8 May - 29 June 2019
There is pertinent purpose, an exactitude (my auto correct wanted to take it to ‘penitent exactitude’ – which is also rather nice), not only to all of Prudence Flint’s painting, but to her apparently straightforward titling; The Visit, for her solo exhibition with mother’s tankstation, Dublin. My meaning being, that this is the first time since studying art history that we have composed a text about the work of an artist we have not met. Hhmm. Skype conversations don’t really count; they are as misleading as they are ‘leading’ – with the slippages of distance and crucial fractions of time impacting upon nuance, the reading of reaction and vice versa. A text communication from the artist beforehand to set up the cyber-date, is almost more revealing, as Flint writes (no emojis), “I just want to hear what your voice sounds like”. The thought is inescapable, that we have just heard hers.
Prudence Flint is indeed visiting from distance, almost as far as you can get in fact, from Dublin that is, before setting out on a journey back home. So it is ‘fortunate’ for us that the Melbourne-born and based painter, has knowingly or fortuitously laid a groundwork of insightful online interviews1, that give a strong sense of her established practice. Also given said distance (a hilarious German gallerist used to address letters to us, when we lived in Sydney, with deliberate irony, giving the country as “Australien”), hence much of the content of this is text is necessarily gleaned from extant sources and we may want to fine tune it more, next week, based on personal encounter. Curiously, Australia has a common phrase for this particular temporal/spatial worry; ‘the tyranny of distance’, which accounts for why an artist can have a significant practice and reputation in one continent and be a complete discovery/mystery to most others. That said, there is something in the absence of presence that suits the mood of Flint’s eerie world of soft pastels, flat geometric surfaces, distorted perspectives and bodily bodies…2
To compound, and slightly paraphrase a number of questions posed as statements, from collective interviewers to Flint, which establish an irrepressibly singular impression; [why has she, or, how does she feel about…] having spent the past twenty years addressing paintings of a single female in an interior, sometimes groups, and occasionally outside… [?] There’s a simple poetry in the concise, prosaic, colourlessness of this ‘factually flat’ description of Flint’s collective practice that, through a suitable sense of repression, facilitates the magical logic and understated richness, at the heart of her paintings. Their mood is perhaps best described as ‘other’, but with contiguous, associative, hints of many things; the mood of Australian filmmaker, Paul Cox, slimmer but equally bodily stylizations that nudge, but equally don’t, towards an ‘idea’ of the Columbian painter Fernando Botero, contrarily there are thoughts of the spare angularity of Alex Katz, touches of Dorothea Tanning (but less consciously ‘strange’), Paula Rego (ibid), the late pink clothing heads of Louise Bourgeois (better), the influence of the early Renaissance structures, faces, certainly fragmentary moments of the ‘lost’ paintings, of Fredrick McCubbin and the Heidelberg school, the haze of mid-Modern interiors, the colour compositions arguably have something of the strict regularity of Mondrian, but on Prozac… the list is long and none of it in any way accurate, right, as nothing actually looks or feels anything like a ‘Prudence Flint’, which is simply an extraordinarily rare thing to say. We hear what her voice sounds like.
As is clear, Prudence Flint’s painterly world is populated by women, whom, if they are doing, anything, it is little. Small things. The little they do do is also ‘ordinary’, of the everyday; sitting, lying, washing, grooming, daydreaming, back to sitting. And all ‘achieved’ with a detached, melancholic air of thoughtful, ponderous (?), slowness. Flint’s scenarios are as meticulously designed as they are beautifully executed; “I’m interested in the curious swing of feelings of abundance to stoic neatness”. It’s shocking when people say things that you have never even thought of thinking. In The Fitting, 2019 (the “unruliness of bodies”, as Flint describes her figurative imagery), two women, in this instance, occupy space; one lying, the other sitting upon a bed, covered in a pattered blanket, into which neither figure apparently sinks, makes dents or any contact with the other – perhaps they are one-and-the-same-person, occupying different parts of the environment, in differing time continuums [?]. They both wear the same delicate pinky purple, matching bra3 and knickers. A bottle stoppered with a used candle stub, placed beside a slice of watermelon, both sitting atop a boxy, latticed side table, are the only contents of the room. A filmy drape, obscures objects through a window or doorway, in the top left-hand corner. Light comes in. Despite it’s strangeness the scene has both logic and structure; it is neither surreal nor real. In The Yard, 2019, the women, now three of them, gain various additional clothing; green socks, sensible shoes (they are outside after all), the front, seated figure4 wears a knee length skirt. All, you think, in addition or as add-ons to the predicated, shared basics, the fundaments of the ‘bra and knicker’ set, evident in The Fitting. The bottle has fallen over. Lost its candle it has. The watermelon has been joined by an orange. Stylized trees, planted into the ground like the central supporting bases of ‘Hills Hoists’, forest the yard (they are outside after all).
In the painting that titles the exhibition, The Visit, 2018, the three women (running anti-chronologically) are back indoors… full attired in neat skirts and what I assume to be cashmere sweaters, casual shoes. One with sandals. Three hairstyles are different versions of air stewardess ordinary neatness, a ponytail, shoulder-length-loose, a bun. Again the figure lying on the bed seems to float just above the pink cover, although leaving a dintless, weightless shadow. The boxy, latticed side table has transformed from orange to green, gained a pink upholstered cushion and becomes the seat for the conversationless visitor who stares into no space. The final figure, sits on the far side of the bed, but Flint’s extreme perspective almost forces her into another room, she is on her own, they all are. How do we read this? I did read something that tells me how I might; The interviews inform me that Prudence Flint initially studied design, but abandoned its product-oriented restriction for the dream painting, as design was about the categorization and determination of things, whereas the ambiguous freedom from prescription in painting, “doesn’t sell anything.”
1 Without knowing Prudence Flint, it is hard to tell if the interview format is Flint’s preferred mode of representation, if it’s merely coincidental or just one of those things that occurs in on-line media, where a successful form tends to shape the nature of others? But here are a number of examples:
Araya, Nicole, “An Interview with Prudence Flint”, The Harvard Advocate: Special Issue The Women’s Issue, 2019
Fulleylove, Rebecca, “Artist Prudence Flint paints “powerful and mysterious” female protagonists in oil”, It’s Nice That, July 2017
Hall, Sarah, “Artist Prudence Flint in her own words”, The University of Melbourne: ART150 Celebrating 150 years of art, 2017
2 “I’m trying to paint the feeling of being a body.”
3 Aside: Its an odd thing to say or write, but Flint’s bras are just wonderful, as exemplified in the 2015 painting, Sister.
4 Flint has noted; that were she a male painter, painting male figures, as indicative or emblematic of ‘humanity’, that no one would question it. Too damn right.
30 - 27 May 2019
The (approximate) efficacy of relationships between procedures and space.
It’s a very wet Thursday in Dublin. Not poetic wet, real wet; cats and dogs wet = an umbrella each wet. To underscore this unequivocal fact, we, three, are standing in the subterranean back basement, a dark former scullery, possibly, of a perfectly pure, stripped-out ghost of an Irish Georgian mid-tier professionals’ house; a doctor or lawyer’s, a city councillor’s? Someone Leopold Bloom might have passed, half-noticed, on his perambulations through the city. Which or whatever, the back basement room certainly would have kept Bloom’s paper-wrapped package of Kidneys cool and fresh. The entire property, no longer this nor that, but still somewhat rooted by it’s Bloom-era decor, domestic space to grand double-fronted sash-windowed parlour, now functions as the elegantly decayed, plumbingless, heatingless, studios of a number of artists. A structure partially redetermined.
I never quite understand how this happens – the approximate efficacy of relationships between procedures and space? Áine McBride’s studio, beyond a shared workshop with mounted tools; Architects everywhere have recognized the need of tools which may be put in the hands of creators of form, with the simple aim… of making the bad difficult and the good easy 1 – seems somehow appropriately, cast deepest into the building. There is a patched window, looking out onto the equally faded and equally sunken, back garden, but today little light comes in – I wonder if it ever does. Predominantly the interior illumination comes from a vertically mounted, free-standing fluorescent tube, a panoptic tower that extends from slightly dug down earth floor to, lowish ceiling: earth to heavens. Alongside this emanating tube, we also, equally, occupy the majority of the vertical space.
We, three, are at the top of this low world, looking down to the ‘city floor’ which comprises of a network of roughly similar things, ‘sets’; “groups of roughly approximate things”; top-seen symbols, with facades and fascia planes – “an amalgamation of surfaces that often do not conform to knowable (post-minimalist) forms/shapes” 2. ‘Surrogates’ (not models) of low shutter-cast concrete, wooden and ceramic structures, a town, a city, a small independent state, within a building, within a small city. Mobile; endlessly rearrangable, these sets of un-specified blocky objects contradictorily suggest the intention (a planned) atopian project; an impossible nowhere, nowhen, in a constant state of (or between) construction, deconstruction, reconstruction, wherein there’s no will or desire to understand the differentiation between such catagorisations. Wilfully missing the unequivocal need for the exactitude of the mathematical symbol =, instead the approximate arrangements of ‘structures’ in McBride’s practical universe privilege the near-equational mathematical ‘Tilde’ symbol: ~ 3.
Áine McBride’s low-lying, cast concrete blocks aggregate or conspire to resemble modest single and double story-modernist structures. Transported, suddenly I’m in part three; Spatial Practices, of Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life. Like a plug-in load from The Matrix, we four, along with De Certeau, are on the one-hundred-and tenth floor4. He begins with an extravagantly Baudelairean question: To what erotics of knowledge does the ecstasy of reading such a cosmos belong? Having taken a voluptuous pleasure in it, I wonder what is the source of this pleasure, of “seeing the whole,” of looking down on, of totalising the most immoderate of human texts [?]. From this overviewing distance, he maintains, it is a text of abstraction, rather than an ‘abstract’ language, as like Icarus flying above, we can “…ignore the [prosaic] devices of Daedalus in mobile labyrinths far below” 4.
This abstraction of text; utopia-by-distance, is only hacked into, activated, by the phonemic act of speaking it. To do so, to engage its otherwise sterile formal signs, it’s imperative to descend to the atopian, but ultimately meaningful, ground floor level, to occupy, touch, hear the echo of the spaces between things. De Certeau insists we must fall like Icarus (take the blue pill), to become Bloom or Baudelaire’s dualistic flâneur as pedestrians, walkers in the city, experiential inhabitants of the infinite tracts of perpetual transition: The surface, ‘the real world’, is formed from endlessly mutating, ad hoc, agglomerations of private and public space, sets of roughly similar things of approximately indeterminate use, endlessly re-arranged, converted, demolished, re-built, converted, re-arranged, demolished, rebuilt… “The atopia-utopia of optical knowledge has long had the ambition of surmounting and articulating the contradictions arising from urban agglomeration or accumulation… perspective vision and prospective vision constitute the twofold projection of an opaque past and an uncertain future onto a surface that cannot be dealt with.” 5
Paradoxically, although theoretically visible (not audible) from above by remote surveillance, we, the urban walker, cannot practically see ourselves, down below; by descent we become engaged in the real game, but are simultaneously rendered as removed panoptic subject. This is perhaps what McBride describes as “… an interior/exterior dichotomy” and expresses through a projection of the what may be, rather than the practically invisible or physically inexperienceable, is. Her works therefore “collage” – a term roughly relative to the application of the real, the extant – especially fabricated ‘things’ that hypothesise projected use, having been used, usefulness, inhabitation, etc., but are, to all actual intents and purposes, in fact inherently useless; “…the idea of both private/public, domestic/urban…” is negotiated by “the works themselves having opes, openings and forms that simultaneously entangle their ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ ” 6.
McBride adds photographic elements and graphic symbols to further disorientate, deconstruct, frustrate, what Foucault analysed as the “structures of power” 7. Merely by the organisation of details, largely of sub-routines, “hierarchizing deviances” 8; adding, shifting, re-arranging certain “minor instrumentalities”, McBride endlessly subverts the expectation of a consistent vocabulary (i.e. the rules). The photographic indicators introduce a differing categorisational or taxonomic register: printed onto plastic, semi-opaque mesh, most commonly employed in the building industry to ‘obfuscate’ – to enclose, cocoon or disguise – spaces that are under construction, change of use or some form of eventual ‘transformation’, they zoom-focus close to the ‘real’ ground level, in counterpoint to the Icarian perspective of her sets of architectonic habitations (not models). Hung low to the wall, the mesh-photos re-affix and/or dissolve scale, relative to the miniaturised city blocks; giant pigeons occupy public furniture, and are freeze-framed in mid-flight from low roofs. The shift re-attunes what were once one and two story structures to the scale of furniture, liberating us from the singular critique of graphic representation alone. The closer we go in, the more disruption to sub-routine appears; something akin to Le Corbusier’s La Main Ouverte, or a suggestion of Braque’s simplified graphics of birds in flight, both iconic images from mid-modernism, breaks rank with an otherwise brutalist topography of abstract planes 9. Georges Braque claimed, during his exploration of his early Cubist world, that he had come to understand the vertical and horizontal only through the experience of the ellipse. In the 1950s he further noted that; “Objects don’t exist for me, except in so far as there’s a rapport between them or between them and myself. When one attains this sort of intellectual non-existence, life then becomes a set of perpetual revelations. That is poetry”. Similarly, McBride’s stereotypically ‘male’ concrete blocks are poetically de-gendered (both flowered and de-flowered) by their hierarchizing deviances (i.e. rule-breaking); softenings, light pink ceramic feet, flying bird motif or reciprocating concrete cradles…
If, for example, furniture could be considered as an ‘approximate group of roughly similar things’, it is worth noting Le Corbusier’s observation that if “chairs are architecture, sofas are bourgeois”. Close, but no cigar, and as Foucault points out, the manipulation of minor detail has the potential of changing broad understanding. The only seating in Áine McBride’s studio, or indeed within her entire set of roughly similar things10, are the mesh-printed photographs of hard, cast concrete public furniture. However they are already taken, occupied by pigeons. Unequivocal indicators of the urban. “To what erotics of knowledge does the ecstasy of reading such a cosmos belong?”. Or as Mies van der Rohe put it, “if architecture is a language, when you are good at it you can be a poet”.
1 Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, adopted the pseudonym, Le Corbusier in 1920, at the age of thirty-three (old enough, you would think, to be passed such youthful arrogance).
2 From the artist’s production notes (17/05/19)
3 The Tilde symbol classified as ‘Relational’, meaning “about” or “approximately” – “having the same order of magnitude”, is a grapheme with several uses: In linguistics a grapheme is the smallest unit of a writing system of any given language. An individual grapheme may or may not carry meaning by itself and may or may not correspond to a single phoneme of the spoken language (c.f. Foucault’s analysis of the structures of power). In the process of a mathematical working out, put-to-paper, there is the awareness of the employment of symbols being used to be read by another. The use of a symbol of this kind has the evocation (an agreed remit) of being akin to; “we agree that” or “we can say that”. Extracted from the artist’s production notes, ibid.
5 ibid pg 93-94
6 ibid, no.2
7 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punishment, (trans. A Sheridan), Pantheon Books, New York, 1975, pg. 34-40
9 Both indicative images from mid-modernism (1950s), in an otherwise brutalism topography of abstract planes.
10 Somewhat incidentally, I Googled < groups of roughly similar things > it produced fascinating results. Aside from a further illustration of Foucault’s argument, I’ll let you seek your own conjunctions…
1. Similar – definition, the meaning of ‘similar’…
2. List of mathematical symbols… [score!]
3. Psychotherapy: Understanding group therapy. Depending on the nature of your problem, group therapy can be an ideal choice…
4. How much discrimination do Muslims face in America?
5. Views of race relations – social trends
6. Do Blacks and Hispanics get along?
7. What Americans know about science?
I kid you not.