catalogue essay by Jane Lee

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 spiderman and black orchid 2009blip 2008 



Remember that night when we were left, both of us, stretched out in the fields facing a sky running with milky light. You said nothing to me, but I understand that, that night, you possessed to the point of intoxication a terrible, immense idea, that of infinity. Thanks to your silence I shared with you that crushing wealth.”


{Rapelle- toi cette nuit où nous sommes demeurés tous deux étendus dans les champs, face à un ciel ruisselant de clarté laiteuse. Tu ne m’as rien dit, mais j’ai compris que ce soir- là, tu possédais jusqu’ à l’ivresse une idée terrible, immense, celle de l’infini. Grâce a ton silence, j’ai partagé avec toi cette écrasante richesse.........Georges Duhamel, La Possession du Monde, 1919}



Say nothing but set a trap, allow the gentlest invaders to settle on an adhesive square. A square which is porous to that milky light, which we know supersedes our measure of time, reveals the millennial, eroded traces which are the inkling of a distant future. The light reveals the edges of possible beings in forms that might become knowable, which hesitate, suspended between the Dionysian chaos and the first light of Apollo’s universe.


The empty set with which we start, before any function, before act, before being, is crushing because it is full with the weight of all being. It is only “empty” of difference, an emptiness I can avoid as long as you say nothing to me. But if what I want is not only to understand the terrible idea of infinity, but rather to possess infinity itself (and this is the real wealth, here are the riches), I can only know its plenitude in unending difference, glimmering in randomness, repetition, and return.


Where am I in this infinite plenitude? I am joining the traces and tracing myself in the mirror of returning form. I can constitute myself only by mapping the multi-dimensional distances among things, by restoring time in recognising history. Here something formed in this colour erupts, over there is a coloured mass, equal but formless, of its magma. A cloud of ash is barely distinguished from the atmosphere, but here it begins to congeal and approaches its form. Medieval painting did not compress events into one frame because it was ignorant of narrative, but because it did not believe very strongly in linear time. The separation of events was a human activity, which the painting stood above. All time is equally present to painting.


Separation is an illusion, a property of the mind not of the world. Painting is not constructed in the illusions with which the mind continuously reaffirms itself and can remain as close as it will to the indistinct real of matter. The painter struggles at every turn to balance painting’s return to chaos with his own need to map himself into being. Here the safety net is in the material and manual process of work. If a mark is only lightly made on top of another or obscures what is literally underneath it, that difference of presence is not a simple construction of the mind. If a metallised paint scintillates, it is because it really does shatter the light. But once the painter begins to trace the edges of his being in the world, he traces the high-water mark of language.





When everything is the same, is one, is continuous, to say anything is absurd. Your silence was a part of the terrible idea of infinity. If the first step towards any utterance is absurd, language will identify itself in that absurdity. Absurdity does not compromise language, it is the herald of its arrival. Which signs are letters? Which signs are forms mistaken for runes, short circuiting ciphers, myths and other tropes which sketch meaning. Letters, singly, must be taken from the ore to bead themselves out along a string, a road map leading to sense. Their individual incapacity is absurd. To retain absurdity is to remain at the very end of silence and, preserving the terrible idea of infinity, to push that idea into the experience of the plenitude of the empty set. John Cage asked why Finnegan’s Wake is nonsense and answered, “so that it can make a multiplicity of sense...I don’t understand any of it . Nor do I understand the night sky with the stars and the moon in it. The fact we travel to the moon has given me no explanation of it. I would be delighted to retrace Bashō’s steps in Japan where as an old man he made a special tour on foot to enjoy particular views of the moon.” In Bashō’s steps around Lake Biwa is a trace of the kind which the paintings record. The single line of the lyric poet who falls behind the dance in an Apollonian vision of Dionysiac chaos. A paradox.


Where letters appear as emblems in the cosmos, language struggles for a place in the chaotic real. It is out of place and another tightrope stretches across the diaphragm of the painting where the funabule (artist) walks between reality and illusion, between illusion and allusion. What is the word to the surface of the painting. It is the end of the surface and the beginning of the superfaction , it will go on making surface after surface, each surface weaker in reality like an echo. How can the acrobat spiderman fold language back into the real, trap it in the attrape which Braque called painting, secreting it again in the paradox of the empty set. He can reveal its difference as absurd, as a consequence of a temporary settling. A blip.


Jane Lee, Course Director, BA(Hons) Fine Art, Central Saint Martins