UNBUILDING in words

Mermaid Arts Centre, 21st Aug – 17th Oct – 2010

The ‘Truth’ followed by the ‘Lie’ (Unbuilding Conversation with Tamsin Snow and Armelle Skatulski)

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Tamsin Snow, Rhizome, 2010, Wood, Perspex, water, 170cm x 150cm x 22cm, Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray, September, 2010. 3rd Unbuilding exhibition titled Inventaire des œuvres démembrées

‘An Outside, more distant than any exterior, is ‘twisted’, ‘folded’ and ‘doubled’ by an inside that is deeper than any interior , and alone creates the possibility of the derived relation between the interior and the exterior. It is even this twisting which defines ‘flesh’, beyond the body proper and its objects’.

Gilles Deleuze

In the brilliant analysis of Michel Foucault, simply titled Foucault, Deleuze doubles up on his subject’s theories, expanding and creating new philosophies; I would even go as far as bettering Foucault, or at least creating new pathways, invigorating Foucault’s structuralist mode of presentation with Deleuzian potentiality. This seems to be a common effect, when philosophers, rather than cultural theorists, present the work of their peers through, what I can only refer to as a ‘doubling’. Geoffrey Bennington’s ‘Doubling’ of Jacques Derrida is another case in point, where Bennington literally shares the pages of the book with Derrida, their thoughts overlapping to open up an exterior space, or what Deleuze calls a ‘Fold’.[2] ‘Doubling’ and ‘Folding’, in the context of Tamsin Snow’s installation for Unbuilding, and the subsequent public conversation with the artist and her collaborator, Armelle Skatulski, could be seen as oblique facets of the the two events.

Armelle Skatulski & Tamsin Snow, Inventaire: Objet 1 (The Dying Gladiator), 2010,  Giclée print, 14.8 x 21 cm

First up–the Installation, titled Inventaire des œuvres démembrées, which materially combined perspex, mirror, water and a blue neon light, with photography. A fixation on a classical statue – The Dying Gladiator, located in the Gardens of Killruddery House (where Snow undertook a two-month residency as part of the Unbuilding Project), became a series of mirrored, doubled and ‘fractured portraits’. In a bizarre event of Trompe-l’œil reversal, I had to test the water in the perspex pools to see if it was real or an optical trick. OK, this could be viewed as male narcissism, a fitting perspective considering the repeated image of the male figure throughout. The same phenomenon occurred to this viewer with the open-mirrored box with photographic portrait, when reflective surface was mistaken for chalk. Under the banner of the Baroque, Snow describes the work as examining ‘the language of museology and the fragmented narratives it presents – where historical realism meets fictionalisation and where the private collection retains an aura of mystery for historical investigation’.[3]


Tamsin Snow, Rhizome, 2010, Wood, Perspex, water, 170 cm x 150 cm x 22 cm, Mermaid Arts Centre, September, 2010.

The ‘Conversation’, which occurred in situ with the installation, disclosed some narratives, that by chance, ‘mirrored’ the fractal events that made up the whole of the installation. One story that outlined the disappearance of the Dying Gladiator statue was very apt, especially when it was discovered later that the statue was hollow at it centre. Someone from the audience was quick to point out that the statue was an original, but was moved periodically for filming; which Killruddery House benefits from now and then. Going back to Deleuze’s questioning of the ‘double’ and ‘fold’ in Foucault, he writes:

‘It is as if the relation of the outside, folded back to create a doubling, allow a relation to oneself to emerge, and constitute an inside which is hollowed out and develops it’s own unique dimension: ‘enkrateia’…This is the Greek version of the snag and the doubling: a differentiation that leads to a folding, a reflection’.[4]

What was most evident in Snow’s installation, is the artist’s reliance on the ‘Art Gallery’ or equivalent, for its reception. Once again, the work reflects on aspects of display and staging that already exist; an almost self-reflexive art object. The artist’s practice hints at the existence of the museum, but Snow’s work falls in between the antique cracks, illuminating with neon and incongruous plastics. This affect, is an 80’s relapse into kitsch; an artificial stage for some false consideration.

During the conversation, Snow was asked about the Unbuilding architecture and the display of her work within a predetermined fabricated space which she had no hand in. Snow’s usual practice of framing the work in self-fabricated environments had to be given up this time around; the architecture became a museum of sorts for the artist to display in; I assume a leap of fate for the artist? Whether serendipity or good planning, Snow’s work intentionally highlighted the ‘hollow’ nature of art display, which her own practice plays with, and put at the forefront, the Unbuilding architecture, which also functions as a false arena to the overly civically minded architecture of the art centre.

Bruce Nauman, Self Portrait as a Fountain, 1966–67, from Eleven Color Photographs, 1970. Chromogenic print, Image here

The questions that I am left with centre around history and the mimesis that follows in language and form. Should history be represented as fact in all its marble purity, or as the fiction/ fact that Snow articulates in her installations? Other artists, such as Richard Prince and Bruce Nauman, could be seen as meditators on the ‘fake’; the latter’s ‘Self-Portrait as a fountain’ single handedly evokes the path that Snow is taking. Could we term these artists as ‘Baroque’, the superficially flamboyant ‘Lie’ that followed Renaissance ‘Truth’? Or is ‘Truth’ really truth, or just a hollowed-out statue?

James Merrigan is an artist

Works cited

[1]   Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Trans. Sean Hand, Continuum books, 1999, p 91

[2]   Jacques Derrida, Geoffrey Bennington, University Of Chicago Press, June 15, 1999.

[3]   Inventaire des œuvres démembrées: Artist Statement here

[4]   Deleuze, op.cit., p 83


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Written by James Merrigan

October 12, 2010 at 1:10 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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