Eloise Fornieles: The Message, review by Cathy Wade
Chalk is an incongruous material to glimpse in Birmingham, a city as far from the edges of the British coast as can be imagined. Its presence by the Grand Union canal at Edible Eastside confounds the usual routines of passers-by on the other side of the waterway, leading to occasional curious exchanges between visitors to the site and canal users in which anything is raised except for the presence such symbolically loaded matter signifying spaces from the white horses of the South Downs to the white cliffs of Dover; this is a matter too loaded for discussion. Meanwhile Fornieles’s circles the mound clad in the sportswear that capitalises on associations with the goddess Nike, echoing the uniforms of the accelerated shoppers that marked the riots of last year.
Over seven days, for a duration of five hours a day Fornieles has walked around the perimeter of a large mound of chalk on which a wooden crate is sited. Sealed into the crate, hidden from view, is a classical sculpture of Mercury the Messenger which is surrounded by the notes Fornieles posts into it, each of which records hopes and fears written and passed to her by visitors. Her trajectory around the perimeter of the structure is made in twenty four steps, a measure which casts the passage of a day; a journey recording a series of points invisible to the spectator that lay out a structure shared with the earth’s journey around the sun and the percussive rhythms of the site: the industrial routine of Lafarge’s aggregate production, the passing trains and the migrations of local birds. The external siting of this work reveals both the pleasures and the harshness of the everyday. The throngs of visitors to the space in the Sunday sun of the first of April gave way to an emptied blankness with the snow and sleet of midweek, throughout which Fornieles’ passage around the mound continued. The labour in this work is naked and like all manual toil needs no spectator to occur.
The message invokes a collective witnessing, a responsibility shared between the performer and the public who engage with the work. Moments of intimacy shared between Fornieles and protagonists are brief as the sound piece broadcast with the work (a collaboration with Tom Halstead) that eddies and floats down the waterways of the canal. The individuals’ exposure and recording of their inner thoughts becomes part of a collective and the performer bears the weight of this mass. Yet here there is dormancy; on the closing evening the figure of Mercury slowly emerged from the container as it smouldered and then gave way to blazing walls of flame, the notes inside burnt as a libation. The charred sculpture now sits impervious on the mound, a conscious reminder of the importance of listening to massed voices and an echo to breakdowns that occur when the needs of a population are ignored. The Message is deft and multilayered opening out to diverse readings and connecting to the value of re-establishing a personal ownership of ritual and myth away from the banalities bought by mass communication. There is a potent legacy for Edible Eastside, a sculpture housed in a charred frame of charcoal and a mound of chalk, those most traditional materials for the artist are revitalised and given new possibilities. The Message is generous in its meanings and connection to its site; a rare commodity.