Janenne Eaton

Helen Maxwell Gallery, Canberra
22 October 2004 - 21 November 2004

In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein the monster was thought by his creator to be a truly beautiful thing, a creature of purity and perfection, until life got into him. Only then did his form reveal a hideous fixity, utterly inadequate to the revelation of his would-be humanity-to his creativity, intelligence, and capacity and need for love. In the seven large, and several smaller canvases comprising Janenne Eaton's series 'Filter', the grid is revealed as the unlikely subject of just this kind of horror story: the story of an ideal form taking possession of a life to which its own rigidity, its own anti-naturalism, is profoundly unsuited, and which precipitates that life's destruction. The twenty-first century grid has lost its modernist predecessor's airy detachment from the world. Now, perversely, it is its own very abstraction, its disregard for the particular, and its endless iterability makes it over as a global mesh of forces-political, economic and cultural- which dematerialise and deaminate space and fix and flatten lives.

'Filter' images what Teresa Brennan describes as the reduction of 'the lively heterogeneity of nature and diverse cultural orders to a grey mirror of sameness'.' This is the ego's anxious response to its threatened sense of identity when the undeniable advantages of immediacy, in a world without borders, replace real connections in space and time.

Sweep across the canvases, with minimal attention-as though surfing the net, or suffering a barrage of ad-spots-and sameness is just what we see. Our eyes teem with dots and our vision blurs. But focus squarely on each canvas in turn, and these destabilising effects are revealed as precisely-crafted breeches in uniformity: real-time is reinstated in the hand-rendering of each dot, whilst seemingly secure borders-edging Filter and These People-are shown to be the opposite: instances of the misalignment of the grid's stencilled bars. The works demonstrate to the viewer that recognising these repositories of personal intervention, and being able to interrogate meaning, are contingent, literally, on our own individual stance-on the distance we take from the canvases (whose scripts at a certain proximity dissolve) and where and for how long we fix our gaze. This translates into an ethical imperative when we stand before These People asylum seekers say, or others so defined- whose very labelling voids the act of self-examination on our part. In several of the works Eaton delivers the void-glossy and black-only to show us our own reflections therein, shadowy and awry.

In Nowheresville the failure of meaning becomes the failure to distinguish place from space. Gangly letters stretch the length of the canvas as if hoping to convince us by their size that they have staked their ground. They fail to declare a presence though, like much repetitive architecture of 'global cities', or else the derelict signage of a forgotten town. Breaches in the grid around each letter produce a chequerboard effect as if the letters, like scrabble pieces, could be rearranged into non-words, to leave us no less placeless than we already are.

The reduction of semantic content to mere 'information' begs the question: what is a 'good' word, at the turn of the century? The ambiguity and openendedness of the term Bon Mots is reflected in both the difficulty of perceiving the words themselves on the canvas (which are the dots that form letters, and which form the cell-like remnants of the exploded grid on which they float?) and in the sheer variety of words that lack a context which links them. A 'bon mot'- a witty or timely remark-may well be a retort or put-down, yet might instead be a word that carries the conscience of a nation: 'sorry' would do. Good words of th is kind deal in neither deadening abstraction, nor aggressive conservatism evoked here in the perverse association of the stitching of embroidery samplers (Home Sweet Home, and other canvases bearing small stars and crosses) with a radar screen's tracking of targets in war.

'Good words' would resist stasis, enabling 'immediacy' to become true spontaneity, in a present freed from the 'endless now'. They would enact the irony of Make One False Move: for just like the guntoting detective in a show-down, who at the last suffers a fatal distraction and takes his eye off the apprehended, the grid's prohibition becomes its famous last words; it does what it tells us not to, as the dots reconfigure at the very word 'move', and it threatens to dissolve into light. The butterfly, upon whose wings the injunction precariously rests, flies in the face of this prohibition on the movement of life.


1. Teresa Brennan, History After Lacan, Routledge, London and New York, 1993, p.4