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EVERYTHING MUST GO

Catalogue text - Denise De Cordova 2016

A letter to Freya

Dear Freya,

 

I always imagine that there are people in the world walking around with a long history leg; one that furrows and ploughs the surface to reveal hidden things; artefacts and memories that blink in the light of day, before settling in the present to coexist with the shorter leg, the one that treads the here and now. Together they create a view of a future that can acknowledge a present built on a past. I think of you like that, and indeed, have seen you like that.  Do you remember the lengths you went to in order make that ever so slim cut through the concrete floor that insidiously traveled through the building like some kind of interior geological fault line or surgical procedure? And then it gathered dust-dust of your own making from shaved carpets, hinting at indeterminate colours that disintegrated just at the moment one decided it might be yellow, red or black. It’s these types of qualities that that make your work so memorable, that somehow it evokes a sensation that is both epic and quiet, capturing our imagination like an echo. Perhaps I am using too many adjectives to describe what you do, because stealth and subtlety are more your style, but this is a letter and these are the things I want to say to you, and your work, in spite of it’s seeming simplicity, has a complexity and depth that resonates beyond itself. It’s like a breath you feel behind you that makes you want to turn round. There is a kind of trust embedded within a letter, that reciprocity and exchange exists, even when it goes unanswered.  And you go on voyages-literally- to Spain, the US, Iceland or currently Bolton; were you need to trust your hunches and responses in order to get work done. Both terrifying and exhilarating, I imagine.

I like the title of your exhibition. There’s a certain insistence in the phrase “Everything Must Go”, a fear of crisis, and the desperate desire to get rid of unwanted merchandise, the ‘bargains’ of failed dreams. But there’s another voice, a gentler one, that speaks of the inevitability of change, of transformation and mortality, and that it can be beautiful. We’re back with your history leg.

 

With love and good wishes,

 

Denise.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

EVERYTHING MUST GO

Catalogue text - Jessica Holtaway 2016

Everything Must Go – an industrial poem

Jessica Holtaway

 

Freya Gabie’s Everything Must Go rejoices in the temporal blaze of history. It celebrates the absurd, the forgotten and the failed.  It playfully reactivates dormant memories.  Lyrical and dynamic, it compels us to reflect on the tragicomic tales of our culture.

 

Reflecting on the visual language of the exhibition, this text approaches Everything Must Go as a kind of free verse poem and asks: how do materials form the lexicon of the exhibition and reveal that objects themselves also have a kind of timbre or rhythm? It looks at how these poetic fragments of history retell contemporary social narratives and have relevance for us now.   By interpreting the exhibition as a poem, the following paragraphs reflect on the tension between freedom and structure.  They explore how we might transcend pre-defined social paradigms, and how we might amplify our experience of freedom.

 

Throughout the summer of 2016, Gabie explored Bolton’s history with residents of the city, responding to her environment to create a series of vignettes. Following her three-month residency at NEO studios, Bolton, Gabie brings together a series of site-specific works in NEO Gallery.  Each of the artworks acts as a ‘stanza’ in the composition of the exhibition.  The ephemerality of each artwork becomes a refrain throughout the collection.

 

Form

 

Everything Must Go centres around the dance performance Dark Steps in which a group of clog dancers respond to a sound rhythm generated from the trading data of 23rd and 24th June 2016, when a majority in the UK voted to leave the European Union.  Working with a financial trader to interpret algorithmic data, Gabie translated ‘Brexit’ into a cadent pattern.  This sound was then reinterpreted by a local group of clog dancers[i], who used it as the starting point for two live dance performances in the gallery space.

 

This embodied transcription alters the significance of the algorithmic sequences. By playfully mimicking the patterns of calculation, the dancers turn the data into joyful, lively expressions of their vitality. They conserve and sustain a sense of creativity and agency through dance. By keeping an interpretive distance from the data, the dancers create a shared space of independence.

 

Knocked up also explores creative form, and responds to convergence of playfulness and precarity. It draws from the history of ‘knocker-uppers’, who were employed as community ‘alarm clocks’[ii].  Knocker-uppers used sticks to knock on the doors and windows of factory employees to wake them up for work. Often the thin panes of glass would break under this repetitive pressure, and so the knocker-uppers began to carefully modify their tools. 

These fragile objects have vanished over time but, after listening to the recollections of Bolton residents, Gabie has recreated a series of sticks using porcelain casts of bamboo.   Knocked up not only restores collective memories of these lost objects, it suggests a neighborly negotiation between the knocker-upper and workers.  Although reinforcing the form and structure of the working day, knocker-uppers carefully adapted their tools so as not to damage the windows of the workers.

 

Similarly Breath in, breath out marks the transience of a fragile archive. Breath in, breath out is a paper installation made from the pulp of promotional posters used in Beales of Bolton, a department store that has been trading in Bolton for over a hundred years and is closing this winter.  This installation is a delicate monument to throwaway objects. Also subject to decay, Breath in, breath out becomes a pause in the transformation of the posters into dust.

 

The exhibition as a whole manifests the poetic form of these relations – the rules and frameworks within which emotions and freedoms are played out.  Like a free verse poem, that operates beyond the limits of regular meters, the exhibition functions beyond the limits of representation - not only does it illuminate these histories, it allows us to sustain our own interpretive distance both to the history of our culture, and the experience of living amongst the machines and structures of our everyday life.

 

Lexicon

 

In spoken and written sentences, words are intended to transport meaning, but each time some sense of the language is lost.  For philosopher Jacques Derrida writing always contains a self-concealing ‘trace’.  He describes the trace as ‘that which does not let itself be summed up in the simplicity of a present’ (Derrida; 1976; 66)[iii].  Language (written and visual) always contains a trace, and it reaffirms our inability to entirely reduce a communication to a fixed meaning.  Particularly when we read a poem, or look at an artwork, we might become passively aware of the ‘absenting’ of meaning.  There is something being communicated, a sense of the world, and yet it cannot be summed up.  Our inability to completely sum up an artwork means that we are permanently receptive to, and susceptible to, the experiences of others.

 

Similarly, whilst technologies punctuate our daily life and sense of the world, the uncertainty and inconclusive nature of our consciousness maintains a sense of freedom.  Because we are necessarily receptive to others, and to the contingent nature of our own consciousness, we are liberated from finite meaning. Everything Must Go is a celebration of this liberation, a celebration of the fact that our consciousness is not externally controlled by the apparatuses of everyday life.  Even though we always respond to these apparatuses, they are modifiable and temporal.

 

The title of the exhibition Everything Must Go is based on a public work – a bright pink billboard in the centre of town, with the words ‘EVERYTHING MUST GO’ emblazoned in white.  Referencing closing down sales, declining commerce and disposal of goods – this phrase contains the promise of a deal, a negotiation that results in obtaining something at a discount.  It hints at an increased accessibility to ones’ desires that goes hand in hand with demise and loss. 

 

Never bet more then you can afford to lose continues the theme of transience, but draws attention to the creative potential that it engenders.  Discarded carpets are turned into ‘pulp’, and recycled in a factory in Bolton and used to make the interior of cars.  Gabie instead uses the ‘carpet pulp’ to replicate one of the four-meter-high structural columns that run throughout the gallery.  Throughout the six-week exhibition, this column will crumble and break apart, manifesting the impermanence of the objects, even as they are agents of knowledge production.

 

Rhythm

 

Rhythm refers to arrangements or patterns of sounds as they appear and disappear through time.  The differing evanescence of each sound allows a rhythm to emerge or be decided upon.   In poetry, rhythms generally conform to a particular style, but in free verse poetry, rhythm tends to follow the natural rhythm of speech.  As I am interpreting Everything Must Go as a visual free verse poem, I am interested in conceptualising the natural rhythm of materials, or objects, and how these, like speech have a certain distinctive ‘timbres’.

 

The series of photo etchings - Permanent Fade – depicts three drawings of comets sighted throughout the Industrial Revolution, when little was known about these phenomena.  Sightings of comets were mysterious encounters with another world.  Gabie transformed these images into etchings, before continuously exposing each metal plate to acid before printing.  This gradually repeated process causes the etching plate to erode and the image of the comet to burn out.  The comet images have a different ‘life-spans’ before the images disappear altogether (16 prints, 11 prints and 16 prints).  Here we see the materiality of the etched image played out like a sustained note, until it vanishes.

 

The series of screen prints - Untitled - draws attention to the distinctive quality of each gesture.   Tactile and expressive, each print documents a moment in which one surface brushes against another, leaving the trace of this gesture. Untitled illuminates the materiality of mark-making, the texture of movements. 

 

Like the rhythm of music, generated through a pattern of movement, each of Gabie’s works introduces an impression.  Each material and artwork in the exhibition has a different ‘timbre’ – a different tonality and intensity.  As such Everything Must Go has a poetic resonance, it plays with the limits of formal structure, causing us to reflect on the unique qualities of the materials and the narratives explored in the exhibition.

 

Concluding words

 

Visual language is an apparatus.  Art is communicated through the grammar and lexicon of visual culture – in the art world, these structures might include the formal qualities of the materials used, the gallery space and the opening night.  But art also transcends this, because it playfully draws attention to the inconclusive nature of language (visual, written and spoken).  Art and poetry leave us with questions, with a desire to reach out for more. 

 

Speaking of poetry, TS Eliot said: ‘It is this contrast between fixity and flux…which is the very life of verse’.  He concludes that ‘the division between Conservative Verse and vers libre does not exist, for there is only good verse, bad verse, and chaos.’ [iv]  Here, he draws attention to the playful sense of freedom within poetry as a whole, a sense that is not limited to ‘free verse’.  The perpetual contrast between fixity and flux and between structure and liberation, is what sustains the possibility of either, and is the very condition of freedom.  Nevertheless, the analogy of free verse poetry has enabled us to see more clearly these tensions between structure and liberation, and has highlighted how the visual poem of Everything Must Go embodies this dynamism.

 

How does this have relevance for us? Each day is punctuated with machines – apparatuses that form the grammar of everyday life.  From the alarm clock to the kettle and from the ticket barrier to the train, each ring, click, flash and beep indicates or guides our decisions.  Machines, systems and algorithms influence and structure our daily narratives and help us make sense of time.  And collectively these alerts, reminders, shortcuts and breakdowns resound in the rhythm and tone of our culture. Gabie’s artworks reflect on the freedom within and beyond these frameworks of consciousness.  Everything Must Go has shown us how, like the clog dancers, we might ‘dance’ rather than ‘toil’ to the rhythm of these machines.

 

[i] For more on clog dancing, visit:

 http://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/Clog-Dancing/

 

[ii] For more on knocker-uppers, here is a poem by Bob Moore: http://www.poetrysoup.com/poem/the_knocker_upper_791338

[iii] Derrida, Jacques, Of Grammatology, 1976, The Johns Hopkins University Press

[iv] Wetzsteon Rachael, ‘Some Reflections on Eliot’s “Reflections on Vers Libre”: on Verse and Free Verse’, February 21, 2005, www.poetry.org

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Quickly, Quietly 

Exhibition Text, Kathryn Johnson, 2016

A white, formless space. From a distance, three voices begin to make themselves heard

 

Voice 1:

 

I shall begin.

I come from an ancient family – Venetian, Jewish. I have to keep up appearances. Those who love me say I am like marble. Lustrous as moonlight; pale as the grave. But I know my secret – I was born in a woodland. And if you touch me – I will fall.

 

 

Voice 2:

 

I had the perfect body. Curved in all the right places. Elegant, long-limbed. Irresistible. They all wanted me. The fiery, the sweet, the soft, the sharp. I had them all. But. I was numb! Inert! Couldn’t feel a thing! Until, one day, out of nowhere, I found myself dancing. Alone, in the centre of the flame. And I could not go back. I am melted, reborn. Raw? Yes, I am raw. But look, how much of myself I have become.  

 

 

Voice 3:

 

The pacing, the crying, the hot, heavy head on the hot, heavy breast. I have been there. I have been heard there. In the never-ending darkness. The never-ending light. Sometimes I thought no-one was listening. But now my words come echoing back, spilling, falling forth, like raindrops that will wear away stone.

 

 

All:

 

Quickly, quietly, now.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            ​

Swansong; From Dawn Till Dusk

Text accompanying performance, Jessica Holtaway, 2014

Swan Song

 

‘this song only sings, or this step only dances, at the moment of its breaking off, in the breaking of its breaking off, and it cannot do otherwise than entrust to its own dying the task of sustaining its note, of dancing its step.’ (Jean-Luc Nancy; Dis-Enclosure; 2008; 97)

 

The swan song symbolizes a final creative gesture, made before death or retirement.  Based on the belief that a swan remains silent throughout its life- only singing as it approaches death- the swan song embodies the temporality of beauty and harmony.

 

The swan breaks a life-long silence and surrenders itself to a song that reaches into death.  This gesture beyond sense, beyond the sensible, reveals the ‘brink’ of existence; the movement from being to not-being.

 

It is significant that Nancy says that the ‘song sings’ rather than the ‘swan sings’- the song is the crossing over of the swan into death.  ‘Being’ resigns itself into the gesture of song and is propelled towards death.  In this way the swan ‘entrusts to its own dying the task of sustaining its note’; it is delivered to death through the resonance of its communicating.

 

The song is understood as a gesture that ‘breaks’ with what has been before. It is the performance of being as it expends itself and becomes exposed to that which lies beyond sensible experience.  At the heart of the metaphor of the swan song is a sense that communicating reaches beyond a tangible sense of being, but in doing so it enables us to sense being.  This is not nihilistic; rather it is the recognition that communicating gives existence its value, even as it propels it towards finitude.

 

It is in this sense that art, as a form of communication, puts into play new finitudes.  Each song, each performance, is a movement beyond the identity of the performer.  And as each gesture of communicating creates a new sound or a new image, we are together exposed to the temporality of being, and able to value its transience.