This is not reviewing an exhibition. I have been grounded for a while by life away from art, and this essay is not a palimpsest, it has no force to change anything and to show evidence of that change. It is a meditation on two images of each of two artworks.(In that sense, if the perception can be trusted to hold the memory of one while watching the other, those not- quite-identical twin views are palimpsest of compositions).
The two images were exhibited in one frame at Golden Thread Gallery during the exhibition called PALIMPSEST (3/7 – 9/8 2014). Sinead O’Donnell is a performance artist, Mary Morgan makes – what I think of as environmental photography. By this I mean she emancipates fragments of space as objects around an object. Moreover, she installs her photographs as an environment for viewing (see my post here Sinead sent me the image and the following note: (I corrected – with her permission few typing errors)
There are similarities in the two compositions, one is a mirror image of the other, with a slight difference obtained by a shift of the zoom. A person poses in a door frame in a corner of a small yard, twice. Once with her head wrapped in a curtain suspended from the frame, and then standing behind the unfolded curtain, pressing against it. Is it familiar or not? Many details are familiar – the English House aesthetics (re Muthesius) fluently accompanies the almost mechanical identification of the content. A single image from one sequence, and another from the second narrative, together they cleverly ground the esoterica of the feminist debate about clothed and unclothed, dressed and undressed, into honesty of ordinariness, touched by the memory of little girls playing princesses. In that sense both images are details from a hidden story, or, even better, fragments of a story or two. Still photographs are fragments of the flow, valid fragments of reality and experience. By valid, I do not mean true. Fragment derives its validity from some sense of order. Exciting part of that order is its ability to embrace chaos, a sudden idea, a chance, a contradiction. Morgan’s lens cherishes discontinuity of each image as inspiration to me to make up a chain of possibilities. Temporary combinations. In that sense it is my imagination that takes over. Artists do that too. Avedon is quoted saying “my portraits are much more about me than they are about people I photograph.” Knowing Morgan’s earlier work allows me to see her artistic personality here too, however, there is also a gritty element introduced by O’Donnell’s appearance. Although standing still she exudes energy of wanting to move forward. Her rejection of the type strengthens the vernacular departure from a norm, mapped by models, celebrities and fashion.
A limping palimpsest is forged by the traces of the left image in the right hand one, something changed and the diptych shows evidence of it. And then there is the whole story of veiled face, veiled head, veil with so many ideological weights that it cannot but fall. Or fail.
The other duo of images happens to be from a performance Alastair MacLennan given in Sokolowsko during the IV International Festival of Ephemeral Art (Kontexty, 25 -29 July 2014). Its curator Malgorzata Sady included performance, installation, soundwork, multimedia – all in public space. The theme of space has been caressed in a discussion moderated by Magdalena Ujma – space in which art takes place, space in the artists mind. creative process, space offered by institutions, public space…. and this writing adds another space, that of a visual trace of something happening.
I have no idea which image was first or second during the performance. It would matter if I were to think about the whole, I am not, I shall interrogate each image as a valid fragment.
I observe, I make a hypothesis and then experiment, which temporary combination of interpretation feels not just as a tool, but as a power to catch, tame a meaning. The river bed is magic. I see an open mouth of a silent monster knowing it is a group of blackened stones. The water appears nearer a blackish sauce then to its true character of shallow river rushing over the cascade of rocks. An illusory ground, important for being utterly free and unstable, while renewing itself every second. This fusion of time, space, speed and surface may have been essential to the performance. It became essential here as a contrast of dynamics of nature and the static meditating man holding ribbons, standing on a metal frames(old bed?). The quick succession of natural and man made forms play with light and meaning alike. Soft leaves, right angled stone wall are not visible to the man who focuses on holding ribbons by both hands. A tiny, anthropocentric fragment is dwarfed by the nature -to meaningless being. It may have been not dwarfed in the performance, it is the still frame that changes the relationship. The nature in this photograph is simply magnificent.
The other image switches these relationships. The nature steps back, the contraption has now a comical roof made with a spade, the man adopts a hieratic pose, easily recognisable as similar to the Chariotteer of Delphi (5th C BC)
The statue is also a static view of a performance, of an athletic competition. Both the photography and the statue tolerate my associating them with a classical Greeks’ canon: gods and heroes do not sit, they stand up(that canon did not apply to statues of slaves, beggars and women).
Both, the photograph and the statue have “speaking hands”. As Leonardo complained ” the intention of the mind” is difficult to paint and has to be represented through gestures. Gestures are mostly generally accepted codes born out of collective experience. A gesture allows to transmit nuances of content. The elbow gesture is about holding rains and thus associates with authority. Yet, in MacLennan it cannot escape its opposite: meaning of acceptance.
Entanglement of two selves affecting one another is thus advanced as collaboration of two artists, O’Donnell and Morgan, and man and nature in the photographs (by Artur Tajber?) of two stages of MacLennan’s nameless performance. (I deliberately neglected finding out its title, to escape the influence of words of that title).