-such state of cloud. This is in accord with our thinking about conditionality, in which there is a primary essence which is subject to this or that variation, this or that inflection in response to changing conditions. But there is no primary of ur-cloud, there are only states of cloud, translations without an original. Something can be what it is only on condition that it converses with that which it is not, with that which, as we may say, provides the conditions for the thing it is.

The transparent columns of Conditions enclose cloud-forms that are typical of (but never, of course, absolutely identified with or definitional of) particular times of the year: January’s clouds are low, dense and brooding, June’s cottony and clumped, July’s a hazy cirrocumulus. The angles of the glass columns splinter, refract and multiply the cloud-forms, creating commerce between the incommensurable orders of the edged and the edgeless. But the neat divisions between the columns and the prevailing conditions they signify are an illusion, for in reality the divisions between the cloud-forms characteristic of particular months are no more hard and fast than the divisions between clouds themselves and the clear air in which they are suspended.

All of Annie Cattrell’s work institutes a strange doubling whereby the material forms she represents seem to suggest the shapes of the thoughts we have about them, but none more so than the cerebral nebulae of Conditions. There is a long tradition which associates the intangible, ephemeral forms of clouds with the drifting play of thought itself. Clouds, like thoughts, are only there as long as they are there for us, and yet can be there only if they are over there, remote from us. Here, Annie Cattrell gives to thought a kind of impossible, imponderable materiality, giving us up to our own thought, and, returning our thinking to itself, the changed thing changed back, the fluctuating uncertainty of the exchange captured with tender, rapt exactitude.

 

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