Trapped in a Tunnel of Experience and Evaluating, 2019. 21cm x 29.7cm. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Available & The Rat
Solo exhibition, Katharina Cameron
June 21 - July 7, 2019
1. Ornament and Crime, Adolf Loos, 1908. An English translation of which can be found in The Architecture of Adolf Loos (pp. 100-103, Arts Council of Great Britain, 1987).
2. The Wonderful World That Almost Was [Exhibition Catalogue], pp. 82-87, Paul Thek, 1995.
3. Twentieth-Century Ornament, Jonathan M. Woodham, 1990.
4. The original ELF logo, AWEST, 1977.
~ Every Heart
My year of ornamentation and crime started with thinking about images1. It seemed prevalent, it was fall and I was alone in the house. This was where I worked now, and I started by studying the free advertising leaflets that were being pushed through the mail slot in my front door, building up a relentless pile.
Images were in the air, or that’s how it felt to me. My friends who had once had a photography practice started taking pictures again; others started to paint. The people who had always been drawing kept on drawing, but now they showed their drawings more proudly. Are things becoming flat again? I wondered, thinking about the availability of free space on the page and the shrinking availability of other spaces, whilst looking through the leaflets for images I liked. When I found one, I cut it out and put it in a folder. I decided to discard thinking about their meaning until I had so many of them I wouldn’t have to understand them in their singularity, I hoped they would lead the way.
I felt a desire to draw too, but after years of working with objects it was scary. Objects brought themselves with them, while my drawings had never surpassed the stage of forms floating on a white page. No landscapes unfolded. Objects I liked to dress, but drawing made me feel naked. It brought things too close to the surface. I looked at other artists who I assumed had spoken this language of image I was interested in. I thought of my education and I prayed to Mike Kelley. Eventually, I started drawing stuffed animals with dicks, I started drawing dicks. My bulbous shapes and swirly lines embarrassed me. I used colored pencil that could be smudged to look fuzzy. I put the pencils away again. I wanted a daddy. I gained weight, my body was rebelling, but I kept on cutting out images and putting them into folders.
At a certain point I felt I had two options :
1) Analyse the images I had gathered for their material specificity to identify what’s special about them.
2) Decide that there is in fact nothing special about them.
Paul Thek said to Harald Szeemann that we guard our individuality and our inspirations as if they were our own inspirations and our own ideas, whereas they are really group ideas. They are given to us by God and they belong to everyone2. So I accepted that it was God who pushed these images through my mail slot every week, and that my responsibility was to make the choice between throwing them away or starting a relationship with them. I thought about how repetition leads to habit and how obsession leads to repetition. I looked at the pages of the leaflets and wondered who had designed them. I saw no human, but endlessly unfolding grids with little variation, filled like containers.
I thought about how you don’t fall for lovers and friends by seeing them once, but again and again and again. Slowly the thought formed that somewhere in the ambivalence of repetition there must be a difference that sometimes kills things and sometimes makes them grow. I wondered how.
I thought of the first tools used to produce straight lines and how they must have just been something malleable put under stress, like a strand of hair pulled very tightly. Like a sieve made from horse hair to separate bad from good. In contrast, swirly lines seemed symbolically charged, and I wondered why.
I spent time at the library and online, looking at the history and manifestations of shared symbols like the heart, the cross, flowers, parts of bodies, and the ways they have all been overlaid and extended, turned into more rambling forms. I enjoyed reading a coffee table book called: ‘Twentieth-Century Ornament’3. Amongst this, an image from some environmentalist-anarchist PR got stuck in my head; a fat elf holding a big gun, next to an acronym in hand-drawn gothic font4.
The more complicated it became, the more I was drawn towards platitudes, towards leaving the house and looking at the streets. I thought, maybe it has to do with activity and passivity, that the difference is held in the hand producing the line. In the end I walked at the feet of high rises and felt tiny looking up, I thought of aspirational super structures and what it takes instead to come up with one’s own structure. I looked at images of Hilma af Klimt’s paintings and drawings and marvelled at her symmetry without precision. I saw an actual show of paintings by Josef Strau. He calls them prototypes and the press text said they’re angels, because that could be the first image a child sees, a guardian above its bed.
He made his first ‘baby painting’ and then repeated it; seeing what would be demanded in the process of making the next one, and the next, and so forth. I liked the angels, they were beautiful and it seemed fateful to see them because I’d just got my first tattoo, a winged mouse above the heart. Lying on the bench in the studio while it was being done, knowing that from now on I would live with this image on my chest was scary in a way that’s difficult to describe.
I understood something fundamental about images :
3) Some images make you feel more like yourself, and some images make you feel less like yourself.
And I thought about how Josef had set out to do something brave, by invoking angels, and had ended up making something tasteful. I wondered if something tasteful can ever be brave. A week later, I decided that my first ‘baby painting’ would be a flower, and that just like Josef I would go on to repeat it and with each repetition see what would be demanded. And I did fall in love.
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