1. Susanna as Lamb
One day whilst reading at home, my partner alerted me to the story of Susanna and
the Elders: a bible story where a woman is the subject of blackmail by two male judges.
The scene of her rape is the centerpiece of numerous renditions (1) during the Renaissance
era. The idiosyncratic romanticism shows the character of Susanna repeatedly depicted as
coy, naked, vulnerable, read as both victim and victimizer. When I came across the version
by Alessandro Allori in 1561, I was intrigued by the stylised mannerism that disfigured her
Her torso appears contorted, as if it were being twisted like a wet rag by the two
perpetrators. Her breasts appear to be attached as if they were an afterthought, coupled
with childlike, dainty facial features, akin to the fetishised female form, and crooked,
double jointed limbs. I printed out a copy of the image and cut out around her legs, arms,
and neck leaving her decapitated, amputated and petrified, applying my own enactment of
brutality on her character like so many of those painters.
She became a symbol of acquisition, like a toy, which I printed and cut out, repeatedly,
reducing her to confetti.
“…it has taken time and work to achieve this form, even if that work disappears
in the familiarity and “oneness” of the form itself.” (2)
Rupert Sheldrake’s theory on Morphic Resonance (3) claims that nature carries a
collective memory, a habitual learning mechanism that develops through repetition.
Morphogenetic fields create blurred outlines of an invisible plan of what things are
supposed to be and/or look like, and through consistent reproduction, the design improves
a little more every time.
My practice of making heads became a routine, an act I familiarized myself with
until I realized I was not engaging in it anymore. It became a pattern, a “rhythm as
process, procession and serial repetitions” (4), reinforcing a sense of false craftsmanship.
That I was being productive and utilising my time “efficiently” as if I were being paid a
wage for every minute of it. The activity felt mechanical thus the result began to feel
artificial, I was behaving like a machine that was following orders, a headless mannequin
with moving parts that listened to internal and unseen algorithms.(5)
“...the repetition of actions which tends towards some objects, shapes the
“surfaces” of spaces.” (6)
2. Is it a studio or an abattoir?
In response to how much cured plaster shards and chunks I was throwing away, a
studio colleague asked me about the efficiency of my casting process. She asked me
about how much raw plaster I must buy to produce a certain amount of heads. I replied
with ignorance, I didn’t have a clue despite how careful I was trying to be with each pour. I
didn’t want the process to become a production line, yet I felt it was becoming artificial and
mechanical. I just kept going, every wasteful product was a rejection of proficiency.
Jewesbury (7) talks about the notions of “waste” as an inevitable BI-product of the modern
city system. He discusses Bataille’s theory of expenditure, where progress does not occur
in spaces unless the offcuts also have a space of their own. Bataille employs a metaphor
of the museum and the slaughterhouse; both must exist yet neither acknowledge each
other. The former purifies culture, the latter practices it (and vice a versa), both feed and
eat from a simultaneous ideology.
The fresh plaster cast heads that were gradually air drying on my tabletop, sat
above the black, plastic bin where the excess was deposited, to be taken away, out of
sight, by a porter I occasionally said hello to. (8)
I have no doubt that the spaces my practice inhabits, naturally inform it’s
productivity, characteristics and procedures, even my own organic tendencies. A space
constructed of concrete, plastics, metals and other materials beyond my awareness. They
contextualise my movements, my placements, direct me and restrict me before I even
have to get started on the series of barriers and locked doors in place. This structure I am
obliged to use is representative of contemporary architectural interests, where privatisation
has become the key driver of development. The tallest buildings (9) compete to reach higher
and higher than any church steeple ever has, resembling the values of a capitalist society.
I question how an art school can thrive in such a carcinogenic environment, it makes me
wonder what my practice will look like when fully obliterated by this culture, perhaps it
already has. The majority of the building, of which I only know very specific channels, is a
gap in my knowledge, areas of a greater map that will remain blank, and a greater climate
I will play only a small part in.
“…symbolic architecture would refer only to itself, would express only itself,
would say only what it is.” (10)
3. A.R.T. : Assisted Reproductive Technology
Bataille’s coexisting binary (the museum and the slaughterhouse) reminded me of
two tutorials I had this semester, to receive comments on the accumulation of plaster cast
heads I had in my studio. The first, a local artist Michael Hanna, saw an example of
utilitarianism, efficiently stacked objects, produced and prepared for a specific, unknown
use. The other, my course director, remarked on how oppositional her perspective was to
this reading. She saw a likeness to decapitation, evidence of mass genocide, democracy
represented by the removal of the head. I thought of the catacombs that rest underneath
the city of Paris, first opened to the public in 1809 (11). As mentioned in the online resource,
the human remains “underwent an extensive decorative rearrangement...using a
museographical and monumental approach.”(12) (13)
“In these spaces, history is sold as heritage...” (14)
The silicon mould which I plucked each of my heads from, looks much like nothing
on the outside. At one point I made the comparison to birthing each head I produced, as if
the cast represented my own internal female organ. It’s plain disguise encapsulates a fully
formed physiognomy that remains permanently unseen and in the dark, like a roll of
undeveloped film or documents on a hard drive. I fill this space with raw plaster material
and it collects the prescribed data in the details to result in an equational outcome. This
was a process employed by the earliest archaeologists, especially in sites such as
Pompeii, where fossilised human and animal remains were filled with liquid plaster and
extracted in a new white, cast copy that is “imbued with a ghostly reality” (15). These sites,
these ruins, act as stories to be told, evidence of the horror that took place, of earth rising
up and burying the living. The architectural theorist Ruskin claimed that architecture acts
as memory. He regards restoration as feeble, the choice in preserving the past is a
“destruction accompanied by a false description…it is impossible to raise the dead.” (16) (17)
4. Rear View Mirror (18)
These formative years of my art practice are irrevocably shaped by the systems and
environments that facilitate it, and therefore, I believe, will fundamentally (and
unconsciously) inform the future outcomes it will have. At some point, reflecting back, I will
be turning away from what I am looking towards, and both sides will be communicating
with one another.
On one side of the panoramic landscape from the studios, a worksite is slowly
creeping upwards and filling the aspect view of the windows. (19) This reflection of
carcinogenic materials has its own alternative system of bodies, uniforms and negotiations
of space. I have been at an ideal perspective to observe it’s activity, although not yet
functioning as one; it is in itself an institution. One that contributes to the one I’m standing
in, one that operates in a private and globalised circle. It has infiltrated its surroundings,
decorated with sale banners and promises of gentrification. Ruins are the remains of
history, lived experiences or phenomenal horrors, enshrining a previous life. A skeleton of
architecture that is left unfinished or unused, hollowed out by it’s own financial failures and
successes, becomes a headless monument of our times.
“Those aspects of my context that reveal themselves to me will do so in
connection to the memories that have already formed my experience.” (20)
1) It was the version by Artemisia Gentileschi in 1610 which caught my attention at first, a female painter whom is quietly known for depicting female subjects in more personal and realistic states of emotion compared to her male counterparts.
2) S. Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology: Orientation, Objects, Others (1st edn, Duke University Press 2006) p84.
3) Morphic Resonance, Collective Memory and the Habits of Nature, [online video], Goldsmiths College U.L., January 20th 2009, <https://www.sheldrake.org/videos/morphic-resonance-collective-memory-and-thehabits-of-nature>, accessed 12 April 2019.
4) J. Leah (Geldard), Along Horizontality, (2013) LEEDS MET, < https://www.academia.edu/3139058/Along_Horizontality_i_>, accessed 29 March 2019.
5) The algorithm must operate successfully in order for the process to complete successfully and for the results to be successful.
6) Ibid Ahmed (2006) p92.
7) Daniel Jewesbury, The Headless City: Visions of Impossible Existence, (2016) TULCA Galway, <https://www.academia.edu/30685639/TULCA_2016_The_Headless_City_complete_catalogue> accessed 4 April 2019.
8) Another studio colleague asked why I wasn’t making something out of the offcuts as well.
9) They are not spaces where bodies congregate, seek shelter or have a shared public interest, so where do the cities inhabitants go? Where can art practice live in the future?
10) Denis Hollier, Against Architecture: The Writings of Georges Bataille, ( 2nd edn, MIT Press 1992) p10.
11) Twenty years earlier the first proposal for the guillotine mechanism, as a humane form of head removal, was put forward to the French National Assembly.
12) Musée Carnavalet, The Ossuary, (Municipale Histoire de Paris, 2018), < http://catacombes.paris.fr/en/history/ossuary > accessed 26 April 2019.
13) Ron Mueck in 2017, delivered a new installation titled “Mass” which consisted of 100 giant, hyperrealistic, hand cast skulls, a diorama amongst galleries of 18th century paintings and artefacts. This colossal sculpture serves to amplify an aesthetic sense of mortality; our inevitable death and decay turns out surprisingly polished and fit for public consumption.
14) Ibid Jewesbury (2016) p28.
15) C.W. Ceram, A Picture History of Archaeology (3rd edn, Thames and Hudson with Book Club Associates 1972) p32
16) Thomas A.P. van Leeuwen, Invisible Ruins in Arna Mač kić (ed), Mortal cities, Forgotten Monuments (Park Books AG 2016) p93-6.
17) He writes: “The remains of a dinosaur are a ruin, a dead dog is not” yet Ibid Ceram (1972) shows the contorted form of a dead dog that has been reproduced in plaster and photographed as a permanent proof of history.
(18) “...(D) Reversal: Merges the past and future into simultaneous awareness.” Marshall, Eric McLuhan, The Lost Tetrads of Marshall McLuhan (1st edn, OR Books 2017) p12.
(19) There is actually a worksite on every side of the studios, if it’s not being flattened then it’s most likely waiting for re-purpose.
(20) Dylan Trigg, The Aesthetics of Decay (1st edn, Peter Lang Publishing 2006) p22