Candida Powell-Williams’ installation, at Bosse & Baum in South London, feels like a series of frustrated movements: you move into, through, and around; there are loops that fail to revolve. The show is based on the tarot, and these movements act as invocations to interpret, and to delve into the symbols at play. In the way of both movement and interpretation, the idea of resolution is repeatedly engaged and refused in kind.
Entering the gallery, from a grey alley outside the Bussey Building, you pass through a glass door and a silky white curtain into a dusty-pink-lit room. Inside are twenty-two dioramas, each representing one of the Major Arcana of the tarot. You move between them, peer into them. These arcana are based on a Renaissance Italian deck, and a sense of unstable movement through history recurs in the forms of classic architecture: symbols themselves, as much as the organised symbol within the diorama. Pointed pediments, columns, plinths, are all eerily still in their childish pigmented-speckle and despite their apparently precarious arrangement.
Movement is also present in suggestions of magic, or rather performance and sleight of hand. The silky white curtain at the door is revealed, at sufficient distance, to be a giant pair of magician’s gloves. The dioramas are revealed to have solid backs or tricksy veils, which both impede and invite. A tiny fountain in a tiny temple seems to bubble water, which, as you look into the stillness of its resin overspill, induces a kind of longing. There are white-gloved hands, and bare feet, often hollow at the ankles or wrists. They proffer objects, and you swoop into their offering. Hanging near the dioramas, a floating head vomits frogs via a hula-hoop threaded through its mouth, in a never-ending static loop.
Tarot has been the focus of Powell-Williams’ recent work, with its ideas of movement, of ongoing and frustrated interpretation, mythical forms, symbols, and tropes. ‘Gates of Apophenia’ is part of a series conceived during a residency at the Warburg Institute in London, where Powell-Williams was influenced by Aby Warburg’s legacy of symbolic reading and interpretation, including, for instance, the ‘Mnemosyne Atlas’, an attempted and impossible realisation of ‘life in motion’.
Four installations followed, the first of which, ‘Lessness, still quorum’ (2018), was a performance piece at the Serpentine Gallery, realising the arcana as a series of movements and poses, dictated by the order in which a deck was drawn. The work was accompanied by Unrealisable Silence, a 78-card tarot, and followed a year later by Command Lines (2019), a sculpture and performance installation at Void Gallery in Derry. Each work makes palpable, in differing ways, the impulse to constrain and order objects of interpretation. Across the series, the cumulative instances of making palpable combine to refuse any form of resolution: the act of interpretation a continuous process; the series as a whole expanding on the unresolving movements of the works, even in the act of expansion.
‘Gates of Apophenia’ is the final work in the series. The work recalls and transforms elements of the earlier pieces: dioramas are intersected here by heavy, painted chains, some with the heads of snakes; a suggestive negative to ‘Lessness, still quorum’, with its living, intersecting lines of bodies. Where those earlier works made symbol manifest, living, ‘Gates of Apophenia’ realises a remarkable false finality. When I leave I feel terribly hollow, and I think that’s right.