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Buchanan’s Permeable ‘Membranes’

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The installation's meaning (if such is considered to be the point) is slippery and allusive, suggesting thought is hidden within the body yet partly detectable like unenunciated words inside an opened, partly covered book - and insisting ultimately on corporeality dominating over spirit.

Auckland

 

Ruth Buchanan
On or within a scenario

 

1 February - 2 March 2013

Ruth Buchanan’s last show here in November 2011 was a memorable event, a little cerebrally dry perhaps, but very interesting in its use of spatial tropes (such as domestic fittings and furniture) for describing thought and syntactical tools like punctuation.

Her new exhibition, in Hopkinson Cundy’s new space, extends those notions but is a surprise in that it is even more cohesive and, oddly for a language-focussed project, strikingly beautiful. Like the work of Dane Mitchell, it has an anality, a clinical ambience involving millimetre precision, like the installations of Kate Newby (who also is enthusiastic about curtains), it celebrates glowing colour, and like the recent show of David Clegg at AUT, there’s an interest in the role of location and space in thinking as process. Altogether it has bodily content mixed with emotion. Startlingly, impeccably so.

There are three main components, all inter-related and conceptually locked in tight.

The first is An Image of a Solid, her arrangement in the two galleries of several dyed silk and hessian curtains, framed images and black supporting display stands, in a manner that suggests the brain (note: brain - not mind) is like a room, that consciousness is similar to an extended space partially demarcated by suspended fabric screens. The coloured silk has an eroticism in its translucency. The body pondering the body itself.

The installation’s meaning (if such is considered to be the point) is slippery and allusive, suggesting thought is hidden within the body yet partly detectable like unenunciated words inside an opened, partly covered book - and insisting ultimately on corporeality’s domination over spirit. Of the two mounted and framed 2D items pushed out from the wall, one says “Whole Days Inside” and is presented within other multiple fabric and architectural borders, and the other is a photograph illustrating the body’s participation in a framing process it as a finished image exemplifies. A limited mind thinking about its limitations.

The second component is an aurally delivered text, No Solitary Beat, an echoey recitation emitting from two circular black speakers set in a wall, based on the artist’s viewing of an old television film of a group of school children visiting the Dowse and being told they could investigate the collection by touch. Jumbled and contradictory sentences (with hints of violence) within Buchanan’s verbalised recording are seamlessly bended. “Upon entering a scene touch an object…the sound of many tongues as they smack the bottom of the mouth…beat one yes, beat two no, beat three relax…it is said the Greeks had no word for space…communication is the manner of appearance.”

The manner of appearance for Buchanan is obviously crucial. Her coloured ropes serve as rails supporting the teasing curtains, exploiting their height and transparency, the framed self-reflexive images and oblique texts on display behind them: their formal properties are not downplayed but showcased.

In the middle of the gallery is the third work, a vitrine containing objects, The History of the Room. On its mirrored floor is placed a group of glazed air-dried ceramics, some coloured paper sheets with discs cut out of them and a couple of carpet offcuts. The ceramics seem to be mouth and ear shapes, and the grids of holes mysterious symbols waiting to be ‘filled’ with interpretative speculations. Like the different heights and fabrics for the curtains the pieces of carpet seem to pertain to acoustics within the ‘cerebellum’ room, and the efficacy of localised ‘communication’ transmission as synaptic jumps.

Within this condensed ‘spatial archive’ and ‘floor plan’ formal properties like shape, colour and texture take on added symbolic dimensions, linking micro with macro, temporary architectural features with imagined sentence structure. Hovering fabric buffers start to display predetermined linguistic characteristics - all looking at the generic properties of enclosure or parenthesis.

In this sense, Buchanan’s airy presentation, with its use of materials like transparent fabric and taut fibrous cord, is an expert demonstration of manipulated visual tactility at the service of self-reflexive cognitive processes. She sees the ‘diagrams’ of The Room and our experience of domestic spaces as connected to past memories of other similar rooms that we have entered long ago, I guess just as books we read, movies we see and strangers we meet constantly remind us of others we have encountered, and affect us accordingly.

Buchanan’s delight in formal properties and ideas is obvious, but humour is apparent too. The last exhibition had a papier mache broccoli presented as ‘a rival brain’ and a poster obliquely teasing libraries admonishing ‘fingerlicking’, but in this one her terming of the gallery space as ‘solid’ - as if she were Rachel Whiteread - I think is amusing. However she is also serious in that in cross section the vertical curtains mentally gouge out rippling lines, enabling her to imaginatively push the dematerialised ‘negative space’ towards the palpable - a droll oppositional contrariness like some projects by Robert Morris or Marcel Broodthaers where ‘artness’ was claimed to be subtracted or siphoned off from certain artworks. There is a sly hint of wilful perversity.

As a walk-through solid ‘drawing’ this show is quite distinctive. You may not be particularly interested in the overlapping tropes pondering the properties of thought and syntax that Buchanan is excited by, but her unusual treatment of gallery space as a curtained field, in which you may consciously immerse your body, makes it very special.

John Hurrell

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