Facing each other across the succinct space of the gallery, the combined artworks of ‘My Bataille’ place the viewer at the crux of a reactive process; a transmutation. The five separate works by three artists come together in response to the French writer, poet and theorist Georges Bataille. Between the different mediums of sculpture, text and photography, the works are spatially presented as the four discreet points of a cross. However, they share an entirely indiscreet, licentious even, transference and exchange of energy. All imbued with the heady materiality and the shape-shifting metaphors of Bataille’s writing, the works are convoluted by each other in communication, connected by visual cues that translate the material of their exhibition partners into something other.
A similar process of metaphorical association is at the core of Roland Barthes’ reading of ‘The Story of the Eye’, a text by Bataille to which exhibiting sculptor Ian Daniell makes a direct narrative reference. Barthes read this text as literally ‘a story of the eye’ in which a series of links are made between associated imagery such as eyes, eggs, testicles and so on.
“the world becomes blurred; properties are no longer separate; spilling, sobbing, urinating, ejaculating to form a wavy meaning, and the whole of Story of the Eye signifies in the manner of a vibration that always gives the same sound (but what sound?)” – Roland Barthes, ‘The Metaphor of the Eye’
A similar synaesthetic transference of imagery can be visually read both within and between the works in the exhibition. Rut Blees Luxemburg’s ‘Jesus in the winepress’ illustrates the biblical metamorphosis between the blood of Christ into wine, but also the unfolding materiality of the work. The artifact pictured extends uncertainly into 3d space as a tentative relief, cautious of overstepping the limit into becoming idolatrous. Converted back into a flat photographic image by Luxemburg, although itself a material object, the image of the body upon the cross is translated once more into physical matter by the spatial opposition of Daniell’s two sculptural works. Combined in installation, the two curved bodily fragments entitled ‘Simone’ and ‘Marcelle’ are flawlessly formed in porcelain white ceramic, a material purity opposed to their display in lewd conference with each other.‘Marcelle’, a tapered female torso, hangs vertically from the ceiling, her delicate surface bound by a crude length of rope, and suggestively lengthens towards the upturned posterior of ‘Simone’. This second gleaming form rests lightly against a stretch of old timber that lays prostrate upon the floor and completes the mirrored form of the cross; a representation that both jars and slyly connects with the religious imagery opposite it.
The support of an ideal by that which is base or coarse suggests a relationship to Bataille’s concept of ‘base materialism’: that that which is idealised or elevated is actually dependent upon it’s opposite and is therefore necessarily tainted by it. Visually this conceptual dependence is communicated by the purity of material contrasted with that which is rough and basic, as well as the idealised beauty of the bodily shapes and their erotic, anatomical suggestiveness. Not simply a negation, it is a paradoxical relationship. The foundation of the ideal upon ‘base matter’ causes an instability which disrupts any philosophic attempts at universality or certainty, creating both a space and a void. If Bataille attempted to transgress the limits of materialism and idealism through language, Daniell has does the same with the formal pristine space of the gallery, punching violently through the ceiling and exposing the beam from which ‘Marcelle’ is hung.
Base matter also stirs “ Down below underneath out-of-reach-limits” in Douglas Park’s text piece; the “forgotten tree foundations and building roots” upon which the possible “ future multi-storey skyscraper moutain-ranges” are built. This tie between the lower and higher levels is again physically mirrored in Luxemburg’s second piece ‘London Dust (Portal)’ in which the aerial image of the city has been pasted onto the side of a building at street level. The title, ‘portal’, inherently connects and suggests a possible movement from the street to the sky, to the “marvels and wonders that are yet, maybe or even never to happen”. It is from the collected dirt and dust, the uncontrollable disorder and complexity found at street level, that the city is constantly created and re-created.
A similar dynamic can also be read through Park’s enigmatic text; “cannibalistic and predatory…yet somehow or other, also self-renewing, regenerative and evolutionary”. Violent collisions occur, as does confrontational or contrasting combinations of natural and un-natural imagery: “loose cog and gear wheels blossom outwardly”. Cataclysm and reaction take place as natural forces as well as mechanistic or man-made processes. Destruction and growth, both organic and engineered, spiral on in contrast and in relationship to each other. These disparate factors and imagery combine to create something else. Likewise, in reading Bataille, Foucault has postulated that through shocking combination such inferences hope to cause a disruption by transgressing the limits of meaning, metaphor, imagery and language in order to break forth to new, unknown spaces.
All of this is of course dependent upon the reader – upon the eye – to act as an active catalyst for the metamorphosis between the works, a process which is made fairly explicit by the curated oppositional pairings of works across the space. In this way, ‘My Bataille’ constructs another ‘story of the eye’, that of the viewer in the gallery space. Like the character of ‘Marcelle’ in Bataille’s text, the viewer is required for the works’ congress with one another, often through an uncomfortable exchange: the crushed Christ figure exuding blood-wine in parallel to the clean and cold bodily fragments framed by a disparate cross, who, despite a deathly stillness, also suggest a different kind of exhumation and viscous vitality. The clean white space between the works is deceptive in contrast with the polluted visual and conceptual matter that passes between them. It is a complex show, with a lot of overlaid information, but the simplicity of the presentation achieves a tightness and intensity that appeals directly and clearly on a visual level.
*Douglas Park, ‘Organic, Geological & Meteorology. Engineering, Manufacture & Regime’, 2012
PERFORMANCE AND CLOSING PARTY Friday 23 November 6.30pm – Late, £3 donation
A night of live performance and music curated by Annabelle Stapleton-Crittenden and composed by Douglas Park in response to My Bataille.
Richard Crow in collaboration with Douglas Park, Chloe Dechery, Poppy Jackson, Adam James and Ellie Stamp – followed by live sets from Das Hund and We.
DJs Tom Fox and Matty Binz are on the decks until late. Party with Bruno.