Art Catalogues

Peter Griffin

Peter Griffin Massacre 1999
Massacre, 1999. Oil, pigment and collage on canvas. 90cm x 107cm.
The memory of you emerges from the night around me.
The river mingles its stubborn lament with the sea.

Pablo Neruda

The poetic impulse is closely allied with the notion of the chora, for it is from this liminal space, this space behind language, but expressed through language, that poetry comes. The words “Nobody tried to hide this crime, this crime was committed in the middle of the plaza”, sit like a propagandist poster attached to a wall. They have been cancelled with a large slash. The words apply to the period when Chile was held in the grip of dictatorship.

A chance meeting at a dinner in Home with the lawyer of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda led Griffin to begin his project of paintings reflecting the poet”s work. But the artist does not illustrate Neruda”s visceral texts but rather creates visual equivalents; metaphorical images that reveal themselves slowly just as the poems disclose their layers of meaning upon re-reading. In this painting, the colour is applied in thin layers, usually dripped on or applied loosely with a cloth so that each successive layer reveals the ones underneath. The pigment is applied at different points in the layering and the result has been to create a sense of something temporal yet simultaneously with a sense of stillness. The surface both reveals and conceals the forms, thus inviting an almost meditative contemplation.

In Massacre the plaza becomes a metaphor for the public conscience – for how people notice things but are not prepared or are too afraid to intervene. The collage fragments, spaced across the picture plane, can be read, therefore, both as signifiers of individual memory or as elements of physical reality (that is a limb or a piece of clothing left scattered on the ground or exposed through the earth).

The plaza too, by accident of history, becomes the equivalent of a feminine space. For it was here that the mothers ofthe “Disappeared” stood in silent protest for their lost children. The plaza, thus becomes an image both of primal (or pre-linguistic utterance) and of a subversion of the dominant “official” mode of language and discourse. Through this alliance with the body the chora not only exemplifies a state of “becoming” and “process”, but is connected with the death-drive so that it becomes not simply a place that examines a state of before but also a state of after. lt is also a place where maternal love is displayed, and as Kristeva has written, this love “is a love which is produced via that dissolution of subjectivity, of the boundaries between self and other, which the semiotic chora promotes.”

Content and Texts © Sue Hubbard 1999

Image © Peter Griffin 1999

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