Jim White gave a musical performance in the Gallery on June 26.
Somewhere in the synapse…
ALAN BUTLER & LOLA RAYNE BOOTH
In a recent essay, the artist Paul Chan describes his memory of the 1990-91 recession in the United States. He describes how everything around him changed, causing various things to happen; adjustments to society were made and then unmade, as life began to go back to 'normal'. Comparing our ideological belief in capitalism with the Spiritual, he reminds us that the term ‘recession’ also possesses Religious associations. A ‘recessional’ being “the time after church service when the clergy departs and the people who make up the congregation are left to themselves…. The end of the service announces the beginning of another kind of time: no more commands for sacrifice and expressions of faith; no more sermons from the book of Progress”. This is a satisfying comparison, because it suggests that a recession can offer us a positive moment; a time for reflection and consideration to where we have been and what we have seen and done, before we prepare ourselves for the inevitable violent attempt to progress our cultures forward once more.
It is this ‘recessional’ space, which is an interesting factor in Magnhild Opdøl’s work. Much of her past creations operated through détournement, sampling pop culture and the equally inspirational and oppressive force that is art history, to create new original works. It can be said that successful appropriations treat all cultures (and their produce) as information and part of an ever-evolving, pre-existing language. In appropriating, the artist does not necessarily need to subvert the original materials (in fact many appropriations perpetuate the nature of their sources), but sometimes the act of sampling is like stepping out of the realm of the maker and reflecting upon the meanings and supposed ‘truths’ which are given to us by history. Sampling could be seen as a ‘recessional’ space, free from authority and cultural dogma. The process of sampling - the re-appropriation of what came before- is analytical before it is creative and constructs a nebulous distinction between producer and consumer. Similarly, a time of crisis becomes a time of opportunity.
In her new exhibition, Opdøl’s works continue to echo the past. The past is a starting point, which once analysed and considered by the artist, is built upon and exploited to create new works. A series of small pencil studies of insects are the result of an investigation into pathology. Opdøl’s recurring theme of the cycle of life and death, lead her to create dozens of intricate pencil studies of insects of which can live in human corpses. The list of insects somewhat ‘appropriated’ from the practice of pathology, reveal information about the corpse itself. The pathologist can tell how long the host body has been dead judging from how many generations of egg/insect cycles have taken place. Opdøl’s investigations consider pre-existing information and knowledge, which are themselves an analytical process using pre-existing information and knowledge. This feedback cycle created by Opdøl’s choice of subject/process echoes not only the cycles of the insects, but the cycles which take place when appropriating ideas and applying new meanings or purposes upon them. It is not just in the act of sampling - or applying that sample to a remix - that her art exists, perhaps also there is that tiny synapse between the loops and cycles where Opdøl’s creativity occurs. This synapse contains the artist’s decisions - her creativity - and cements together the physical and the conceptual; a recessional space, which is hidden between subject matter and form.
The cycle also exists in her work ‘The Great Escape’. This taxidermy piece consists of a mouse and Opdøl’s (ex-)pet cat, which has spent the last few years posthumously ‘living’ in the artist’s freezer in Norway. Thawed out and taken to the taxidermy studio, the two animals now playfully co-exist in assiduous stasis. In an uncannily outré moment, the work depicts a mouse, post-gastric, yet unscathed, escaping from the cats anus. Ready to consume once more, the rotation of the startled cat’s head greets the mouse on his rebirth as if to repeat the event once again. It is that recessional moment, mirroring Opdøl’s appropriation in her process. ‘The Great Escape’ depicts that split moment, which is neither the beginning nor end of a cycle – not life nor death, that moment that simply bridges together the two and is just part of their recurring nature. In this way, the artists who work in the area of appropriation can be seen as coprophagic, where the used, found or discarded materials, within the recessional space, become food for thought. Once appropriated, they re-enter the domain for potential remix – part of a cycle where nothing can have definite meaning and is a breeding-ground for ambiguity. Her series of exquisite pencil drawings, which accompany the sculpture, investigate a moment where a cat is tearing apart a mouse, which may or may not be dead, re-iterate this.
The work in Opdøl’s new exhibition, moves away from ubiquitous appropriations and enters meta-physical realms. These works are exercises in exploring systems and cycles of life and death and consequently allow the viewer peer into that gap between the concept and the form where her creative decisions exist. Once these decisions made, they will cause various things to happen, such as ‘meaning’ to be formulated. Regardless of what ‘meaning’ you as a viewer discover, what is revealed in the artist’s process and produce is the relentlessness of these life/death cycles. They are merely part of nature. The artist will continue to appropriate the physical and meta-physical, a life in a sort of recessional stasis; a perpetual state of crisis or opportunity, depending which way you want to look at it.