Virus: Elegy, 1999. Acrylic on canvas. 240cm x 100cm
The word Elegy painted in antique script sits assertively in the viewer’s line of vision, horizontally across a white canvas. Behind its monolithic presence are what appear to be randomly floating, multicoloured letters. The disfiguring and transfiguring of a text becomes a deliberate act of designification; a staged disappearance of both language and meaning, an acknowledgement that logos is inadequate to describe the unknowable and unnameable, those voided states that rest under the sign of death. By cancelling the legibility of text, a space is opened for the immediacy – and pleasure – of the visual, and for the possibility of renewal beyond the constraints of language. For it is from the interstices between words that new possibilities and meanings might rise phoenix-like from the ashes of the dreams of modernity. ln fact, the word ‘elegy’ comes from the frontispiece of the first edition of Gray’s famous Elegy in a Country Church Yard. The smaller letters mix the partially erased names of Morleys killed in the Somme and listed as missing in the Thiepval Commonwealth Cemetery, together with letters from the last page of Samuel Beckett’s The Unnameable.
As Philippa Berry has argued, “the void is precisely the space which is created by the crisis of the master’s discourse.” In terms of painting, the pioneers of abstraction such as Mondrian and Rothko ‘disfigured’ painting in order to create new spatialities which reflect the fact that “the subject of the modern era is not founded but foundering”, and inhabits a space that can best be defined as “a space of mediation: that is, a place of articulation between a variety of different versions of space.”
As a sign, the word Elegy reverberates with melancholy and loss forthe utopian dreams of modernism, for the death of a century and the sacrifices of its slaughtered and unnamed, while the fractured text challenges our understanding of the relationship between ‘knowing’ and ‘seeing’. In the resonant space of the chora a nascant beauty is made from the mud of Picardie, the white heat of Hiroshima, the blood of Auschwitz and Kosovo. A space opens and the next millennium unfolds…
Content and Texts © Sue Hubbard 1999
Image © Simon Morley 1999