The self ended and the world began.
They were of equal size,
one mirrored the other.
The riddle was: why couldn’t we live in the mind.
The answer was: the barrier of the earth intervened.1
The use of the word “barrier” here – seeing the earth as the barrier to mental life – is interesting. What does it intervene in? It seems to imply a collective mental material, which if we could live in it, would allow for a more free-flowing state of being, where no obstacle would sit between my mind and the minds of others; they would be one thing.
It calls this barrier the earth.
The earth, the entirety of the physical, is put forward as the site of human disconnectedness – the isolating stuff that every mind is couched in.
The exhibition leaflet for Synthesis features a short essay by Jessica Maybury, and she includes an Ogden Nash poem called Listen… where the self is held captive by its skull, which is employed to play the part of the mind’s most immediate physical enclosure; this skull is a part of the bulk of the earth, a part of Louise Gluck’s barrier.
We’d free the incarcerate race of man
That such a doom endures
Could only you unlock my skull,
Or I creep into yours.
– Ogden Nash
In being seen as this borderland of stranded minds, the earth is infused with all of this mental or spiritual yearning; it catches and holds all of our attempts at reaching towards each other.
And there is a poignancy in this: the world envisaged as the site of human incommensurability, but reflecting this yearning with indifference, absorbing it into its steady patterns which lap and fold and lap and fold and endure our screams with coolness.
sounds of a summer storm. Then the sky clearing.
In the window, constellations of summer.
The light of the mind. The cold, exacting
fires of disinterestedness, curiously
blocked by earth, coherent, glittering
in air and water…2
The artworks in Synthesis put me in mind of processes, the steady processes of an indifferent earth. The slow geo-shifting buoyed by forces forging their own patterns. Steven Maybury’s three larger pencil drawings invoked for me the processes at work in the sea or in the buckling of the earth. Like contour lines, folding or rippling.
His smaller drawings – leaves of notebooks – are tacked to the wall as if transposed from the studio where they served as the visual mapping of a thought process; this arrangement resists completion, and they remain like documents, tracking or holding together a development, in suspension. They feature forms rendered in pen or pencil and are charged with activity. Some introduce a presence like an inset: a thing made of the same stuff as, but somehow isolated from, its environment; its circuit of activity is functioning differently. This puts me in mind of the type of tension that is generated by Séan Scully’s paintings.
Claire McCluskey’s installation piece, Murmuration (2013), is a huge white draping of material living in the centre of the room, whose physical presence is of suspension and contortion. The use of a sheet-like material is a very powerful appeal to the body; when you get close it suggests the feeling of wrapping-up or engulfment. Seen in relation to Maybury’s drawings, I experience it as working to close in on something, maybe the kernel of the self. What is the closest thing that this kernel is wrapped in? Where does it become material? Murmuration’s size and lack of regularity disorient, which helps it to approach something elusive; it is an employment of material that hints at the immaterial, but cannot become it.
Each piece embodies something of a craft, of having been woven: Maybury’s are made of repetitive lines, multiple versions of a stroke or gesture being their material. While McCluskey’s fresh draping of sheet-like material, as well as the activity of cutting out and sticking – as appears to be the case in Is, Are and Am (all 2013) – gives over to the same feel of care. These latter three works speak of basic material relations – those generated at the moment when something gives itself over to being.
As a whole, there is a lulling or trancelike element to the repetitiveness of line, gesture and arrangement, which carries the mind off just to the side… Somewhere a little blurred, or once removed. This effect is aided by the fact that these works communicate in a realm of dreamy colorlessness. It is a akin to the disorientation of removal that comes over the self-conscious mind, when it falls behind absorbed functional engagement, and begins to distrust the physical.
Taken together, the works induce a sort of isolation of the senses, separating them off from the world outside of our body like oil atop water. They fill the senses in this way by being intermittently evocative of the earth, and then, afloat on similar form and gesture, bobbing off into abstraction.
Sound is activated for me. I am made to hear sounds that fill in-between moments, like lapping, flapping, breeze-blown loose material, dull sonar throbbing, a slow amplification. They are the sounds of a scene where the mind lulls a little, retreats, becomes focused in on by this falling-back from worldly interaction; the mind being held by sensation, becoming aware that the sounds which house it are not contained by the world.
The shore is a powerful symbol of communication and of limits. It is the conscious being lapped by the unconscious, the meeting of material and spiritual. The edge of what is known and possessed, peering out across the mystery. The place where the mind realizes its limits by being shown what is not it and cannot attain. For me, this exhibition conjures a shore-like tension, by means of both form and collective activity.
Activities at the centre of Synthesis are lapping, morphing and shifting. The manifestation of these activities bears visual reference to the mapping or tracing of landforms or the natural environment. Like an artwork, any such mapping functions at a remove, being held – abstracted – at a distance from the thing. It is a means of approach, and an attempt at convergence. The conjoining of more than one approach, or representation, is more effective in its suggestive power, but the map together with the photograph can’t ever become the land. When I have made my rendering, I am left holding an artefact – It has worked to make of the undifferentiated expanse something focused, a statement, some distilling of essence – but I am left holding it, and it says more about what is in me than what is out there. Looking back up from the map to the land, there is a distance that remains tangible.
The world keeps on working away cold of our involvement: an idea that contains beauty but is also elusive because its correlative side cannot be grasped. The mind, by its nature, is what keeps us from the world beyond itself, and the idea or impression of the dissolving of the mind is consoling for this reason – to be freed from the self and become the earth.
Sounds of the lake. The soothing, inhuman
sounds of water lapping the dock, the dog scuffling somewhere
in the weeds–
It is not just the individual works that explore this concept of isolation, that illustrate an attempt at communion. The exhibition as a whole acts as an installation embodying this same attempt – the room becoming an atmosphere where the work of two artists reach out towards each other; the air is charged with this yearning for common ground. In many respects, this common ground is achieved, and is manifest in aesthetic compatibility, but what surfaces in this relationship is a surplus… This surplus consists in everything that piles up as an obstacle to the mind’s freedom, by which it would commune with other minds, or with the earth, would become them.
The riddle was: why couldn’t we live in the mind.
The answer was: the barrier of the earth intervened.
A night in summer. Sounds of a summer storm.
The great plates invisibly shifting and changing–
And in the dark room, the lovers sleeping in each other’s arms.
We are, each of us, the one who wakens first,
who stirs first and sees, there in the first dawn,
Gluck, L. 2006. Averno. New York; Farrar, Straus and Giroux
L. Gluck, Averno, p. 26
Ibid, p. 22
Ibid, p. 24
Ibid, p. 27