Parallax, 1999. Blankets. Dimensions variable
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