Starlessness: an Ecologue.
Beginning to conceptualise the ideas presented in Baker’s works in a materialist sense allows us to begin to read how the works encode physical space as a series of fractured topographies. What is depicted is a homogenous materiality (discarded plastics) transmogrified to replicate a neo-Romantic concept of the whole. Baker’s worlds, as depicted in the Continuity in Disgrace and Discards portend a technique of art reminiscent of Shylovsky’s “defamiliarisation”; an attempt to extend the process of perception through the radical distancing of the viewer to the imagined lifeworld. Baker presents a dedicated space in which the viewer must contemplate the idea of inhabitation. In viewing these works, we stand, as Baker forces us, to face the idea of a heatless, monochromatic, refractive, vegetationless world, sundered by the processes of mass consumption and mass wastage. A world without the flightsong of birds, without the autumnal tones of the wind, a world without any perceivable resonance of the environment, a world without Being. And for me, this is of particular importance, in making the tie of Baker’s art with Morton’s notion of Ecology without nature. It is the world without any perceivable ecology, a world which is depicted through the sculpture’s elegiac state, lost and alien; the material of Baker’s sculptures, discarded DVD, both refract light and provide us a glimpse of ourselves, and the viewer is caught in a semiotic loop in which she is responsible for and inherently embedded within her own reflection upon the world.
In his lecture, ‘Hegel, Ecology Aesthetics’, delivered at the Queen Mary University of London conference on Emerging Environments, Morton discusses the “joy of imposing form on the plastic world of things as a profound [and practiced] violence,” a quotation of striking resonance in relation to Baker’s art. Moreover, Morton discusses the idea of the reflexive capacity for art to demand sustained concentration and contemplation in its depiction of veridical truth, of wholeness. Morton argues that, “if we turn all of nature into subject, then we lose it otherness. If we turn all of nature into object we lose its non-reified quality.” Enter the world of Baker, where we have forgone the notion of nature and have instead the assemblage of landmasses, a violent plasticity, acute refractive qualities of light, topographies which delimit our knowledge of place, and subsume our concept of representation or belonging. If the spherical worlds of Baker are indeed to be our own, the viewer has lost the grasp of nature, it is a depiction of the world society has damaged, irreproachably. The worlds of Baker are then futural projections of fantasy in which we have lost the wild vastness of ourselves and our knowledge of the world. This point is made poignantly in Totem, in which the viewer’s knowledge of place, and his chthonic knowledge of the environment is signified in terms of cultural horizons and questions arise as to where, in the stratigraphic of collation of material objects, in this case stacks of discarded DVD, our inherent knowledge of the environment lies buried.
From the emphatic statements about opulence and mass waste provided by Baker in his past works, in his Ionic Series, as well as the Paper-works (series), which in itself provides, through coral-like sculptures, a cognitive apprehension about the ability of nature to continue its mastery over human destruction and waste, the works in the Containment show, demonstrate our collective failure to engage with planetary trauma. Continuity in Disgrace carries on the idea of highlighting the emergence of trauma that was initiated in Discards. In both works the idea of evolutionary patterns emerge, however their emergence is qualified and instigated by notions of everyday observation: small rivulets appear, the propensity of drainage traces, the presence of bodies of water are etched out in finite detail. The works then, mirror what was once resplendent and is now no longer, they call to mind the viability of landmasses to sustain human habitation in the face of mass consumption. The works set out, by rite, to examine the relationship we have with nature, and to question habituated patterns of consumption. The works are futural and without nature for that is the future we must begin to face. It is little wonder then, that in looking at the works of Baker’s, the distorted image we see may be our true selves.
Lisa Turner’s work presents in hues and varying colourations the products of domesticity: a salve for the comfort-weary consumer in all of us, searching out meaning as it dissolves into the plethora of the product’s variant existences. The reproducibility of this sentiment is entailed for Turner in the recursive aptitude of mimesis, as images appear and reappear, its colour-coded intransigence echoes the anti-utilitarian notions of individuation and saleability. The prints reflect not only the confidence and ubiquity of pop-art’s incorrigible stance but situate the consumer experience through the images’ bodily legibility. Turner’s is not a reductive operation designed to produce instability through the image’s modulation, but is inaugurated within the agencies of the production of jouissance, historically experienced through consumption in times of hyper-modernity.
The notion of bodily perforce enters the images very subtly, the water bottles of Plastic Passions, 2008, mimics the contours of the body form, a piercing appears in a number of the reproductions, a dangling mark of counter-culture subtly inscribed on the forms. The bottles of Plastic Passions, as with many of the other works, highlight, through the printmaking process, the lineation of the object indicative of the consumer’s desire to grasp and not relinquish the individuated objects, of the bonds of ownership. The notion of the seizure implied by the gradation of linear lines upon the object entails with it a bodily awareness of the self through the object, and the overriding force of the corporeal in the works. This pattern is replicated in Strange Love as well as Hated Despite Great Qualities as the material objects distend themselves into an awareness of latent physicality. All of the images modulate in this presentation of the physical, depicting not only the presence of force, but with specificity, in Full Dress, this ethereal and sensuous nature of the objects and their tonality, is subsumed through the concept of the vacuous, upturned funnels depicted as a bra. In Turner’s works, embodied corporealities such as lips, a navel, the crest and fold of flesh all emerge with continual viewing and there is, in the words of Gertrude Stein, “a violent kind of delightfulness” in noticing the variant human confluences inherent in the images.
The constellation of the historical trace found in the image’s modulations gives rise to cultural considerations which I would argue cohere to and form the dialectic principles of the work. The manner in which Turner begins her image making, through the process of image appropriation, underlies one of the works key operative movements, that of destabilising the notion of authority and material ownership. The materiality of the product on display is iterated through the historical continuum of online shopping, and as Turner amplifies the alterations, colourations, modulations and manipulations of the image the wanton specificity of human need is slowly removed from the fixed object. What the viewer is left with is a series of questions that pertain to the intransigent position of the consumer, a series of moral and ideological positions from which to question their own consumption. Left unstated and undeclared the questions grow and modulate as the objects do. The works will not be compromised in their strategies, but continue on with an aporetic directive: surely much of the ideas to be derived from the works are what, and in what form, are the necessities of human life constituted? Here we risk an anthropocentric fallibility if the only necessity covered is that of consumptive meaning-making, not undertaking to examine the ramifications of how and where a product is made. Ethical questions arise that demand acknowledgement of the value of commodification and mass replication of filling created needs. Positions of complicity and contingent hegemonic structures of power in relation to the world’s manufacturing plants, dominantly situated in third worlds, leads the viewer to an ethical imperative. Ethics is, above all, an active articulation of how we live our lives and these are the questions that Turner asks of us and our processes of consumption.
The enigmatic arises in Turner’s work as the viewer begins to examine the manner in which the objects of her image-complexes take on amorphous forms, organic, human, yet mechanistic. The relations of the objects to sustenance and therefore to the domestic is interesting for it seeks to engage with the acknowledgement of normative social formations and the provisions for family. In this manner the images exemplify social categorizations which signify subordination not only to the familial but to societal conceits of family and labour roles. Yet the sustenance alluded to and the organistic quality of the prints begins to finesse, through the imprint of recurring images, and subtle inclusions of bodily forms, ideas of the corporeal. The process of endless image-replication performs a mimetic act which instigates thoughts of the house and the city, the individual body and the collective. Heidi J. Nast and Mabel O. Wilson engage with this point by defining the manner in which objects begin to populate the house and define our roles within it, stating that, “The materiality of the body is metonymically equated with the materiality of the house, the ordering element being identified as paternal; the woman of the house, a maternal figure, is constructed in material and discursive ways as guardian and supporter of law.” Now, as we are beginning to see, the issues raised through the images of Turner, begin to speak of sexuation and the dis-establishment of the concepts of the domestic and the privilege of exemption. Perhaps Turner’s work, and the everyday familiarity of her objects are a rumination on this notion of patterned societal formations, feminine containment, and through the re-creation and replication of images another formative pattern will emerge.
The works speak of an engendered constituency, to the notion of material possessions as a way of appending and examining the ideas of consumerism and the domestic which all of us take as predefined. Ethics underpins the concerns of the images, for through this sardonic mimicry, art must allow the viewer to readdress the appeal of the new and of the material, to readdress the very concept of possession. It is also a question of the manner in which objects become or absorb the inherent qualities of their owner, how the material reflects the physical. The potential for exchangability has the effect of allowing us to question that which is ours, of notions of bodily-ownership and of patterns of consumption.
Lisa Turner, born in Ontario holds a BFA from NSCAD University and an MFA in Printmaking from the University of Alberta. Her work has been exhibited in Canada, the US, Europe, Japan, and Korea. Recent solo exhibitions include Strange Form of Ordinary at the Martha Street Studio/Manitoba’s Printmakers Society (Winnipeg) and Shelf Life at Open Studio (Toronto). Notable group exhibitions include Hemispheres: Views on Contemporary Printmaking from Alberta and Awaji at the Embassy of Canada in Tokyo, and Contexture: New Directions and Intersections in Printmaking, at the Untitled Arts Society Gallery in Calgary. She has received a number of awards and grants including a Canada Council for the Arts Production Grant, an Alberta Foundation for the Arts Production Grant, and a SSHRC Canadian Graduate Master’s Scholarship. Turner’s artistic research is concerned with the use of popular imagery to examine mass media, material culture and consumerism, while exploring themes of desire, security and happiness within contemporary culture. Turner currently lives and works in Red Deer, AB and is an instructor in the Visual Art department at Red Deer College.
Griffith Aaron Baker is a visual artists working in a variety of medium, defined by postconsumed materials, in conjunction with metaphysial and envrionmental principles. His practice tends to manifest as monumental sculptures and intricuate installations. Baker was born in Saskatoon and pursued a BFA at the University of Regina, with honours, in 2004. In 2009 he received an MFA at Concordia University in Montréal, QC. Baker has exhibited in solo and group shows nationally, and is currently the Director / Curator of the Mann Art Gallery in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Matthew Hall is a doctoral candidate at the University of Western Australia, and is presently a Visiting Fellow at the University of Saskatchewan. His prose, poetry and criticism appears in literary and academic journals internationally. His latest collections include Distant Songs (Sea Pressed/ Meta, 2010), Royal Jelly (Black Rider Press, 2011) and Hyaline forthcoming from Black Rider Press.
Matthew Hall is a doctoral candidate at the University of Western Australia, and is presently a Visiting Fellow at the University of Saskatchewan. His prose, poetry and criticism appears in literary and academic journals internationally. His latest collections include Distant Songs (Sea Pressed/ Meta, 2010), Royal Jelly (Black Rider Press, 2011) and Hyaline forthcoming from Black Rider Press.