SUBTEXT with Héloise Bergman Coral Howard Kate Kotcheff
Three contemporary photographers exploring ‘surface’ image,
Presented for Photomonth 2012 at Doomed Gallery
Wednesday Oct 31st -Sunday Nov 4th
Review by Pascal Ancel Bartholdi
I was reading from my favourite book, Mysterium Coniunctionis when I came across a sentence that brought me right back to this somnolent circular film…the stop animation piece by Kate Kotcheff: The Hour Glass Machine. In the book, The Mound is described as a symbol of the ever growing womb of the matrix, and this sounds ambiguous, but the mound is in fact empty, yet alive with the promise of birth, of renewal, and becoming. Adjacent to the idea of a natural promontory lay the monumental construct of a civilisation, the Pyramid. This is no tomb but a catalyst. In effect, as has been established by certain anthropologists, the temple, were it be a Ziggurat in Mesopotamia or the”Khufu’s Pyramid”, this structure is not a representation of a god but the incarnation of the deity on Earth, as the Koran in Islam. The Pyramid contains the flame of remembrance; it is also the fire itself. But these are dust hills, rising and decaying as the circus goes round indefinitely. And this is in itself reminiscent of memory as an auto destructive phenomenon. Some of us may see this shape as obviously female…a viewer mentioned the breast but the connotation in my view is too simplistic. This is a highly emotive metaphorical piece work. Kate stumbled across this object as it was being thrown out and transformed it into a quasi spiritualistic ouija board. It is also inspired by Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray’s collaborative piece: Dust Breeding (Elevage de Poussiere) 1947, literally, photographed dust growth on the surface of The Bride Stripped bare by her Bachelors. In this aspect, the imagery is poetic and sinister. We are made aware it is dust, continuously piling up and disappearing; a vicious circle of cosmic entropy caught in the last stage of decomposition, the body fragmented into nonsensical particles, a random assembly of dead matter. It rises and falls like an ancient topography, glimpsed at briefly through a small window of opportunity, our vision controlled by the circular motion of earthly existence, while an enigmatic shape almost materialises in the inconstant centre, the distant face of the creator, Kate, remaining faceless in fact , in a state of blurred torpor, yet ‘insistantly’ watching the viewer. But this is also the only visible part of the hour glass, the top half remaining celestial, an event beyond our reach. Time elapses and collapses on itself, balanced on the tip of an impossible revelation, the solution escapes us, as it never ceases to flow, to dissolve and to re-emerge, yet as unreadable as before, thus dragging our perception into the realm of the riddle right down to the root of mystical experience. But we are witnessing someone else’s, a motor-narrative under the illusion of motion. There is the emotion, hidden yet stretching out of the dance, trapped inside a blurred land our gaze is lured into by the hypnotic rotation. Kate had in some way constructed a type of Zeotrope, enclosing the terrible omen and the romantic escape into the belly of the great mother split by shifting mirrors. Is this in fact what it shows, the revolving axis of the tragic matrix, eating its own, and regurgitating an endless cycle of flesh, bone and gut, where the animating process has been ripped out of the core, and the mind inverts, desperate to find a host. The Zeotrope was the pre-figuration of cinema and heralded the age of “the persistence of vision” in ways not foreseen, but evident now in our era of multi-interactive visuality. This is surely a monument to the mother, but more so, to the implosive fragmentation of the self unable to absorb the violent supremacy of our new god, digital ego, no longer primarily concerned with biological survival but mutating into the web of social media strategy . Ironically, this piece feels like a super 8 movie; it carries the sense of loss, melancholia, nostalgia and a flicker of life tilting on the blade of dissolution. People stop, stare, and wonder. It is beautiful, there is no doubt, and I hesitate in pin pointing a message, since it is rather the vestige of a semi super natural sculpture.
On the left, as you enter, images of Barbie dolls by Coral Howard, in a state of rest, unrest, perhaps a state of joyous disturbance, so colourful and pretty…but they speak of social grooming, the bundle of indoctrination packed tight into the form of a perfected malleable female body, plasticized homogenic beauty, dead and unreal, yet pacifying the malleable mind of its innocent owner with surgical precision. This toy is a semiotic mine field, a social tool of control, the carrier of parasitical dogma. And millions of girls around the world possess the object of possession, unaware of its effect, its poisonous sting, its deafening noise, displacing the ability to cogitate and by Cartesian extension, the possibility of being.
To the right, a series of deep colour glossy portraits by Héloise Bergman, a beautiful collection showing each sitter in a pause some viewers could mistake for a provocation or a confrontation. What are they saying? The posture is indeed most often frontal, unequivocal and almost arrogant in the sense that we are aware of an intention, an imposition of meaning. Smoke volutes escape from their mouth, and we may imagine a ghostly manifestation, the ephemeral sign of an etheric presence. The photographer leaves us in no limbo however. This is about smoking…(and what else?). Yet, the mea culpa stick fails to show up. It is an act in absentia, by proxy or derivative, because the object in question has become one of the most ridiculously controversial products on this planet, far above crack, Vodka, junk food or paedophiliac material. This object has served the associates of governmental powers very well, but has become counter productive. Firms all over are losing money because of this small pleasure, which has been with us for centuries. The agenda is simple, reverse the values, demonise the act by implying consequences abhorrent to the common mortal, such as the birth rate falling, or deformed babies, infertile men and women…all in the name of procreation, not in the name of hyper productivity. We want our workers in top notch. Killer sticks are a source of menace, our species has turned degenerate thanks to evil doom mongers and their nicotine lips, their toothless gob, their yellow fingers, their rotten breath; let us purify the human race and lynch a few Gitane and Camel lovers, and worst still, American Spirit skinner-ups; let us avenge the unborn, let us bring a smile on the face of our masters… But this photographer is not making a point, I am. The artist is a wonderful portraitist who dares revealing an oddity, a glitch in our certitudes. What does a smoker do when they inhale and exhale smoke? No more in fact than we, non smokers, when we inhale and exhale poisonous pollutants, radio-active fall outs, exhaust smoke while riding behind oblivious machines, drinking cumulative metals everyday, eating sugars, fats and unknown substances that have been labelled with such minuscule fonts we can’ t be bothered to decipher them, applying cosmetics tried out on harmless beasts, in the forced open eyes of living beings whose pain may not wash up so easily, cosmetics filled up with chemicals the long standing effect of which would make any mother cringe would she dare foresee the ravage it causes to the physiology of her child…because we are submerged with experimental drugs, fertilisers, pharmaceutics, electronics…we primal Guiney pigs ready to forget our shame by accepting a few pathetic scape goats . So why not smokers…and what next? But this photographer is saying none of this. She is simply opening a debate. With whom? The decisions are cast in bulletproof glass. Who cares now if one more liberty has been snatched so long as the majority, another myth of unity, is comfortable enough?
There is much to ponder about, may be not so much time to have a right to our own thoughts.
This photographer was daring enough in the end to play a joke on the state, as part of course of the ART performance, and none had the right or the cheek to complain. Whenever new comers rang a bell, the single smoker would light up while some of us held on to a fake fag, proud of the convincing subterfuge. I spotted renegades on numerous occasions all over Europe, spitting at the ban with gusto, enjoying that “Condor” moment behind the window, behind closed doors, in public and private spaces, in cars, corridors, cubicles, loos, offices, bars…with impunity, with a savage need to revolt against the dictates issued by a bunch of pedantic hypocrites. We may like the idea of being cared for by our politicians, but will find no compassion in them when heavy with chains, the majority crying pity will be looked upon with the most impassive sardonic smile by those who tricked the sheep into the slaughter house. I am not a smoker but I prefer passive smoking to passivity any day. And as for cinema backdated censorship, lets open a smokers’ cult cinema archive and rescue those jewels from the self-righteous philistines.
Copyright © Pascal Ancel Bartholdi 2012