Hermes' lack of words

Manon de Boer
Eleanor Cooper
William Hsu
Milli Jannides
Rosalind Nashashibi

26 July - 31 August, 2013
Curated by Alex Davidson


Can we ever be present in the past? Perhaps in moments: a scene glimpsed, a sound heard, a history felt, a story grasped. Yet we are always, invariably, brought back to the present, like an incessant nag at our shirt. The title of this exhibition imagines a short diversion from a story. Hermes, the figure who carried messages and stories between the world of the gods and the world of the mortals, and was protector of thieves, travelers, herdsmen, orators, wit, literature and poets, traveled the border between material and imagination. But in the diversion Hermes is, for once, tongue-tied. Unable to describe something of the world from which he had come, his role is momentarily suspended. Within this diversion, the works of this exhibition form a study of memory’s inscription into matter, and of matter’s command over memory. Together they provide an exploration of diversions from the main picture, and of the ways in which the ‘stuff’ of material intervenes in memory and imagination at the same time as it binds them together.


Combining a scrutiny of places and activities that unfold naturally in front of her with other, constructed scenes, Rosalind Nashashibi’s films focus on the moments at which mythical and imaginary possibilities filter through into the everyday reality that we are so used to inhabiting. Shot at a gay cruising spot in London’s Hampstead Heath, Jack Straw’s Castle chronicles the shift from day to night with a meandering but probing eye. Summoning impressions and imagery from a lush thicket of erotic sylvan stories – from Greek myths to A Midsummer Night’s DreamJack Straw’s Castle follows an unexpected road through a forest of perceptions, turning in finally, upon itself, to reveal the film’s own construction.


Set against a chapter of coerced forgetting, William Hsu’s newly commissioned work attempts to forge a memory of what he did not know. Between the years of 1949 and 1987, Taiwan – Hsu’s country of birth – endured the second longest period of martial law in history, an era known as the 'White Terror'. Registering the impossibility of sharing the kinds of experiences that pervade the subject of study, Hsu’s work draws a partial contour of the nation’s past through one of its exiled subjects. Certain objects are foregrounded: a hand, a book, a disguise. Perhaps like clues, each one divulges an impression, a detail, an absence of the greater story they have come from. Together these provide a prismatic lens which enables the sensing of a history that cannot be recounted directly. 


In Milli Jannides’ paintings, vision and memory are knotted together. Each work begins with a quote or a passage lifted from literature, often aligning a relationship between the physical landscape of a scene with the emotional landscape of a character. These narrative suggestions are at once revealed and concealed by her material sensibility.  A tree, chains, an hourglass and steps: these archetypal images both magnify our attention and work as decoys, the real picture disclosing itself slowly - sometimes only afterwards. The final paintings, having journeyed away from the original quotation, invite, confound and elude viewers looking for an explanation. 


In its tightly controlled passage through the throat and mouth, human breath is shaped, patterned and steered to materialise meaning in the form of sound and voice. Guttural slurps, chesty reverbs, and the spectrum of visceral details contained within the timbre of a voice are always there before or in the words they are forming. Manon de Boer’s most recent film, one, two, many grasps at these ineffable moments that escape our linguistic processes of recall, translation and description. Split into three parts, the film records the tense, bodily deftness of a flautist; a spoken description of the sound of Roland Barthes’ voice as he presents a lecture, and a group of people walking around a train station, listening to four people perform Tre canti popolari by Giacinto Scelsi, a musical work known for its invented pronunciation and syllabication.   


Eleanor Cooper's work evolves from a search for diamond shaped rocks near her home in Auckland's Maungawhau, Mount Eden. A hand-crafted wooden box with a pinhole is used to record an image on light sensitive paper. A delicate process - only fractions of millimetres separate a hole that is too large from one too small. What occurs is a circumscribed and partial recording; a sleight of hand which assembles - like human memory - a fragmentary, incomplete picture and a distorted reflection of reality. 

Download text by Alex Davidson  


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