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mixed media - 1994:96





FM-table & drawers

Photographs: Bryan James
Familiar monuments 
chair, bed, cupboard, box, bath (mixed media 1800mmx1360mm), table and drawers (mixed media 1360mmx1800mm)

exhibited at the Govett Brewster Art Gallery
21st September-3rd November 1996.

This series of seven works by Maree Horner could be seen to pose a question that is basic to our being. That question could be framed as: How to represent in an artwork the relationship between the male and the female, between the masculine and the feminine, in an incisive and telling way.
To that end, it can be noted, that each work presented here contextualises a cultural or artistic element, the Greek fluted column or the shape of the Egyptian pyramid, within the matrix of a familiar or domestic piece of furniture. What at a glance might seem incongruous, such as a pyramid on a chair, or two pyramids on a bed, seems also, somehow, sardonically correct. These works suggest that the domestic item is in some way the centre within which the meaning of the columns and pyramids may come to rest. Better still that they attain their true and full meaning when determined in that way. The whole weight of culture might, in the end, find its denouement in relation to a piece of furniture. To understand this seeming paradox, to throw some light on the intent of these works, it might be instructive to consider the Greek Temple or the Egyptian Pyramid, in relation to its native landscape. The Greek Temple is usually set in a symbolic relationship to the valleys and clefts, the mountains and peaks nearby, whilst the Egyptian Pyramids stand in their permanence against the ubiquitous shifting sands of the desert. Valiant as they might be in their defiance of the surroundings, in their pseudo sylvan whiteness or monumental scale relative to man, they are still dwarfed by their settings, by the undeniability of Nature and the inevitability of the Earth.
In general the contrast here is between Mother Nature and the assertions of a masculine paradigm. The columns of the Temple capped by the pediment and the outer form of the Pyramid thrusting to the sky assert their masculinity over the feminine reading of the same shapes as containers with their usually discreet entrances and germaine insides. As if to emphasise the masculine dimension of the cultural element these works use the phallocentricity of the single column, or the closed tetrahedron of the pyramid. We are left in no doubt as to their sexual symbolism and so in no doubt as to the gender of the contextualising shapes. The keyhole of the BOX, the open drawer in the TABLE, the CUPBOARD ajar, the soft enclosing forms of the CHAIR, and the landscape of the BED, suggest or even better insist, that the relation in each work is between the female and the male.
If the Temple in the landscape or the Pyramid in the desert is indeed a male element conceptualized by Mother Earth then what we have to come to understand is why in these works items of furniture take that role instead and do so with an effect that renders the whole equation perhaps more precisely than a painting of the original in its setting would do. If, this time, the nature of the interior of the Temple or the Pyramid is taken into account rather than its relationship to its surroundings we are minded that within the original Temples and Pyramids furniture abounded either to serve the needs of worship or the needs of the dead. From the Egyptian pyramids particularly extant items of furniture have a reality and a presence at least as palpable as, if not more than, the remnants of the dead.
What we have to face in these works is the fact that in a sense the original has been turned inside out in relation to itself. How more ironical, to convey the sense of context than to employ the domestic contrivances that epitomise the femme, at least as convention would have it. And why ironical? Firstly, because of the difficulty, if not the impossibility, of conveying this relationship in a painting of the site. Secondly that the acceptance of the fact of painting, of its scale, dimensions and kinaesthetic allure, demands an inversion of reality in the service of the need to allude, in short, to make an effective work of art.
These works capitalises not on illusion so much as on symbolic perception. They appreciate that meaning in art is generated in the mind prescient as it is in the body and that it is best generated by acknowledging the gender equation of the mind relative to the body. They attempt to resolve this equation by both formal means of size, scale, kinaesthetic, picture plane and fracture, and by means of locating content in the nexus of the erotic (the process of understanding as it is affected by the feminine and the masculine).
The size of these works or more significantly the size of the items of furniture in the works is crucial to their effect. That the items of furniture are of a size as we would imagine them in life enables the work to induce in us a sense of familiarity, a sense of kinaesthetic immediacy, an appeal to our comfort zones, and a response from the body language of everyday interaction that is confounded by the relationship of scale. Either the furniture dilates as the columns or pyramids assert their normal size, or the columns and pyramids shrink as we reconcile the furniture to our lives.
If these works use metaphor to suggest a relationship between the feminine and the masculine they also use a sort of crazy metonymy where a part (the furniture) represents the whole (landscape) and also represents the inverted relation of furniture to Temple or Pyramid. Is the furniture colossal and so the columns and pyramids true to scale or are the columns and pyramids miniscule and the furniture normal sized. In this way the works play with our kinaesthetic sense both by drawing us in, in terms of our usual interaction with these items of furniture we use everyday but then by expanding our expectations by forcing us to decide how we stand with it or how it stands with us. Whatever, our sense of kinaesthetic immediacy is engaged and enlarged.
This sense of physical enticement is enhanced by the titling of surfaces forward in the picture plane and further by the tantalizing glimpses into darkened interior spaces. The various works do this in particular ways. In the BATH, for instance, the column pieces are seemingly floating on the surface of the water that is either thick with minerals as if it were a super-concentrated Dead Sea or as if these might be vesiculated Temple remnants floating, pumice like, in the Aegean from the hypothesized volcanic eruption that gave birth to the myth of Atlantis.
Then there is the element of danger implied by the sharp edges and points or the collapsing column pieces as if to conflate the ever present danger of falling masonry and the inherent danger in the domestic environment of tables, chairs, beds, baths, where unexpected accidents occur or planned misadventure is perpetrated time and again in real life and again on a real scale.
Crucial also is the recognition of fracture. We are not allowed to forget that these are works of art made by artistic processes. The grid of printed components that form the basis of these works takes the reality of conceptual processes into the reality of fracture. These components, though, are not overstated (by, for instance, numbering them ad nauseam) but merely assert their independent part in the making. In doing that appropriately they are able to add a subtle level to the symbolic intensity by echoing the stone block construction of the Pyramids and the basic elements of the columns and Temples. A bit more fancifully the works could be seen as mirages on the surfaces of those structures or as x-rays into their furnitured interiors.
The above formal considerations obviously have their part to play in the content of these works. They have been considered separately to give a sense as to how rigorously they have been put in place by the artist to underpin and accentuate the content that is there. If we move now to the sense of erotics evident in these works the intent is to gradually unfold just what is meant by that term in relation to art and to show how these works epitomise that understanding, and also epitomise the relation of art to life. Although no flesh, no bodies, no people, no persons are evident in these works, there is an anthropomorphism of size, and a further physiological and physionomical presence that evokes a corporality more dramatic than four limbs, a trunk, and a head in one. The arm of a CHAIR, the keyhole in the BOX, the legs of the TABLE, the huge black mouth under the BED, the pyramids as breasts or as impossibly mating mates, all focus our body language in a welter of meaning beyond the obviousness of absence.
As if to emphasise this embodiedness of the objects the furniture is tinted in shades of pink through to white; fleshiness and ghosts of fleshiness set against the white of the classical elements and the black and paper white of the background pattern of deep shadows and streaky light. The cultural elements, the columns and pyramids, are starkly white, sperm like in their determined masculinity, except for the only whole column in the series where the fulgent light from the CUPBOARD causes the near side to glow pink in expectation.
Identifiably male and female elements appear consistently in relationship throughout these works with the masculine elements being undeniably contextualised by the female elements. This state of affairs seems congruent with the biological relationship of female and male where the female chromosomes are primary and the male possibility results from a modification of that state. In that sense bisexuality is a strategy devised by the female organism to further its own reproductive and evolutionary possibilities. It is as if the male is a projection of female determination, of female desires or even of female fantasy.
Ironically the further the male drifts or asserts himself from the female the more he contextualises himself in the broader feminine matrix of nature until in the case of mega structures such as pyramids he merely identifies the futility of his conceit.
Here now it is important to distinguish two strategies for the return of the male to the female. Both have to do with conception, the one sexual and the other erotic. One is of the body and the other of the mind. A clear distinction is drawn etymologically between the sexual as of female/male, procreative, biological, and the erotic as of desire, of states of mind to do with the sexual. This is the import of the Myth of Maui attempting to re-enter Hine Nui Te Po through her vagina and being squeezed to death. The mythical, the symbolic, the artistic does not produce children - rather it characterises the mind, it conceives only in terms of sensations and ideas. Hence the story of Maui as being a classic erotic myth and as being a salutary one for our minds.
So here we have another and maybe more basic reason as to why furniture as the femme replaces Nature in these works. A painting of the original Temple or Pyramid with its site would employ the paradigm of nature which logically, biologically connects with the sexual as the human being is a natural part of its domain. By substituting furniture in which Nature has been transformed by the processes of the mind and contextualising the super cultural elements in that ideated base the work is free to act as it can or should as an object of thought, as a pure, or near pure, conception of the mind.
In this way the work is as liberated as much as it can be from biological parameters. Because of its erotic content, its association of the female and the male in terms of the relationship of the mind to the body, it accesses the body in the only way remaining to it, through the mind. The mind is housed within the body.
If we combine this erotics of the mind, of the very process of "conception" of ideas and their modes of expression, with the formal elements mentioned above and the elements of danger and dark recesses and the kinaesthetic insistence of the feminine and masculine components, we find that these works are not to be read as erotic in just a gratuitous sense of gross pleasure or its violent denial. Rather, they are deeply founded in an understanding of the erotics of the feminine and the masculine both as a sophisticated rendering of the gender equation and an appreciation as to just how that translates into artistic means.
Whereas physical conception necessarily involves both the female and male as autonomous beings, mental "conception" involves, for both female and male, both feminine and masculine components, combined not sexually but erotically. In fact the pervasiveness of this paradigm in human understanding and expression would suggest that constitutive elements for the functioning of the mind are characterised by the sexual in this erotic sense.
Not only are these works produced in a consciously artistic way through formal means, they are conceived in a way that enables effective art to be conveyed. And that is as a product of the mind that gives a sense of the erotic body, that state of mind that acknowledges the peculiarity of its gender base. And that, it seems, is how to represent in an artwork the relationship between the female and the male, between the masculine and the feminine, in an incisive and telling way.
(Thank you Marcel D.)
Roger Peters