Helen Sear

Art Catalogues

Helen Sear Unnamed (top panel) 1999
Unnamed (top panel), 1999. Digital print onto photographic paper. 73.5cm x 75.5cm
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns to shapes, and gives to aery nothing
A local habitation and a name …

Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, V,l

ln her essay “ln the cave of the Enchantress”, from From the Beast to the Blond, Marina Warner tells of how with the coming of Christianity in Southern italy, the Sibyl had to flee her ancient cave in Cumae below the temple of Apollo, from where for hundreds of years she had made her oracular pronouncements, to find refuge in what became known as the Grotta della Sibilla, in the Umbrian mountains. Interestingly, as well as predicting the future, the Sibyl is also credited by some sources with the invention of the western alphabet – the essence of written language. But more obviously, she has been associated with the chthonic source from which truth and utterance are derived, inhabiting the dark recesses of a cave, a seductive feminine space that is also potentially lethal. Warner recounts how Antoine de la Sale, tutor to the son of Louis lll, King of Sicily, travelled to Monte Vettore in search of the Sibilline Cave. He found the entrance “shaped like a pointed shield” which he was forced to enter on all fours. Inside was a corridor running deep into the mountain, with crystal doors and fiery dragons, all “very horrid and marvellous.” The metaphor of the primal void embodying all signification and all meaning is, as it was for Odysseus, endlessly trying to return home from his travels, a desire for regression to a place of safety: the paradisal womb.

Earlier work by Helen Sear addressed these themes directly, but they are also embedded more elliptically in her new work made for CHORA. In her photographic-installation of a house in a forest arrived at by a grassy flower-strewn bank, she plays with a number of these associations. A tension is set up between the Dionysian and the Apollonian, between images of the “feminine” chthonic wilderness and, by implicit contrast, the “male” culture and language. In the leaning photograph which is placed directly against the base of the image of the house, she depicts a verdant forest floor. The Primulas glow with an unearthly, almost radioactive light on the matt surface. This slope, like Oberon’s “bank whereon the wild thyme blows, where oxlips and nodding violets grow”, is a place of potential seduction, disarming and leading the viewer towards the mysterious “house”, in the upper photograph (illustrated opposite). Glossy and beguiling, the incidental intrusions into this image of the observer’s own reflection serves only to personalise rather than universalise the experience of looking. We are lured, as to the Sybyl’s cave, towards the potential of meaning, towards the disclosure of the sacred and arcane. But a thicket – that traditional metaphor for the unconscious and the dark irrational forces of the ld- holds us off from this idealised fairy-tale cottage.

The house both seduces and beckons, but then frustrates. We are left uncertain whether it is a place of danger, as was the gingerbread house of Hansel and Gretel, or a place of refuge – a nest or womb. For the windowless space ultimately denies us access. Paradise, we are reminded, cannot so easily be regained.

Content and Texts © Sue Hubbard 1999

Image © Helen Sear 1999

Martin Richman

Art Catalogues

Martin Richman Day in Day Out 1999
Day in Day Out, 1999. Glass, light, gel, card, timers and cells. 120cm tall, 30cm x 40cm wide
I say Mother And my thoughts are of you, oh House.
House of the lovely dark summers of my childhood.

O. V. de Milosz

A small glass house stands in isolation on a cardboard plinth. Periodically it appears to light up spontaneously from inside. lt is at once doll’s house, greenhouse, and skyscraper. The viewer is both seduced and frustrated by this tiny jewel-like building. For there is no point of entry. It is sealed; both void and vacuum. instinctively we move up closer and peer in, triggering the light by our proximity. The walls dissolve into an infinite regression and intuitively we realise that we have come up against what the French poet Paul Eluard called in his poem Les Yeux Ferti/es, “The solemn geographies of human limits”.

Outside and inside form a dialectical division. This geometry has what Gaston Bachelard calls “the sharpness of the dialectics of yes and no,” and touches on the fundamental issues of being and non-being. Bachelard observes that the “coexistence of things in a space to which we add consciousness of our existence is a very concrete thing.” Implicit in this analysis is the image of the body as physical membrane, which on the outside connects us to a phenomenological existence, whilst on the inside forms an intimate place determined by our psychic reality.

The house is a highly evocative image. As the poet Milosz suggests, it unites the maternal and the spatial. Like the womb it is a place of safety and refuge -for it is a space that is not outside. As Bachelard claims: “Come what may, the house helps us to say: l will be an inhabitant of the world, in spite of the world.” Despite its architectural solidity, the house is a site of daydreams, of intimacy, warmth and memory. lt is both armour and heartbeat, fortification and nest.

Flooded in ambient light, Richman’s iconic form becomes an object onto which to project our unobtainable desires. For it invites yet denies access. lnculcated with the virtues of protection from actual and psychological storms, the house acquires the physical and moral energy of the protective maternal body. ln so doing it denotes the utopia to which we long to return, the prelinguistic space from which we are cast into the world. Thus Richman’s work exemplifies in its physical presence both the Platonic notion of chora as an ambiguous space between eternal idea and material copy, a space in which all meaning is possible, a space of “becoming”, as well as Kristeva’s use of the term as a “feminine” or maternal space.

Content and Texts © Sue Hubbard 1999

Image © Martin Richman 1999

Jane Mulfinger

Art Catalogues

Jane Mulfinger No Vacancy 1991
No Vacancy, 1991. Glass, paint, light, etched spectacles. Dimensions variable
Presentiment – is that long Shadow – on the Lawn –
Indicative that Suns go down –

That notice to the startled Grass
That Darkness – is about to pass –

Emily Dickenson

Of all the senses our eyes are most directly linked to our brains, being extensions of the cerebellum. To be blinded in Oedipus’ case was not only to lose a physical faculty, but also to be punished for lack of ‘insight’. Conversely, for Tiresias with his “wrinkled dugs”, who as T.S. Eliot puts it, “sat by Thebes below the wall”, loosing the physical sense of sight was compensated for by the gaining of a visionary sixth sense.

In much of her work Jane Mulfinger has used a multiplicity of signs – Morse code, musical notation, Braille – to explore our relationship not only to the visible and tactile world but also to language. Her metaphysical works encode a multiplicity of metaphoric resonances that reach beyond the formal problems of parole and langue, of image and text, sign and meaning.

In No Vacancy she has etched the text from Philip Larkin’s poem Old Fools backwards and inside out onto the lenses of second-hand spectacles. Through these discarded objects a physical sense of absence is evoked of the one-time wearer, so that we are encouraged to ask questions about how memory is created and internalised, how we “know” things and negotiate our relationship between our internal desires and the external world. The spectacles focus attention not only on the physical act of looking but also on the distinction between ‘seeing’, ‘vision’, and ‘illumination’. Mulfinger quotes Edmund Burke: “Extreme light, by overcoming the organs of sight, obliterates all objects, so as in its effect exactly to resemble darkness”. The image thus paradoxically becomes one not of ‘impaired’, but of ‘heightened’ or ‘internalised’ vision, where notions of clarification and obfuscation, revelation and concealment, become ellded. Boundaries between the viewer and the viewed, between subject and object are also blurred. The fact that the text is difficult and obscure to read erases its status as linguistic sign, lifting it into the realm of the symbolic.

In the western tradition of art the presence of light has often denoted a sense of mystery and awe, and the halogen light directed onto the red ground behind the spectacles evokes a sense of philosophical meditation on the visionary. While the discarded objects signify as both memento mori, and (within this culture where there is so little opportunity to mourn) like seventeenth century vanitas paintings, a stark reminder of death. Through this disruption of our conventional reading of linguistic sign and syntax, Mulfinger opens an anterior space where meanings and resonances may be heard.

Content and Texts © Sue Hubbard 1999

Image © Jane Mulfinger 1999

Paul Morrison

Art Catalogues

Paul Morrison Heath 1997
Heath, 1997. Acrylic on canvas. 122cm x 183cm
We cannot bear connection. That is our malady We must break away and be isolate. We call that
being freed, being individual. Beyond a certain point, which we have reached, it is suicide.
 D. H. Lawrence

Paul Morrison’s paintings bring to mind such different artists as Bridget Riley, Patrick Caulfield, and even Caspar David Friedrich and the Romantic landscape topos. But his bold graphic cartoon-like black and white works also owe their look as much to advertising and pop design. They are a promiscuous mix of styles, high and low.

For the Romantics, landscape offered the viewer a pantheistic fusion with the “real”. Nature stood for all that was untrammelled by civilisation -the unmediated “other”, the untamed ld. Emerson, for example, felt able to write: “The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister, is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and vegetable.” While Thoreau could claim without any self-consciousness or irony: “Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature itself.”

Times have changed. Technology has shifted the balance, and led to a realignment of consciousness away from Nature and toward Culture. In relation to art, as Leo Steinberg wrote as early as 1968: “The pictures of the last fifteen to twenty years insist on a radically new orientation, in which the painted surface is no longer the analogue of a visual experience of nature but of operational processes.” So what Morrison has to offer has little to do with Nature. Rather his work is about the way in which cultural codes invade the space of innocent reverie. They are thus about impossibility and frustration. These are landscapes from the end of history; graphic images where nothing “real” could live or flourish. They are resonant with a sense of loss which implicitly acknowledges that we live in an age where any dream of holistic unity must be perceived as coming not from outside culture but from within it.

The three-barred gate of Heath frustrates our entrance into the apparently Arcadian space on the other side. We cannot enter, but even if we could, nothing would change. The trees make no pretence at reality. The “placeless place” of the chora is here envisaged as knitted together from the debased codes of an atrophied culture. As if through a rearranging and subtle unravelling ofthe vacant simulacrum of postmodernity there is the possibility of fulfilling our deepest human impulses for some kind of connectedness.

Content and Texts © Sue Hubbard 1999

Image © Paul Morrison 1999

Simon Morley

Art Catalogues

Simon Morley Virus: Elegy 1999
Virus: Elegy, 1999. Acrylic on canvas. 240cm x 100cm
Something … might be found in the between that occurs in being, or perhaps beings. These gaps reopen the question ofthe void.”
Luce lrigarary

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

Peter Griffin

Art Catalogues

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

Tim Davies

Art Catalogues

Tim Davies Parallax 1999
Parallax, 1999. Blankets. Dimensions variable
They were irreplaceable and forgettable,
Inhabitants of the parish and speakers
Of the Welsh tongue.
l looked on and
There was one less and one less and one less.

R. S. Thomas

Dispossession and reclamation are the themes of Tim Davies’ work. As an English-speaking Welshman, his material – feathers, nails, coal, wood, tar, and blanket- are filled with resonances of the unnamed lives of those in agricultural and industrial toil on the narrow Pembroke peninsula where he grew up.

Language and notions of cultural identity are inseparable. The loss of the mother tongue is a form of ethnic and social displacement. Its repression represents a severance from the maternal body, the place of self-definition and autonomous individuation. Even at the beginning of this century Welsh school children could be slapped across the knuckles if they reverted to their native speech. To use the Welsh language was viewed as politically and culturally subversive, linking a people to the corpus of their history and mythology. Davies’ work is elegaic; creating ritualised forms of mourning, laments for a culture that has been silenced and marginalised.Through its control of written language the Christian Church forced the earlier, pantheistic Paganism of the Druids – whose rituals and sacred memories were confined only to memory – to become subsumed within the dominant culture. Yet linguistic scholars have shown that oral formulae lingered on hidden beneath the weight of Roman script. The dominant invasive language can, therefore, here be seen as ‘male’, and the subsumed lost language as ‘feminised’ and chthonic.

Blanket has grown to be the primary material for Davies. Found largely in charity shops, he starches the natural wool without cleaning them so that the accretions of the blankets’ history -the stains and embedded public hair – remain. A symbol, as it was for Beuys, of (maternal) protection and warmth, blankets act as the blank page onto which Davies burns his texts recording a nation’s lost history. (This also references, among other things, the Welsh Nationalists’ anarchic burning of English holiday homes). The gesture is a powerful one that unveils silenced signs and returns them to the semiotic whilst also paying homage to the alchemical transformations of artists such as Beuys, Kounellis and Eva Hesse.

For CHORA, Davies has made Stack from pillars of blankets laid on the floor in a grid that references the rigorous formalism of modernist art. The tabula rasa of blank ‘pages’ or ‘leaves’ await the text not only of their lost histories, but also of new narratives.

Content and Texts © Sue Hubbard 1999

Image © Tim Davies 1999

Susan Hiller

Art Catalogues

Susan Hiller Study for Alphabets I 1999
Study for Alphabets I, 1999. C-Type photography on Agfa lustre. 73.5cm x 50.5cm

For writing to be manifest in its truth … it must be illegible.
Roland Barthes

Susan Hiller’s works in CHORA are a kind of writing which appears to have some relationship with calligraphy. But the connection is allusive rather than imitative, for it is not rooted in form, but rather in gesture, creating what she has called “patterned utterance”. These luminous “graphisms” (as Barthes calls such words, in writing on the work of Cy Twombly), seem to resemble delicate Chinese ideograms or Arabic script. Yet this is not their ‘essence’. For, according to Barthes: “The essence of an object has some relation with its destruction.” For Hiller, the genesis of this ‘destruction’ or automatism was originally a way of escaping from the hierarchies of a male language system to a more feminine’ one, an open system, which she has denoted as being characterised by “fruitful incoherence”.

Without creating a false binary opposition between the Apollonian and the Dlonysian, Hiller, as did the Surrealists, uses her flowing marks to create a direct link with the unconscious. Like waking or breathing, they create their own rhythm and in so doing deconstruct the act of writing. So though still recognisable, it no longer forms part of a graphic code. Neither is it simply ‘childish’; for as Barthes states, a child strives in writing to join the code of grown-ups, whereas Hiller draws away from it, from defunct and essentially ‘male’ cultural forms.

What she has created are “conductors of graphic energy”, signs identifiable by line rather than letter. Her delicate marks cannot be reduced to mere communication. As Barthes claimed: “the painter helps us understand that writing’s truth is neither in its messages nor in the system of transmission which constitutes for current meaning but in the hand which presses down and traces a line, i.e. the body which throbs (which takes pleasure).” So that what is communicated is not a rational ‘reckoning’ but something closer to ‘a desire’.

Through the ‘non-signifying’ practice of mark-making we reach towards different spaces that within the discourse of the chora allow for more fluid readings. Meaning becomes not solely dependent on a series of external signs but also on a poetry of internal metaphor- for metaphor itself is an alchemical process of one thing transmuting, that is, giving birth to, another.

Content and Texts © Sue Hubbard 1999

Image © Susan Hiller 1999

Maria Chevska

Art Catalogues

Maria Chevska Mimic 1999
Mimic, 1999. Canvas, paper, kaolin, graphite. 275cm x 168cm
Death is nothing. It is not something. It is a hole. I can fill its phantasms and give it a name, if l want…
Hélène Cixous

For much of her career, Maria Chevska has been blurring the formal boundaries between paintings and sculpture, between text and art object. Materials have been appropriated to explore her concerns; canvas, rubber, plaster, wood, cloth and the paraphernalia of that traditionally female art – needlework. Embedded in the very materiality of her objects, in the interstices between matter and meaning, reside. the revelation of her work’s heart.

Cloth, particularly taffeta, has frequently provided Chevksa with a shimmering screen onto which to project what the French feminist philosopher Helene Cixous has called “Writing the Feminine”. Pulled across the wooden stretcher the taffeta acts as skin and screen, membrane and permeable surface that hints at a sensual, tactile association which is both corporeal and maternal. Yet the embroidered marks that often cover her work, inchoate as the flickering of an electrocardiogram, are not gendered, nor their meanings corralled in the arena of sexual politics, but rather they are a ‘reaching towards’, a striving for possible utterances or for renewal and possibility. This ceaseless, nascent state of ‘becoming’ defies the stasis of death. Cixous has said: “The political gesture of writing consists of pushing back death and its phantasms”. I write, therefore, I am?

Writing in Chevska’s work is not systemised, but an endless form of evolution. It foreground what for the artist is a central aspect of her work: the simple yet essential activity of repetitive and often very physical gestures which go into the paintings’ making, and which are manifest in the final object. A model might be the analysand’s experience of the process of analysis. A journey that ‘strives towards’, rather than arrives at a particular destination. Juxtaposed with the translucent shimmering skin of taffeta, Chevska has also at times permeated and soaked opaque quilting from behind with paint. This seepage evokes, within one resonant metaphor, both the bloodstained bandages of the dead Christ removed from the cross, and the leakage of menstrual blood.

In the Mimic Series, Chevska has employed the shadowy pictograms of Sign Language painted on paper laid over canvas; a white ground traversed by the curving lines of an illegible script. Language is one ofthe most potent symbols of individuation and identity. For as Herman Melville wrote: “Had Milton’s been the lot of Caspar Hauser, Milton would have been vacant as he.” A painting of Signs is an image of silence. Yet it is an ‘active’ silence that like the silence of meditation and prayer simply waits and ‘is’.

Content and Texts © Sue Hubbard 1999

Image © Maria Chevska 1999

Edward Chell

Art Catalogues

Edward Chell Lit-Par-Lit 1999
Lit-Par-Lit, 1999. Oil on Canvas. 194cm x 164cm.
But listen to the voice of the wind
And the ceaseless message that forms itself out of silence.
 Rainer Maria Rilke (trans. Stephen Mitchell)

Edward Chell’s painting, filled with scrapped, erased and degraded marks, becomes a physical metaphor for transformation, for change, for the desire to express that which cannot be expressed. His subtle signs take on the appearance of text, of disrupted poetic syntax or musical notation from some ancient manuscript or fo/io of plain-song. These delicate images stutter, like Demothenese, into disrupted speech, into partial signs and meanings. Whilst they appear to parallel the deconstruction of language, they in fact suggest what Luce lrigaray describes as a “feminlne” difference from masculine models of subjectivity; a difference fundamental to thinking in what lrigaray calls “the vold”.

The underpinning of Chell’s work is in fact references to imaging technology and photography, specifically the relationship between digital and analogue modes. Digital imaging technology codifies information into sets of binaries such as numerical values. These will replicate as a constant, without degradation. Analogue information, on the other hand, degrades in reproduction. This allows for change, evolution and metamorphosis and is, therefore, comparable not only to the process of making art, but also to life itself. This image of evolution stands in opposition to the stasis of death, which unlike the transmutations of life is “set in stone”. For Chell, this is comparable to the way in which Saussure and Derrida speak of grammar as fixed, while speech or slang is seen as mutable and evolving.

ln this sense, then, Chell’s painting engages with notions of reproduction and originality, and his working methods – through which he imposes on himself various limitations – embody an on-going meditation of the relationship between mechanical reproduction and the act of making a unique painting. His images derive from photographs he has taken which have then been photocopied. The degrading of the image continues through the activity of painting in oils from these photocopies. For the series from which the work in CHORA comes, Chell has used a single image from an earlier series, limited himself to a set of five colours – titanium white, zinc white, ultramarine, burnt umber, and Indian yellow – and then proceeded to recreate the “same” work again and again, each one being a variation – a degradation – of the other. It is as though through these changes, something might be revealed, some potential space or state presented.

Content and Texts © Sue Hubbard 1999

Image © Edward Chell 1999

Jane Bustin

Art Catalogues

Jane Bustin Himmelssäure: Heavenacid, 1999
Himmelssäure: Heavenacid, 1999. Oil on linen and silk on wood. 14cm x 84cm
We do not think death, the void, emptiness, Nothingness, but their innumerable metaphors: one way of getting around the unthought.”
Edmond Jabes

The title of Jane Bustin’s painting, Himmelssäure (Heavenacid), is taken from the title of a poem by Paul Celan and comes from a series of paintings collectively called Atemwende (Breathturn), based on the poet’s ‘neologisms’. The paintings are long and narrow, visual equivalents of the word, arranged in diptych format. Each letter occupies 7cm length; hence Himmelssäure is 49cm x 35cm. All the paintings in the series are a constant 14cm high -twice the space of the letter.

The trauma of the Holocaust left the Romanian Jew, Celan, with an ambiguous relationship towards German culture, particularly its language, which he adopted as the vehicle for his poetry. A “language of long shadows”, as he referred to it. His struggle for expression embodied Adorno’s famous sentiment that poetry after Auschwitz was impossible, and Celan described his own poetic enterprise as stillgeworden (becoming silent): an endless battle between the imperative for articulation and the desire for silence. Bustin has become increasingly concerned to erase the ‘mark’ from her recent paintings in much the same way that Celan and Edmond Jabes attempted to remove meaning from behind the word. A convert to Judaism, Bustin, follows the great Jewish mystics in attempting to speak towards the unsayable, to paint towards the unpaintable. (ln the Jewish tradition not only could God not be named directly, but also no representational image was permissible). Through the ritual of painting she encounters the ever-present aspiration to make the ordinary and quotidian sacred.

In her diptych of Giotto blue-green oil on wood, abutted to a panel of pale lemon oil on silk and wood, Bustin has abandoned any trace of the figurative. In this act is an acceptance that the space is not Nothingness, but a void ‘full’ of potential. The darkened edges of the painting, the rim of umber and acid yellow, are the result of this ’emptying out’, of figuration being pushed to the peripheries. The edge becomes the perimeter that contains this pregnant void, the place where two things meet. This pays indirect homage to the mysticism of Barnett Newman, whose heavenly ‘zips’ perform something of the same function. Bustin experiences Newman’s as a predominantly male sensibility, with his ‘zips’ sitting ‘authoritatively’ on the surface. For her, the void to which she alludes is closer to Kristeva’s notion of the chora, a feminine space or receptacle.

In the deeply articulated and expressive luminosity of her translucent green panel that bleeds into the adjacent paler cream space, she speaks of dissolution, which becomes essence, of transmutation that reaches towards connection. This shimmering surface acts as a multi-layered veil that both blocks and reveals half-glimpsed truths and spiritual uncertainties.

Content and Texts © Sue Hubbard 1999

Image © Jane Bustin 1999

Frances Aviva Blane

Art Catalogues

Frances Aviva Blane Drawing 1999
Drawing, 1999. Charcoal on paper. 20cm x 28cm
Plato’s Timxus speaks of a chora, a receptacle, unnameable, improbable, hybrid, anterior to naming, to the One, to the Father and consequently maternally connoted to such an extent that it merits “Not even the rank of syllable.”
Julia Kristeva

Out of silence comes the word. Out of the void comes the mark.

In Frances Aviva Blane’s drawings, meaning is struggled towards through a process of erasure and mark-making. On roughly drawn sheets of Fabriano paper, she scratches, erases, smudges, and rubs out to create traumatised surfaces that embody the history of their own making. The jagged lines, loops, and calligraphic marks (the kinetic rhythms) form edgy accretions. The drawings – autonomous works unrelated to later paintings – become palimpsests that embody the physical struggle, the aesthetic compulsion and inner imperative to express that which the artist herself could not name in any other way. The ‘psychotic’ marks, like those of an autistic child, attempt to make sense of and order an unnameable and mystifying world. If we think in order to know, we ‘write’ in order to understand.

ln her essay Revolution in Poetic language, Julia Kristeva argues that we understand the term semiotic in its Greek sense “as the distinctive mark, trace, index, precursory sign, proof, engraved or written sign, imprint, trace figuration.” This signfiying process, what Freud called the “primary process”, displaces ‘energy’ charges as well as ‘physical’ marks to articulate what she identifies as the chora. It is from this pre-Oedipal locus that the struggle for articulation and meaning comes, the desire for ordering principles and utterances. Plato saw the chora as a nourishing and maternal receptacle, a primal space not yet defined by unifying principles such as a deity. In this paradisal domain meaning has not yet been formed, nor has any distinction been made between the real and the symbolic. The fragmented maternal body, shattered by what Melanie Klein identifies as early infantile rage, has still to be reconstructed through a process of artistic reparation or linguistic signification.

The struggle of Blane’s cursive marks to achieve articulation is the acting out of a personal Gethsemane that leaves behind the physical and tactile traces of the adversarial act. From white erasure, to the shimmering tar-black of dense charcoal and graphite, Blane has created raw and beautiful drawings that embody the desire for expression and meaning.

Content and Texts © Sue Hubbard 1999

Image © Frances Aviva Blane 1999