I created this sculpture for the tenth installment of Golden Thread Gallery’s Collective Histories of Northern Irish Art, a series documenting activities from 1945 to the present. This group exhibition, held in 2013, surveyed the role of Catalyst Arts in driving contemporary art in Northern Ireland. For the exhibition, I created a work featuring a duratrans print of an image from a previous performance work that I had shown in the FIX02 biennial of performance art, organised by Catalyst Arts. During my tenure as Co-director of Catalyst, I curated the FIX04 installment of the biennial.
One of the methods that I use in my practice involves the reworking of documentation of past projects into the creation of new works. Whilst the archive is always playing out in the present – underwriting the times so to speak – here I am consciously folding the archive back into the act. This is one envisaging of how a living archive might be enacted.
The 2002 image showed me standing in the performance in a rectangular aquarium filled with water. In 2013, I cropped the photo to focus only on my feet, then enlarged and printed the image on a sheet of transparent acrylic. I placed the duratrans diagonally in an aquarium of the same dimensions used in 2002.
The combination of the transparent geometries of the tank and the angled image in the body of water, caused the feet to refract ad infinitum. Over the course of the exhibition, air bubbles formed on the image, through some slow chemical reaction between the print chemicals and the domestic tap water; it looked like the image was breathing, the air bubbles acting as a sign of life. Their formation resembled some kind of code, Braille, Morse…It was as though, through a combination of chance and design, the image were releasing some sub-text of itself.
In the event, the sculpture on the plinth appeared as a monument to the memory of a moment, with overtones of both a wunderkammer and a medical museum display, interweaving aesthetic, taxonomical and forensic aspects of the archive.
The ‘mis-en-abîme’ effect – literally a ‘falling into the abyss’ – created by the work has been used since the medieval ages, particularly in stained glass windows, to evoke the continuum of time, the endless telescoping of the present back through itself. It is an optical technique suited to the encoding of the dynamics of time in the 21st Century which, if anything, mark an acceleration of the refraction and capturing of time by technology hinted at centuries ago with the invention of the science of glass.
The work embodied timelines relating to the history of the image, the history of Catalyst Arts, my own practice, and contemporary art in Northern Ireland, and ultimately Golden Thread Gallery’s new addition to the refractive process of memory and the archive. Heraclitus’ concept of flux – you cannot step twice into the same river – meets Jacques Derrida’s assertion that archives fundamentally concern the present.
The following is an extract from my notebook written during the preparation of the work:
“After speaking with the curator, I return to my studio and begin to go through my archive… I recently weighed each box, to see how much I could carry back with me from Québec in the airplane. Archives have a particular value when measured in weight and priced per kilo. Before the transatlantic flight, I see from the bill of shipping that my archive had already been to sea twice. Once across the Irish Sea, the other time, a round the world trip, across the high seas, and past the mythic Cape Horn, in the cargo hold of a freighter. I think of Benjamin and how Georges Bataille secreted the archive of The Arcades Project in his coin department at the National Library of Paris…and Brecht who sent his archive to sea…”