Les Choses Perdues
Vegas is pleased to present ‘Les Choses Perdues’, a special project curated by Ken Pratt as the opening show for its new gallery space in Vyner Street.
If the twentieth century can be called the century of ‘the image’, it now seems that we have entered the era of ‘the archive’. It is not hard to understand how and why ‘the archive’ has emerged as a discernable current locus for artistic and curatorial investigation and intervention. Just as the progress of image-making technology in the twentieth century builds a momentum for the late twentieth century painters engaging with ‘the (moving) image’, it is inevitable that the rapid advancement of digital storage, manipulation and sharing mechanisms would contribute to more recent explorations of the mass, the pool; the archive.
With ‘Les Choses Perdues’, the aim is to prompt thinking about the continuum. Represented in the exhibition is one artist whose pioneering practice rose to prominence during that original wave considering ‘the image’ and its (inter)relationships and discourses, two younger painters reaching a certain maturity during the more recent ‘archive era’ and, significantly, two painters gaining recognition in that strange cusp; the years in between. In other words, we can consider a snapshot of three ‘generations’ of artists intrinsically – though not always exclusively- deploying painting as a means of conceptually engaging with ‘the image’ and/or ‘the archive’ as a coordinate for contemporary painting.
Furthermore, selection and inclusion is hardly broad: there is no painter in the exhibition that works with randomness, even if it sometimes appears so. All of the painters in ‘Les Choses Perdues’ are notable for distilling very particular images into their work. What may at first seem random never remains so, even if a certain enigma or level of opacity as to their intended meaning/s is equally present. Furthermore, as also becomes apparent, this work can never be readily taken as simply ‘representational’. Within the choices of images emerging in the paintings themselves, there is almost certainly something indicating a dislocation of time. The paintings before us, through different means, conjure up a visual language expressed in the past tense; a discourse in the present that makes necessary reference to the past. It’s there in the art historic references and quotes. It’s there in something hovering between an ambivalent nostalgia and a critique of the past or present. Naturally, it’s there, implicitly, in the decision to paint. And yet, it is never once reactionary.
The work of the French artist (of British and Israeli nationalities) Bracha Ettinger first gained recognition at the end of the 1980’s, when she was living and working in Paris. As striking for her layered, cryptic works as for the fact that she had trained as and practiced as a psychoanalyst – in fact, Ettinger’s work as a clinician informed by the overarching framework of psychoanalysis has never really entirely stopped- hers were works that both consciously and intuitively engaged with a plethora of theoretical developments influencing academic and cultural spheres at the time. Concurrent with revisions of history from almost every postmodern angle, Ettinger’s work, then as now, seemed to be strongly located in placing the image at a confluence between contemporary psychoanalytic thinking and larger overarching narratives; Freud as an (art) historical phenomenon and Feminism’s discourses on gender identity locked into an aesthetic extrapolation. But, Bracha Ettinger is an artist. And artists – not to mention those engaged in psychoanalysis- place a lot of import on the intuitive too. Shadowy figures reach to us from within paintings made over a very long period. Looking at the surface, the technique at times almost defies technique, the artist’s mark in paint as almost a form of protracted automatic writing. Like a patient on that iconic couch, we reach into her works to dare to name what we often recognize so clearly but perhaps even fear to articulate. Where Freud and psychoanalysis postulate the past –memory itself- as a living clinical dynamic, Ettinger extends this thinking through the personal to a cultural level in which that same dynamic is used to interrogate iconic cultural structures and deep communal memory.
One of Belgian painter Karin Hanssen’s ongoing preoccupations has been the place of women (and men) in contemporary society. Since 1994, driven by various personal experiences, she developed a fascination for the ideologies contained within popular media imagery arising in the 1960’s when Belgium entered into a social positivism following the immediate rebuilding after the war. It is from the various sources of public imagery in which underlying ideologies were played out -such as films, magazines, newspaper clippings and found family photographs- that many of Karin Hanssen’s paintings and drawings have developed. In her hands, this has not involved something obviously critical or enraged opposition. On the contrary, part of the enigma and power to hold the viewer’s attention in Hanssen’s work seems to come from her ability to create a kind of grey zone in which we are certainly able to engage with a critical discussion about gender roles, but that we are simultaneously allowed to see how comforting and seductive such imagery, and the opportunities it promises, can be, perhaps even to Hanssen herself. And time, particularly its dislocation in her work -where we might shift from imagery drawn clearly from archival sources to imagery that is both much harder to place in either location or historical period- is a key factor in the offered totality. In disorientating us, Hanssen builds a discourse in which the questions and comments on the present are inevitably linked to the past both in a more general socio-cultural sense and in a much more personal sense; our own time as who we actually are in this world. Less of a Vanitas for reminding us that we must inevitably die, Hanssen’s work nonetheless implies that we all have choices to make and reminds us that the time in which we might have to make those choices could be fairly specific.
Joris Ghekiere is also a Belgian artist from the generation that sought to invigorate painting with a conceptual basis. His work often addresses formal issues of image construction and production; frequently highlights the conceptual backdrop within which his paintings are produced. His paintings themselves vary widely, ranging from figurative works to almost mathematical abstract works reminiscent of some of the prevalent approaches to abstract painting in the 1970’s. What might appear at first to be a highly erratic or eclectic approach always proves to be both far more intentional and insightful; the discussions about pattern and image production almost invisible at first in some of the more figurative works, on closer scrutiny, reveal themselves to be strongly connected to the abstract works. Ghekiere’s work, by the very process of juxtaposing representational and abstract imagery, subtly introduces the notion of time back into the frame. If we are apt to often neglect the concept of time when approaching abstract painting or installations – something perhaps more naturally fore grounded by so-called ‘time-based media’- Ghekiere’s particular choice of images to paint readily reminds us. Images that appear to have been frozen in time by the camera, whether photographed directly or taken from an archive, act as a kind of alienation device that prompts us to think not only of the formal construction of the image before us, but, indeed, about its relationship to the passing of time. The mathematics or geometry of a particular pattern may remain apparently timeless –historians of mathematics might disagree- but, when encountered in a hairstyle evocative of the 1960’s, it is hard to disregard the relationship between time and the painted image, even in abstracted paintings that appear to refute time itself.
The French painter Géraldine Gliubislavich works directly with the archive of painting languages, influenced by the research and approaches of previous generations of painters. In fact, not only is she influenced by contemporary ‘masters’, she might even quote them; not so much in direct appropriation as in the feel of the paint or the movement of a brush in specific works. And since the postmodern revision of history and art history is one of the key aspects of the tropes of many of the contemporary painters that influence her, together with their eye for much older painting, there is often a sense of Gliubislavich’s work involving complex quotes within quotes; vague but never certain familiarities. However, in the case of Géraldine Gliubislavich, the process of making work is intentionally free and fairly intuitive. Works may be derived as readily from found images or photographs taken by the artist herself as from an internally visualised memory of a painting that has held her attention. This almost performative aspect of her work – underscored in some cases where the installation of work itself refutes pristine gallery orthodoxies referring more to the studio than a showing space- introduces an important element of time into the practice. Gliubislavich’s approach, based in an acute sense of how time plays a role in the way in which a painting comes to life, is mirrored by the element of time within the work. Within the meta-works of juxtaposed individual paintings we are frequently confronted with temporal dislocation as images almost certainly from historic sources jostle with clearly contemporary imagery, meanings at once evident and just as fleetingly vaporous and hard to pin down.
The British painter Alex Hudson’s practice is based in a steadfast attempt to avoid assuming the louche posturing and readymade cynicism that had already become an orthodoxy within British art by the time he started studying. That painting might once again become something that could express an aspirational sensibility or an expression freed from the almost innate irony of Generations X & Y remains at the core of his practice. In the light of the overwhelming events at the turn of the millennium that saw the world plunge into a state in which all pervading security agendas would shape global politics and social life in a way that was unimaginable just one decade earlier, Hudson’s painting postulates a position in which, just maybe, painting might still have a role in expressing optimism and hope as much as the low-level anxiety and cultural nihilism of his generation. But his is no self-deluding naiveté. Within the juxtapositions that we usually encounter within his work, the ambivalence is laid out. He is, after all, from a generation that has not been schooled to be hopeful. Typically, his works might simultaneously evoke genre paintings of a Romantic bent; emotive English landscapes or even a whiff of Turner or Constable. But, into these rather familiar images he introduces elements that directly refer to another familiar archive, namely that of Modernism. Sketchy elements straight out of a Constructivist sketchbook; things looking like the architectural blueprints for Expressionist, not yet Bauhaus, dreams of architects who survived the trenches of World War I. In Hudson’s work, the archive becomes the language of a new creed not yet ready to be fully articulated: the self-confessional alignment with a romantic nature is self-regulated by the intrinsic risks of an ethically desirable but practically failed response to an imperfect and dangerous world. In quoting the responses of the past, Hudson visually frames questions of the future.