Lewis Glucksman Gallery, Cork
27 July - 4 November 2012
Review by Ciara Healy
Motion Capture at the Lewis Glucksman Gallery interrogates the specific qualities of surfaces that capture the moving and still image, the markings of space and time and their ability to carry, convey and make permanent the temporality of the imagination. Installed over two brightly lit floors, this exhibition focuses on a selection of artists who explore drawing and the moving image, in a manner that challenges the ways in which traditional narratives of beginnings and endings are seen and understood. Because drawing in art history has often been relegated to the provisional status of preparation rather than completion, curators Ed Krcma and Matt Packer selected artists who reject the notion that history operates in a straight linear narrative.
This notion is conveyed most powerfully on the surfaces of Ailbhe Ní Bhriain’s ‘Vanishing Point’ (2004) and Alice Maher’s ‘Flora’ (2009). Oscillating between representation and abstraction, Ní Bhriain’s film works record the disappearance of strangely familiar rural Irish landscapes by slowly dissolving her multi-layered photographic images in a bleach solution until they become a blur of horizontal streaks. The slow rise of pigment from the surface of the print is edited in reverse and looped so that the image disappears and re-emerges seamlessly, thus disrupting the fixed nature of the print, and creating a visceral representation of our futile attempts to grasp remembered images of a lost homeland from our minds eye.
These film works, like the morphing creatures that move between animal, vegetal and mineral states inscribed and erased in Maher’s pencil drawings, capture disintegration and re-generation over time. They evoke the notion of a ‘thin place’, where it is possible to cross over a visionary threshold and walk the flesh transparent. For both artists, these points of erasure are inherent parts of the work’s final form; they are the unfinished parts of a whole in transition to another manifestation.
This dynamic of transformation and transience in human endeavour continues in the work of Brian Fay, Pierre Bismuth and Susan Morris, all of whom have developed a paradoxical automatism in their creative approach, in as much as they employ specific and precise strategies in order for the chance element of the work to actually take shape.
This methodology is particularly effective in Fay’s series of six inkjet prints; ‘Dust and Scratches, Buster Keaton: One Week, 1920’, (2012) where flecks and blemishes on the celluloid filmstrip of a short Keaton slapstick comedy are laboriously translated on to paper. In capturing the tarnished traces that float over Keaton’s comically futile attempts to construct and deconstruct a build-it-yourself Adobe house, Fay not only celebrates the beauty of entropy, he also engenders a sense of preservation, protecting the physical decay of this analogue surface from obsolescence.
Bismuth’s approach to the surface of film develops Fay’s delicate dialogue into a gregarious and gestural form of automatic drawing. ‘Following the Right Hand of’’ (2008-9) is one of a series of works that trace the right hand movements of iconic actresses, mapping them in marker pen across large sheets of Plexiglas. Bismuth follows their movements throughout the full length of a film and in doing so creates a dichotomy between what is seen and what is hidden. This is because the women he attempts to empower gradually disappear behind the movements of their own bodies.
The gaze is historically contextualised in Henri Matisse’s ‘Themes and Variations’ (1941-42) echoing the compositions Bismuth now works with, as well as sharing the sexualised characteristics projected onto the silver screen of the 1940s. These rapid pure line drawing works referred to by Matisse as ‘the cinema of my sensibility’ document, like the film stills of memory, the intense encounters between the artist and his favourite model.
The spontaneity of his expression and the secret poetry that evidently takes place when drawing becomes a form of enrapture is also visible in Morris’ ‘ERSD’ series (2012). These images occupy the liminal space between drawing and photography, art and science, and transform the representation of the body as object into a displaced form of self-portraiture. Like Bismuth and Fay, Morris set up a scientific methodology to facilitate a lyrical visual magic.
Wearing reflectors on different parts of her body, she lost herself in time, drawing in her studio and capturing the always escaping reality of her being as a series of data files. Transcoded into a matrix of fine white lines and printed on to archive inkjet paper; she creates a haunting re-imaging of the mystery of the unconscious. The resulting images evoke moonlit steps, a black abyss and strange deep-water sea creatures.
The question of how drawing is perceived in relation to other media and time seems to be central to the curatorial premise of this show. This double layer of experience, the still of Morris’s work recording movement, and the movement of Matisse recording the still, is given a more poignant sense of temporality in Kentridge’s ‘Other Faces’ (2011) where he continues his ‘Drawings for Projection’ series which began in 1989. In this, his most recent film, the ageing, melancholy Soho Eckstein, who is also a half portrait of Kentridge himself, wanders the streets in an increasingly vulnerable and confused state. The meditative back and forth erasure process of Kentridge’s mark making becomes an apt metaphor for the emotional weight of the past upon the experience of the present.
Collapsing both the past and the present into one artwork is theoretically known as anachronic. In making our relationship with time plural, Motion Capture attempts to induce a new form of becoming. This notion is perfected in Krcma and Packer’s decision to display the trans-generational, low-resolution footage of Oppenheim’s ‘Two-Stage Transfer Drawing’ (1971) as the last work to be encountered in the gallery. Several kinds of time operate in parallel here as Oppenheim draws on his son’s back and his son attempts to pre-empt these marks on a facing wall. The drawn mark on skin, the felt impression and its attempted translation, the transfer of genetic code all show the extent to which we are involved with, and encounter, surfaces from the moment we are born. From the surface of other people’s skin, to the surface of the world in all its forms, we are perpetually engaged with marking time on surfaces, and those surfaces in turn, mark time on us.
 Henri Matisse, ‘Interview with Francis Carco,’ (1941) in Jack Flam (ed.): Matisse on Art, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1995, p.135.