INTERSTITIAL INTIMACY: analysis in proximity
inside out: Sarah Crawley and William Eakin
February 24 – March 18, 1995
a response to the exhibition by Sigrid Dahle
“Private and public, past and present, the psyche and the social develop an interstitial intimacy. It is an intimacy that questions binary divisions through which such spheres of social experience are often spatially opposed. These spheres of life are linked through an ‘in between’ temporality that takes the measure of dwelling at home, while producing an image of the world of history. This is the moment of aesthetic distance that provides the narrative with a double edge which…represents a hybridity, a difference ‘within’, a subject that inhabits the rim of an ‘in-between’ reality. And the inscription of this borderline existence inhabits a stillness of time and a strangeness of framing that creates the discursive ‘image’ at the crossroads of history and literature, bridging the home and the world.” 1
Punctum: The Ties that Bind: 2
I remember a childhood game:
a fistful of wooden sticks, similar to kabob skewers, are haphazardly tossed onto the floor. I don’t recall what happens next, the why and how of the game’s unfolding, the official rules and regulations. I do know that an image of crisscrossing multi-colored sticks scattered on beige carpet is fixed in my memory as is the intensity with which I gaze on the point where the sticks intersect: the place where ‘stuff happens’.
(The image standing in for what can’t be captured because it’s forever on the move. Symbolization as oxymoronic: bracketing the [in]substantive: the dynamic that is life lived through the duration of time)
The tantalizing im)(possibility of teasing out, naming, representing and interpreting such junctures (to ‘pause’ along the way); how to hold for the purposes of reflection and analysis, without stilling unto death, the electrically charged ‘moments’ when trajectories – subjectivities, histories, personal narratives, ideologies and desires – yours, mine and ours – collide, collude, contaminate, constrict and cosy up to one another? How to make manifest, by way of exhibitions and texts, the generative effects, potent(ial) implications and ethical conundrums of this invisible but palpable energy, this ‘space’ in-between?
It’s not often that a cultural producer –
especially a curator of contemporary art – is granted an opportunity to speak to a project completed four years earlier. Precedence and protocol (as well as careerism and institutional survival) have come to privilege more immediate responses from curators and art writers. Catalogue essays are usually published alongside the actual exhibition and magazine reviews are usually released shortly thereafter. (There’s such a dearth of interpretive templates, she whispered.) After all, isn’t a text which purports to address’ contemporary art issues’ oxymoronic when published far after the exhibition event? What might be learned from the pleasures of mulling over an exhibition across and through a luxuriously extended stretch of time; from speaking back to an experience which survives as a memory that’s been decathected 3 by the dribble of time’s relentless melt?
Proximity, distance and the implications of privileging particular vantage points; the relationships between destruction, construction and deconstruction; the ethics of interpretation, representation and presentation: these are some of the ideas I grappled with between September 1994 and August 1995 while curator-in-residence at Ace Art. During that time, I researched four exhibitions – three were presented at Ace Art 4; a fourth 5 opened at the St. Norbert Arts and Cultural Centre 18 months later. Today, now, in this moment (which has long since passed as you read this text), I want to look back from here to there and re-present inside out: William Eakin and Sarah Crawley and still life: Aganetha Dyck and Karen Thornton from my (curator’s) point of view.
Pre-Text: Betwixt and Between
Once upon a time, in
the recent past, Ace Art was on the cusp of an identity change: a transformation precipitated in part by an anxiety-suffused issue which surfaces from time to time in Winnipeg’s visual art community – a version of ‘them and us’ (Why always the same interpretive templates? she wondered.) articulated in terms of a generational divide: emerging artists/senior artists, locally/internationally based practices, disenfranchised/privileged artists. Fear and envy aroused by ever-diminishing resources. Ace Art playing both ends towards the middle: which vantage point to privilege in its programming – the work of emerging artists only, or contemporary art in general (the latter could interpreted by some as a shift in support to senior cultural workers and their practices)?
Always the pressure to name and identify one’s fears, hopes and desires within the given frames of reference, to take up this position or that. Are you (on) one (side) or the other? (There’s such a dearth of interpretive templates, she lamented.)
Hence Affinities 6, a series of two-person exhibitions in which an emerging artist was paired with an established artist.
“Get those trajectories crossing and crisscrossing,” I thought to myself, “instead of running parallel (two solitudes that never meet), one on top of another (submission and dominance) or in orderly sequence, one after another, each politely stepping into the time-light in turn (Oedipal rivalry – Canadian style). Why always one (position, site, vantage point, subjectivity, practice) ahead or behind, instead of – to the exclusion of – the other?”
The first <
myths of origin:
authorization in the name of tradition:
a desire for stasis and certainty.
(There can only be one
master narrative, they opined.)
myths of discovery, progress
a desire for change and disruption at any cost.
(They aspired to proceed
oblivious of precedents and contexts.)
Whatever your allegiances, no matter where you situate yourself or perceive you’ve been positioned, the structure remains the same: space mapped onto time as the arbiter of value; monocular perspective as a spatial metaphor for a system through which we position/value ourselves and one another in terms of our proximity to a single, ever-vanishing point (ideal to which we all aspire), a certainty towards which we must inevitably move, as in a trance: hope and desire symbolized as the one and only light at the end of the tunnel. [pecking order]
(She decided to move – towards analyzing interpretive templates.)
Eying one another from a distance a/cross to bear the space between, a sidelong glance (forgetting) no matter where we move from (remembering) this present moment, this planet place, (life lived), connects us, ever so tentatively, so abstractly, one to another the verisimilitude of simultaneity.
(The present as ‘fixed point’ is oxymoronic)
Why not name and symbolize, make manifest and present publicly the dynamic between points of departure? Why not expropriate this energy, rather than deny or repress its effects (the explosiveness of hypercathexis)? Why not consider the interpersonal, social, political and ethical implications of so ripe, so rife (so living) a(n) (im)possibility? [the acrid stink of chicken shit]
Sub-text: Living the Binary
I was born a twin on July 13,
1955 in Regina, Saskatchewan. My mother was born a twin. Twin sisters were born to my father’s mother.
And then I read what Alexander Pilis wrote:
“Applying the parallax theorem as an ideological and critical position we can locate, examine, and begin to understand with greater accuracy inaccessible issues which are not apparent within monocular perspective, which anchors its authority in the growth of ideal, utopic or central beliefs. Issues developed by the parallax method become democratized by diverse differences in positioning the dislocation of the central authoritarian posture characteristic of the monocular system, thus speaking of its failure and shifting its authority.” 7
From other sites others spoke; a conversation ensued: “…to describe or locate a particular object using two different vectors emanating from two points of view. It is hoped that these vectors will, in spite of their difference of approach, intersect, if only momentarily at an aspect of the object just long enough to form a consensus. The consensus will be our fixed point, our utopian moment of truth.” 8 .
the doorway as metonym
for liminality 10
an intermediate zone 9
interstitial intimacy 11
“The two-person show illustrates a Saussurian law of linguistics – things are not defined absolutely in themselves, but are defined in relation to other things.”12
Symbolization and Its Discontents 13
…a position rooted in the hyphen… 14
“…challenging us to see beyond the inside or outside of a situation and instead to consider the places in between – the often
invisible boundaries that mark our differences.” 15 “I have never been interested in
things that are fixed – experiences that are static. I’m not interested in making a painting that has only one read. 16
Interstitial Spaces 17
“If you hold a generous personal definition of ‘collaboration’, – as I do – ….” 18
“The oculus of the church, which was once the Rosewood Window before burning, and is now the one eye, the lens and the ora, remains in one fixed position. The sun moves in relation to the oculus and, on one day a year near Christmas time, arrives at a position that locates it exactly within the oculus. Although the oculus seems to be the one, singular eye of the church, the word ‘oculus’ in fact means compound eye.
Beneath the oculus is a large doorway and across this doorway there is a barrier railing constructed by the monks. At the time of the monks’ occupation, women could look through the doorway but could not pass through the barrier.
At the point of the retina, the visual entrance and exit of the body, and at the point of the ocula of the church, there is an invisible membrane which delineates the point of passage between inside and outside. This is a barrier that those on each side can see through. It is the locus, the focal point through which both sides must look but cannot pass. It is the point from which each side must regard the other. This point remains fixed. Those looking through it can change their perspective by moving across it. Richard Perron tells me that when he was little his mother brought him to this church. The monks took him across the barrier to their side, where they sat on two long benches facing each other and chanted. Their chanting was awe-inspiring. On the other side of the railing the women, his mother, crowded together and watched.
To Richard, which is the outside and which is the inside? To Richard’s mother – the railing, the frame, the pane of glass, the membrane. From where Richard sits, it is he who is the window, the locus of two co-existent worlds. Richard is the mirror.
Over the church doorway, the invisible membrane, is carved IN LOCO PASCUAE: To the Pastures. The other side of the Looking Glass where, of course, everything seems backwards – if you’re not originally from there. It depends where you are looking. From. It depends where you are. From.” 19
<><> From you to I to you >> << from you to me to I to you > < from artwork to artwork < > from artists to objects found and re-presented by you and you <<< ><> from theories to theorists read and altered by me and you < > from me to you > < from you to me <<>> from curators to artworks >< from artists to artists >> << from this practice to that one <>< >>> between exhibitions >< from artworks to audiences >> > < <<< between bodies of work and the spaces they inhabit. The parallaxes breed and multiply, tripping and spilling over one another; trajectories crisscross this way and that, generating ever more representations and interpretations (nowhere an endpoint in sight): a basket of hairballs bouncing off and against one another, as dense and tangled as hornets' nests whose "position, momentum, or other parameters" cannot be meaningfully spoken of, except as results of measurements; measuring, however, involves an interaction...which must disturb the particle..." 20
(Then why are interpretive templates so tenacious, so resistant to dislocation? She was disturbed.)
Recalcitrance Makes Real
I watch my daughter, Emma,
not yet two, manipulate her orange bear, ‘Poobie’. It’s half as big as her, and yet she tries with all her might to stuff the bear into the pocket of my overalls. He’s too big and the pocket’s too small: her desire to make meaning by way of this installation comes up against the limits of her media and imagination. Frustration ensues. To accomplish her goal, Poobie would have to be hacked into bits or compressed into a sodden little ball – a transformation whose effects would counter her intentions (to nestle Poobie and all he represents into the safety of Mama’s bosom). A precarious compromise is reached. For now, only Poobie’s feet are tucked in, secure; the rest of him sways and dangles perilously.
“… in the state of fusion itself, no learning of any kind is possible, since there is nothing to learn. There are no differences between thought and reality, wish and fulfillment, self and other. The only ‘wisdom’ to be found here is that of fools, or tyrants.” 21 “Parallax is particularly effective as an observation method for singular objects where the depth of field has collapsed or a singular position of observation is impossible because the object has filled the frame of reference.” 22
Pushing buttons isn’t hard to do
Appropriating the title of Rembrandt’s Night Watch, 1642 to entitle your own work: acknowledgment of his indisputable place in the canon of western art history. Cutting up a photocopy of Rembrandt’s Night Watch, 1642: no more contentious than using a page of the Winnipeg Free Press to line your chicken cage. Hack away at Rembrandt’s painting, Night Watch, 1642, during your next visit to the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam – that’s another matter altogether.
Begging the question: is the degree to which media (materials, objects, images, theories, technologies) are cathected (are socially and politically ‘invested’) a characteristic or quality of the media in the same way that beeswax is described as viscous, chicken hides as musty, egg shells as fragile, photographs as indexical? Can the meaning or relative value (the nature or quality of the investment) attached to a found object or practice (is there any other kind?) be extricated from the ‘matter’ that an artist disturbs?
Bombshell: artists as physicists of desire.
“…we’ll eat you up – we love you so.” 23
Psychoanalyst Melanie Klein (1882-1960) theorized that all creative activity was spurred by the reparative impulse; the desire to make good for real and imagined damage done to real (actual parents) and imaginary parental imagos (internal objects). The voraciousness with which we, as (“Perhaps post-modernism is infants, both love(d) and hate(d) our to believe that every desire, idea and representation caregivers, the intensity with which is implicated in another’s suffering and disempowerment we both nurture(d) and destroy(ed) …guilt meshed with desire to find pleasure and meaning – in fantasy (“Perhaps post-modernism is to believe that every desire, idea and representation is implicated in another’s suffering and disempowerment …guilt meshed with desire to find pleasure and mieaning for oneself; at whose, what cost, to another?”24 – those on whom we for oneself; at whose, what cost, to another?” 24 depend(ed) so absolutely, accounts for the ambivalence we feel towards ‘matter’ that matters most.
D.W. Winnicott (1896-1971), who adapted Melanie Klein’s theories to construct his own, offers another interpretation of the ‘creative artist’: The artist’s socialization “…obviates the need for guilt feeling and the associated reparative and restitutive activity that forms the basis of ordinary constructive work…Ordinary guilt-ridden people find this bewildering, yet they have a sneaking regard for ruthlessness that does in fact, in such circumstances, achieve more than guilt-driven labour.”25
ruth, n. 1. pity or compassion. 2. sorrow or grief. ruth*less, adj. without pity or compassion; cruel; merciless: a ruthless tyrant.
‘Parallaxically speaking, what could be learned from the dynamic between Klein’s theory and Winnicott’s interpretation of Klein? Could the differences between their positions gesture towards an ethics of representation, especially as regards symbolization with/of what ‘matter(s)’ most?
Between Artist(s) and Subject(ive) Objects
“In the theoretical
dimension of the parallax, the measured space is the distance between what you are expected to see and what you are actually seeing.” 26 Parallax is the distance between Aganetha’s, William’s, Sarah’s, and Karen’s use of apiarian materials and processes, discarded souvenirs and keepsakes, houses, chickens and rocking chairs – and how we expect this ‘matter’ to be re/presented.
Our subjective response to this dislocation (of meaning) reveals our psychic, social, cultural and political investments: what matters most and how it matters – to us.
“And Max said, “No!” 27
To analyze means ‘to separate’ into
parts and involves destruction of a sort.
Too much respect, too much guilt, too much ruth, [STOP] and interpretive templates remain forever intact: a ‘fixed idea’. Cathexis makes an object volatile and easily dislocated; it may also render the object unamenable to the dis/rememberment that is interpretation. Explosives: handle with kid gloves; with (too much) care!
Too little respect, too little guilt, too little ruth, and the object is never ‘found’ (how boring) or construction doesn’t follow close enough on the heels of de(con)struction: the interminable, unproductive ecstasy of bits and pieces flung far and wide. Atomic/bang!
Between Ruth and Less
How to live and symbolize in between
‘ruth’ and ‘less’? Ruth( )less: a potential space vibrating with tensile energy. Ruth*less: a point of condensation, a hornet’s nest of crisscrossing trajectories bristling with anxiety. [ambivalence]
“The intent, when hierarchy is no longer the applied measurement of space, is to reflect and expose our belief systems towards civil responsibility. The monocular system articulates its ordering codes from probabilities, what is possible; the parallax as a tool articulates the discourse of difference and impossibilities.” 28
An Ethics of Curation
A curator’s medium includes, but is not limited to, other artists’ and theorists’ representations. Thus, a curator’s medium is highly cathected: by the artist(s) who produced the work, by the institutions who collect, preserve and/or publish it, by the public who loves/hates/is ambivalent towards it, and by the curator in the process of representing what matters most (to her).
curate: from the Latin, cura: ‘to care’.
Curating between ‘ruth’ and ‘less’ is
oxymoron: Rhet. a figure of speech by
which a locution produces an effect by a seeming self-contradiction, as in ‘cruel kindness‘.
From the Greek oxymoron: ‘pointedly foolish’.
1. Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Cultural Experience (London and New York: Routledge, 1994), p. 13.
2. Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, Richard Howard (trans) (New York: The Noonday Press), 1981, “…punctum is also: sting, speck, cut, little hole – and also a cast of the dice. A photograph¹s punctum is that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me).”, p. 27.
3. “Cathexis: NEOLOGISM invented by Freud’s English translators to translate the German ‘Besetzung’ (lit. ‘investment’) which Freud used to describe the QUANTITY of ENERGY attaching to any OBJECT-REPRESENTATION of mental structure. A cathexis is conceived to be analogous to an electric charge which can shift from one structure except in so far as it becomes bound – or to troops which can be deployed from one position to another. Hence the verbs to cathect, decathect, and hypercathect, the last referring to the defensive maneuver (see DEFENSE) of investing in one process in order to facilitate REPRESSION of another. Hence also withdrawal of cathexis, for the purpose of decathexes. Object-cathexis refers to energy invested in external objects as opposed to the self. Ego and id cathexes are ambiguous; they refer either to cathexes by or of the EGO and ID. Hence also counter-cathexsis, anti-cathexsis: the energy invested in maintaining repression of cathected process. Most statements using the word ‘cathexis’ can be reformulated in terms of ‘interest’, ‘MEANING’, or ‘REALITY’.”, from A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis (New York: Penguin books), 1968.
4. still life (March 24 to April 15, 1995); inside out (February 24 to March 18, 1995); Kay Cherniski: after the gleaners (May 19 to June 10, 1995).
5. me, me, me & me: Doug Melnyk & Larry Glawson, Shirley Brown & Sheila Spence (November 8, 1996 to January 17, 1997).
6. I had hoped that this series would continue, after my residency, with other curators and artists.
7. Alexandre Pilis, “Parallax Snacklunch”, in Architecture Parallax: Snacklunch (based on a symposium held at the St. Norbert Arts and Cultural Centre, September 27 -29,1996), p. 17.
8. Jeanne Randolph and Bernie Miller, “Between de Sade and the Saga” in Architecture Parallax: Snacklunch, p. 97.
9. D.W. Winnicott, Playing and Reality (London and New York: Tavistock/Routledge), 1971, p.105.
10. Louise Willow May, Doorways, presentation at the Architecture Parallax symposium held at the St. Norbert Arts and Cultural Centre, September 27-29, 1996.
11. Homi Bhaba, The Location of Cultural Experience, p. 13.
12. Alison Gillmor, “Objects of Wonder” in Border Crossings (August 1995), p. 22.
13. Jeanne Randolph has produced a significant body of texts and performances that address the psychoanalytic, social, cultural and political implications of ‘the third space’. Her work is collected in two books of essays, Psychoanalysis and Synchronized Swimming and Other Essays (Toronto: YYZ books), 1991 and Symbolization and Its Discontents (Toronto: YYZ books), 1997. See also “Theory as Praxis” in The Critics Series: Transcripts of the Dalhousie Art Gallery 1997/8 Lectures (Halifax: The Dalhousie Art Gallery), 1998.
14. Roberto Bedoya, “Between the I’s” in Architecture Parallax: Snacklunch, p. 67.
15. Joan Borsa, Anna Harbuz: Inside Community Outside Convention (Regina: Dunlop Art Gallery),1997, p. 20.
16. Diane Whitehouse, artist’s statement in the exhibition catalogue A Multiplicity of Voices: Work by Manitoba Women Artists (Winnipeg: Gallery 1.1.1., School of Art, University of Manitoba), 1987, p. 30; curated by Sigrid Dahle.
17. The name of a series of interactive installations by Winnipeg artist Reva Stone, the first of which was completed in 1995.
18. Doug Melnyk, Critical Distance (Volume 1 #3); a response to still life: Aganetha Dyck & Karen Thornton (Winnipeg: Ace Art), 1995.
19. Susan Chafe, untitled, in Architecture PARALLAX Workshop publication (St. Norbert: St. Norbert Arts and Cultural Centre), October 1995. Susan has also produced an ongoing body of work in which lenses coupled with found lantern slides are installed in windows at various sites.
20. uncertainty principle or indeterminacy principle in Dictionary of Ideas (Oxford: Helicon Publishing Ltd.),1994 & 1995.
21. Barry Richards, Images of Freud (New York: St. Martin’s Press), 1989, p. 38.
22. Alexandre Pilis, “Parallax Snacklunch”, p. 16.
23. Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are (Harper Collins Publishers), First Harper trophy edition, 1984.
24. author unknown, found text.
25. quoted by Adam Phillips, On Kissing, Tickling and Being Bored (Cambridge: Harvard University Press), 1993, pp. 36-37.
26. Alexander Pilis, “Parallax Snacklunch”, p. 16.
27. Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are.
28. Alexander Pilis, “Parallax Snacklunch”, p. 17.