>As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I:
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry:
In my last email, I said the next time you heard from me it would be with an essay on your work. And I kept my word. I just wish it had come sooner. As with everything I do it seems, I have needed to come by this from the side.
I recently met a woman called Eleanor Morgan. My business partner and I were referred to her by the artist Alex Ball, who we are working with, as we were interested in showing her prints at Multiplied in October. Over the past two years, for her Ph. D, she has managed to work her way through most intaglio processes as well as reduction linocuts and a lithograph. Her recent work is the unpacking of a research trip she made to Folly Island in the USA in search of a spider that wove golden thread. She found that spider, and made a golden ring out of that thread. She’s an academic with a practice that is deep in many directions, who has developed her ability to exquisitely execute work while simultaneously exploring her theoretical concerns. She reminds me quite a lot of you.
Eleanor told us about a video she made called Serenading the Spider (2012). It made me think of your Halcyon video (2011), perhaps because they both feature love songs.
Eleanor sings to the spider through a thread tied around her throat. She does this four times in various ways, with radically different results. The first time she attaches the thread to the spider’s web, humming down it gently, the spider does little to react. All one sees is the artist in profile, her throat vibrating gently, and the spider at the web’s centre. The second attempt has an immediate effect. The spider rushes towards the tenuous connection, and the artist’s profile jerks off screen, accompanied by the sound of a shrill bark. She reattaches the thread a third time. She plays what sounds like a kazoo (she is no longer in frame) and plucks at the string. The spider makes its way down towards her, slowly this time, inching onto the taught line. She must be inching back as the spider glides left across the screen without moving. She blows on it to halts its approach, and breaks the thread before it can reach her. Eleanor comes back into the frame on the fourth attempt, and without the thread attached, sings “My love is like a red red rose” by Robert Burns.
The artist also made a recording of the spider plucking its own web. She frames her serenade then as a duet. There is the potential for an exchange. Eleanor calls to the spider, but when the spider answers her call, she is shocked. The fantasy was that she could communicate with the spider, but when she achieves this, she breaks the connection before the fantasy, the point of contact, is realised.
The second and third take reminded me of Lacanian writing about the ‘answer of the real’ and of locating desire in fantasy. When one addresses the Real, or the Big Other (in this case the spider), one does not expect a response, just as one never wants to actually experience the fantasy physically, as this is experienced as traumatic. The point at which the thread is broken in the third take, just before contact, is the punctum for me. It also reminded me of you for some reason, the gap between the spider and her throat. It’s at this point in the story that a pin prick of the real punches through.
When you asked me to write for you, I think you wanted me to transcribe the conversation that we had in April. I remember the conversation, the quality of light in your studio, the way Rene was a little grossed out at how we finished each others’ sentences, but that moment is gone now.
We sat in front of the monitor, watching jelly fish move with languid pulses across the screen. The sound of a dragonfly’s terminal mating call accompanies the image. You had filmed Halcyon (2011) at the Cape Town Aquarium and asked James Webb to assist with the sound. It all seemed so familiar. But this wasn’t Déjà vu. It was nostalgia, for something which was currently happening. It’s familiar ‘cause we’ve done this before. In fact, it’s our Modus Operandi. There was a gap, an irreconcilable longing in the work, which we were both very familiar with. There was also a pulse or beat that we noticed in the work, like something revolving slowly, or a muscle rhythmically pulling.
It was the pulsing of the jelly fish in Halcyon that reminded me of your woodcut, the one Julie Donald and I exhibited together. Ground Resonance (2010) depicted a ceiling fan, superimposed over helicopters. You carved into masonite from a photograph of a television screen, and printed it in blue and red. The camera picked up lines the eye was too slow to see, giving your print horizontal ridges, and a flat sticky haze where the ink reluctantly released. The colours took turns coming to the foreground, just as the blades of the fan did. The fan’s slow beat was supplemented by the whirling blades of the chopper.
I have the The Breath and the Bell (2012) here with me, and its process is still a mystery. A two plate intaglio relief print etched with caustic soda? Once again the colours pull each other back, trying to get to the front. This time however it’s red and black, an inversion of the pale blues from the video. And yet the same subject matter, internalised perhaps in the sphere of the body. The Box Jellyfish have turned into organs although, as you abstract them further down the series, the tendrils look like action painting, and the fleshy boxes become bone.
It reminds me of your Lost Poster (2012) this inversion. But of course this is in the other direction. You have taken a piece of you and positioned it outside of yourself. Its coordinates are specific, yet it’s location is one of absence. In naming the sentiment you have located its position, its position is ‘Not Here’. Its position is ‘Not With Me’. It’s like electrons, or something, you can’t know what they are and where they are simultaneously. Once again you have placed your desire in a fantasy that is just out of reach. There is a longing here, for this thing to be returned. But there is no risk of contact, since there are no contact details. There is simply a drive to want. The artist longs to long.
Wake (2013) is a different thing. It’s carved from the wooden matrix used to make relief prints. It is a bodily object, something physically active and activated. You’ve caught the ocean at a moment, between approach and retreat. You’ve paused the usual beat of the wave, at the point where you’re about to lose it. It has the suspended quality that now seems so apparent in the rest of your work. But there is no longing here. There is only loss, along with an acceptance of that loss.
>Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.
William Martin is a curator and potter from South Africa now living in London. He studied Modern and Contemporary Art at Christies in London, UK, and has started a print project gallery called ‘Slate Projects’ that exhibited at the 2013 Christies ‘Multiplied’ London Print Fair.