Contemporary Art Society Review
CLICK HERE to read a review of Figurines And Asteroids written by Paul Hobson, director of the Contemporary Art Society.
Essay by Colin Glen 2012
Issue One of Index|press
Helen Kincaid - Figurines and Asteroids - Index Gallery
Helen Kincaid’s paintings at Index Gallery - a combination of new work made especially for the space with pieces from her show Figurines and Asteroids, (2012) - surely do exhibit what Paul Hobson of the Contemporary Art Society identified as a sense of the ‘mute’.
Yet it is another matter quantifying where this quietude rests in her practice. One suggestion is that the impermeable surfaces of her canvases - wrought immaculately to create a tension somewhere between high gloss and dull matt - hold the answer; with this skin she seals in the objects that have captured her distracted interest - not as objects of extended contemplation and critical musing - but as ephemera that have caught her eye and latterly her imagination while searching online auction sites.
Kincaid companions these figurines, affective little china trinkets, with initially incongruous images of the pock-marked surfaces of asteroids vaguely floating through space. However, there is something in the dialogue between these lost objects and their separation behind the glazing layer of the varnish which sets their objectness itself at one- remove from us which constitutes the enticement then the refusal of touch, by extension attracting then frustrating possession and consumption. Kincaid appears to be transforming the use of the photorealist technique - associated with Pop Art and the seductiveness of commodity culture - into a form of delay. The object of desire is kept in a suspended state indefinitely - able no longer to return to its quotidian source but prevented at the same time from absorption by the viewer.
The sense of denial is also articulated in the use of sober colour greys to depict both the little figurines and the foreign bodies in space - as if the sheer scale of reproduction has drained the images of their chromatic values or perhaps harbouring another holding back -
this time from the heady exuberance of saturated hues. However, as if against the will of the reproduction, aping errors in printing, Kincaid mimics the effect of colour separation that can occur in the translation from an image to its reproduction. We witness the curiously toxic stain of magenta or cyan as it seeps from the legitimate boundaries of the figures in works such as Twins (2012) and Trace (2012) - transforming the limits of its sovereign presence into a less determinable field of mutability and uncertainty.
When at first sight we saw Kincaid’s roster of images as so many memorial depictions - relating to Roland Barthes’ classic enunciation of the photograph’s attribute of ‘having- been-there’1 - its status as evidence of the former real presence - or rather our desire to believe that a photograph connects existentially with that which was once present. In this case Kincaid’s particular method swings the mood over to the side of the equation that represents doubt. The viewer is thrown back onto their own resources in the attempt to focus the blurred image into recognisable form.
Kincaid’s subject matter doubly articulates her interest in objects cast adrift having outlived their purpose - where once they possessed meaning through the charge of sentiment are now evacuated of significance - rendering them blank and inert. For, in presenting the ephemeral at its very point of evanescence Kincaid entices our imagination to conjure ameliorative narratives for the forlorn objects. We wonder who the figurines could have belonged to, what value they held, whether they have been cleared from the homes of deceased relatives or are simply no longer loved items. The china artefacts, although pieces of contemporary ‘kitsch’ detritus, seem also to be removed historically - evocative of a previous era, the eighteenth century perhaps, when such attachment to the object
1 Roland Barthes, ‘Rhetorique de L’image’, in Communications no.4, 1964, quoted in Rosalind Krauss, ‘Notes on the Index, Part Two, in The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths, (Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1986) p.217.
came from pre-industrial hand crafted manufacture. Kincaid’s work has the feel of loss, of nostalgia for not only a lost era, but also for the value of the made image before the scale of image-production in the post-industrial digital era. Hence the images connote more a metaphorical quality of the souvenir or memento of collective memory than solely the object of personal sentiment.
By juxtaposing the figurines with paradoxical images of the cratered surfaces of asteroids - in that they are places we can barely imagine going, hence further removed from the present, yet are brought close-to-hand using the optical technology - Kincaid solicits the engagement of our imagination. Such photographic images are ‘uncoded’ - to adopt Barthes’ semiotic terminology - only in so far as they act as blank screens to accept the projected imaginings of an audience. Kincaid’s determined task of holding the objects in a liminal state - between signification and vacuity allows us to appreciate the value of made- ness, the constructed-ness of our imagined realities, rather than be denigrated as facile fictions.
In a sense, then, Kincaid’s ‘mute’ images speak all the more of the power of the imagination when involved in the act of making. She raises the status of the viewing subject. Her work performs an inversion in donning a mask of muteness that in reality establishes the painting a kind of listening surface. In holding back on the transfer of meaning from the artist’s intention to the viewer allows the artwork to be a place into which the viewer can project their imagination, and subjectivity.