Thursday, 20 August 2015

Jordy Hewitt: Ledge Point: Moana.

Sentence. Painting. Text.

by Graham Mathwin

Painting died a private death in my life a few years ago. I thought it would never be redeemed. Sometimes though, something incredible appears before me, and I find myself in a position of dissonance. Hewitt’s paintings were one such appearance. How could they have impacted so much on me? I had built myself a fortress to defend myself from the wiles of painting – especially abstract painting, so easy it is to be recouped into whatever discourse that requires some visual matter.

The reconciliation I reached was to deny what most people would interpret this as: the ability of painting to overcome its mediation and affect us viscerally. Such an idea is ludicrous. Painting is perhaps the most mediated, complex and meaning-full practice in art – it certainly has the longest and most eminent history. Yet here is also the point of reconciliation that I reached: in the very mediation itself. We too often deny that painting is a language, and therefore do not realise that if it speaks to us, it is through this language that it speaks. The power of literature is not diminished by its nature, save we realise it is only paper, and barring the necessity of our being literate. Painting likewise need not suffer all our distaste for being what it is: the ultimate auratic object. Rather, it is through the application of a language, albeit an archaic one, but certainly a complex, intricate, and important one, that painting can speak to us. We can consider a sentence separate from its text, and so we can isolate the sentence of a painting, like it asks us to do, and its capital letter and full stop will be its frame, and we need not see the paper the ink is printed on all the time. To do so is important: through it, perhaps we can give painting a space and understand the possibility of its language. It does entail a duality: that we understand the painting’s language, but that we do so necessarily at the cost of our ability to argue against it on the basis of its broader mediation, that none-the-less exists.

It seems especially appropriate to talk of language in seeing Hewitt’s work over the last two years. The progression she has undertaken has been especially deductive and logical – Hewitt is someone whose practiced ability with the language of paint results in an articulate and comprehensible ‘thinking’ through paint. Not that it is a purely logical deduction that is present in these works – they are certainly still within the realm of poetry – yet her two bodies of work, ‘ledge point’ and ‘act one scene one’ both present what I feel is appropriate to call something of a Cartesian meditation. Both bodies of work seem to contain the kind of realisation of an origin that Edmund Husserl asked us to undertake, as the basis of a phenomenology.

‘Act one, scene one’ is analogously illustrated by a narrative Hewitt tells of a dying relative, who, upon her deathbed, uttered her last words of ‘act one, scene one’ – a return to beginnings at the end. The work was a confused ground, without any figure, an evocation of uncertainty, but also a reduction of the language of painting back to its origin in the painted surface. This is why I call it a Cartesian meditation. Descartes, in his own meditation, decided to question everything. He very rapidly then deduces the existence of the world. Descartes’s method invariably validated the world he lived in, though it also changed it. Hewitt’s realisation can be taken in parallel with this idea: that Descartes returned to an origin, and then deduced the world from it – an end from an unsubstantiated beginning. The new beginning of her passing relative echoes this double relationship: the return to the origin in order to end, or the end as the beginning – something we can see paralleled in science’s obsession with the ‘final theorem’ – the equation to define the universe. It is both an origin, and an end. The hope of returning to an originary principle is that you may then extrapolate everything: that you will come to know the end. Within it, everything will be defined yet still unfolding. Hewitt’s work can be seen in this broader context, her work is, as so much abstract work has been, a ground. There is no figure, yet also little paper visible. The work is a cloudy accumulation of marks. The work is not as totalising as either the final theory, embodied perhaps in Malevich’s black square, or Yves Klein’s blue or white, or Rauschenberg’s white canvas. The work is a Cartesian meditation, but it is not the same ‘return to origin’ that those artists purported. Like an expert poet, Hewitt knows that it is not the physicality of the paper that makes the painting; it is the arrangement and choice of its language. What she presents us with, then, is not only an origin: the raw stuff of the language of paint: the ground; it is also an articulation of that ground: it is an attempt to understand the language that enables such a ground to be established. Far too often the Cartesian meditation in art results in nothingness, without an understanding of the language that enabled this absence-of-itself to occur.

The formation of this second body of work ‘ledge point’ is a fascinating progression, or deduction, from the previous body of work. For Hewitt has not conjured up something to inhabit the ground she constructed in her previous body of work. Rather, she has constructed a second ground. The key figure of her work in this show is not any figure at all, but a horizon. The horizon is a fascinating figure because it is not any defined figure at all; it is a limit of visibility, a figure generated by the curvature of the earth, and on a hypothetically even surface is set about 5 kilometres away from us. Hewitt’s horizon is rather less global, yet pertains to the same strange definition as that horizon that defines the limits of a visible world. It feels wrong to call it a figure; because of the lengths Hewitt has gone to avoid any figure in these works, even any definitive directionality, despite the easily language-able ‘landscape’ in these works. She has denied it, and avoided conjuring a typically easily comprehensible world into being – rather she has only conjured a horizon, a limit. The figure exists outside of the space of any particular definition; it is a meeting point, an infinitesimal space between two others.

This move is itself an intriguing one, but is again made poetic by the expert negotiation of the painted surface that was there in her last body of work, and that is here again. The marks, in both exhibitions, are a fluctuating mix of strokes, scattered yet controlled. There is only one definitive mark here, and that is the horizon’s line – and the sentence-like structuring of a sheet of paper and its frame. All else is articulated noise, a poem that is its own celebration, colour, tone, and those visible strokes that create them. This language is that of uncertainty, an indistinctness that does not reveal anything except itself as a ground. It is to Hewitt’s credit that despite the bold inclusion of a horizon, there is not more distinctness for it – or rather, that she has not done away with the implacable uncertainty, the cloudy, indistinct form of her grounds, rubbed every which way, in an attempt to invoke and dispel a foundation, a ground.

The true magic of a Cartesian meditation, and these paintings, is that they are an alchemical transformation, or a conjuring. They transform base material into value, or they bring forth the earth. The magic of what are just black lines on paper, and what are marks of pigmented dirt on paper are not espoused enough. The return to an origin is a magic spell, a conjuring of the earth. Similarly, the basic material of paint is manipulated into a ground. Through language it becomes something else, something beyond its material alone.

I am yet further intrigued by imagining what may come of the Cartesian meditation that Hewitt has undertaken, the reduction of her work to a field, and then to its division. It is a private, personal Cartesian meditation, something that feels like a crisis of sense. The continual emphasis on the indistinct, the confused, despite its more recent definition, gives the argument its power. Yet it is still that extraordinarily articulate structuring of the space, the manipulation of the shape of marks, the selection and presentation of colour, that gives the work its magic, and that wrests from base material the wonder of these painting. What the next step of this argument will be will emerge from that indistinct mass of paint, the confused marks that exist within that frame, just like the horizon that has come into view.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Carla Adams: Devastate me: Free Range: 11/7/2015

By Graham Mathwin

(from July 11)
I had never had cyber sex before I went to Adam’s show.

The scene was set with candles around the entire room, lining the walls, and casting a dim, romantic ambiance over everything. On the wall was what appeared to be a conversation – perhaps one Adams had had at one point – yet we couldn’t be sure who was who. We waited in line for the artist, and were given her number and texted her to start the conversation, while sitting in the couch right next to her. The artist was silent for the duration, and so were we.

I did not realise how quickly a persona could develop in this field. Although I had never partaken of the online world of cyber sex before, I found myself familiar with its particular nature – I crafted myself to be slightly sarcastic, yet more revealing than if we were in conversation. The abstraction of technology seemed to permit almost any form to be taken. I could pretend to be anyone, anywhere, even while I sat there, next to Adams in the couch. It was a very odd experience, to transition into a different persona so rapidly. I don’t know if it was only a subjective response, or how other people felt, but there seemed to be an instantaneous shift, I suddenly appeared to be engaged in some kind of ten-minute stand. I say persona, yet it was still undeniably my own self, simply a self that was able to reveal or cover itself under the shield of technology, it is the puzzling shift that occurs when one is enticed to play a game.

Being in close proximity meant that you could see the phone that would soon send you the message, and Adams typing away. The shield of technology was an invisible one - as it always is - yet the act that we perform through it did not disperse for this - it was the effect of the performance to bring it to the fore. I am sure that Adams could also see me nervously typing on my phone, and then scrolling incessantly to see if she had sent me the next message. I would watch her hands out of the corner of my eye; it was like a game of chess with infinite moves and anywhere to go. But it was not so abstract or arbitrary as a system like that. The rules are off, and anything goes.

I had always perceived technology abstractly, and I was largely consigned to behaving online as I did in real life, with a few minor alterations. Yet I had never really changed into anyone else. Here, I found myself struggling not to have a ‘good time’ online, to try and maintain any semblance of distance, and not to say the first, usually irrational, thing that came into my mind. Yet I was laughing inside, and found myself, quite quickly, involved with my phone. I have rarely been as entertained and enlightened by a performance as this one, and its very simplicity was a function for its success.

Obvious parallels can be drawn to such works as Abramovic’s The Artist is present. Here though, the involvement is a lot less about that mainstay of performance –‘presence’ than it is about absence; it is also less spiritual, and less creepy. The particular absence is that very visceral connection that performance seems to demand of you as the ‘truth’, an order is established within it that places that biological flesh somehow at the heart of itself. While there is still the clear issue of ‘the flesh’ in this work, it is not that physicality – that strange, spiritual cult of the body that performance that focused on intimacy often seems to engender. Abramovic definitely developed into a cult at the end of the artist is present (the last day, when people ran through the museum to see her, and waited all day in line, just to sit opposite her); here there was no pseudo-spiritual separation of the silent artist and the audience staring into her eyes. While there, Abramovic turned into the blank canvas for the audience’s desires, naivety, love, or hate – here, the artist had a very specific voice. And a very specific role, and could direct the interaction. Abramovic’s performances are often about the audience’s control. Here, Adams (at least in my case) took control, and I became the participant in her theatre.

The theatre that is the gallery space was utilised to its full effect as well. There was a circumference of candles that illuminated the walls. They provided an ambiance for the activity that was taking place: a micro romance involving tea lights in abundance, and mobile phones.  On the wall was an example conversation, a kind of model for the conversations that would take place. Within it was the phrase that stuck in my mind, and is perhaps the key to the exhibition: ‘isn’t this real to you?’ It is so suggestive of the very space that Adam’s work inhabits, on the edge of the unreal – a space at the edge of our daily social limits, where we are free to be whoever we want, whoever we desire, or want others to. The pluralistic space of the virtual world is a fascinating example of subverting the social constraints that limit, deny, and protect us.

The interactivity of this work is also something to consider. I was discussing it with a friend who was talking about performance and interactive art and their problems – not at their heart, just in general: people make performance and interaction as if being performative or interactive was enough to make something interesting. The difficulty of extending form is that you still have to have something to give, or it remains a hollow gesture. The success of Adam’s work is its ability to be performative and interactive in a way that not only speaks concisely about the oddities and possibilities of the online world, yet succeeds in invoking that gift – a personal, extremely personal, exchange – of numbers, and words: small things, but important. It was so simple in its operations, so pragmatic in its presentation of its subject matter that it enabled the true subject to be developed discursively, without recourse to any distracting tactics of performativity or interactivity.

The physical intimacy to the artist was not, as many would expect, a simplistic critique. There is often confusion of what form does when we encounter it, and physicality does not necessarily make us remember that we are non-virtual beings, that we are somehow essentially biological. Here, the intimacy seems like proof of the ability of humanity to inhabit yet overcome its physicality. Here is a physical person, right next to you, living, breathing, and you are texting to her, and she is texting you. You aren’t lovers, but you say things like you were. As if you could be. The effect – at least for me – is still one of dissonance, but not one that demands a solution. There is no immediate or easy solution to this, no critique to be had. Here are our inert, silly bodies, and yet here are our words on LCD screens – and what games can be played there! The entrancement of this exhibition was in the very sensation of being somewhere totally other, yet as close as you were in life. It was a strange, weird place – made of fantasy, dream, words and computer code, but it was not a place that demanded return to earth. Much like that question ‘is this not real to you?’ we partake of two acts, in one reality, simultaneously – sometimes I would watch the screen, sometimes Adams, out of the corner of my eye. How odd to have your own constructed self, through the phone screen, come out and inhabit your body! We are no essential beings, but people made of masks, and the phone is the black mirror through which we can distort ourselves.  

As I left, I did not look at the artist. I felt it would ruin the moment. A strange thing to feel, but perhaps not – and it was neither guilt nor shame. There is safety in the virtual world, and power. There was the possibility of physicality, yet somehow I felt that to take it down to the physical would have been naff, almost sickeningly dull compared to the small fantasies we can enact in that realm of plasticity. Yet it was physical as well, but perhaps it was more an example of our ability to project than to embody - yet perhaps this was only a personal preference: it is the meeting of the projected and the embodied that is the locus of the work.