The transmission and reception of information and the ability (or lack thereof) of a material to mediate between these two poles is central to my practice as an artist. Paint’s mercurial ability, for instance, to flip between dumb, intractable ‘stuff’ and fleet-footed carrier of image initially provided the impetus and means through which I could explore the relational complexities of object and image, the real and the mediated, the physical and the intangible, language and image, language and sound.
Solo exhibition The Death of Lady Mondegreen (2015) at The Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow, takes the idea of mishearing or mistranslation as a starting point for an assemblage of works that tease at creating echoes and suggestions of form and meaning. Utilising a variety of forms, motifs , textures and processes that have appeared previously in my practice and through a process of composition, veiling and revealing, a fictive space is suggested – the stage-like space where the dramatic tussle of language to form or discern meaning takes place.
The exhibition’s title references a 1954 essay by Sylvia Wright in Harper’s Magazine in which she coined the term ‘mondegreen’, (the mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase in a song or poem in a way that gives rise to a new meaning). Wright recalled the deep effect made on her as a child by hearing one particular verse of the Scots ballad ‘The Bonnie Earl o’ Moray’:
‘Ye Hielands an ye Lowlands, o, whaur hae ye been? /They hae slain the Earl o’ Moray and lain him on the green.’
She misheard the final line as “they have slain the Earl o’ Moray, and Lady Mondegreen” and proceeded to imagine the most vivid scene of tragedy and loss: ‘I saw it all clearly. The Earl… was lying in a forest clearing with an arrow in his heart. Lady Mondegreen lay at his side. She wore a dark green dress embroidered with light green leaves outlined in gold. It had a low neck trimmed with lace. An arrow had pierced her throat: from it blood trickled over the lace. Sunlight coming through the leaves made dappled shadows on her cheeks and her closed eyelids. She was holding the Earl’s hand’. The fictive space that Wright’s mishearing opened was snapped shut years later upon hearing the line as it really is – her vivid depiction only ever having existed in the realm of the imaginary.
The materials and processes at play in the first two rooms stress a pronounced interest in the physicality of information. Both the delicate, ‘barely there’ toner prints on paper and the large, crude, black casts of concrete objects (themselves originating from flat typographic sources) function as shadows, traces or phantoms and imply a journey from source to copy where something may inevitably be lost , gained or redefined along the way. The use of fine ink-dipped translucent fabric, cut, stretched, bunched or hanging loose and curtain-like, similarly invites the viewer to think about physical weight and presence. A game of conceal and reveal takes place, with the seductive marbling of the ink pattern vying with the moiré patterns that arise from the layering of the fabric’s mesh. These notes of sensuality and theatrical artifice are perhaps nods to the fictitious Lady of the title, or could simply be an acknowledgement of the role aesthetics plays in systems of communication.
Similarly, the film ‘Broadcast Rites’ which plays in the third room deals with issues to do with the transmission, reception and physicality of information as well as its modes of presentation. Disjunctures in time and space are evinced by references to a ‘break’ or ‘cut’ throughout; also a reference to the most basic cinematic device, the cut of the editor. The film’s two characters – a mid-twentieth century broadcast announcer and an ancient Greek slave messenger who appears intermittently and ghost-like – seem completely incongruous in the same space and time. However, as the announcer slips in and out of his role and the pace becomes more and more dream-like, a connecting thread becomes apparent between the two. The film’s soundtrack is a key structural device and, like the work in the first two rooms (where motifs and forms from the film are obliquely echoed), beats out a kind of metered journey of encounter.
The wall-based and sculptural works in solo exhibition As Long as the Signal Is… (2013) suggest a kind of private, highly refined, semaphore-like system of language. Through the use of ink-dipped diaphanous fabrics, text, cast concrete and ‘barely-there’ toner transfer prints, the physically weighty object or highly-considered compositional decision rubs shoulders with material slightness and off-the-cuff marks and gestures, suggesting a sort of night-time space of hesitancy and indeterminacy, like a nocturnal radio-listening session – the barely-tuned-in signal veiled in static and confused in half-sleep.
In the midst of another solo exhibition, Chinagraph Spill Cracked Oil Cracked Oil (2012), are placed a group of toner transfer prints of images drawn from the early days of broadcasting showing performers’ hands clutching scripts during rehearsal, performance or recording. Around these are constructed – as if in response to these ‘prompts’ – tableaux of objects and images which seem to suggest a playful and highly theatrical altercation between language, image and object: a mise-en-scène that could perhaps have formed the stage set for a group of stumbling and stuttering characters in some mid-twentieth century absurdist drama.