Mira Gojak: Distant Measures

Margaret Lawrence Gallery, VCA, Melbourne

The first thing that strikes you about this work is the blue. Mira Gojak’s works appear as a series of light blue forms punctuating the gallery space: leaning, slouching, or even scurrying across the room. In these and other recent works Gojak has drawn from the sky. On a residency in Spain she looked up at the clear blue sky and saw a chance drawing: a contrail. These trace-lines are temporary frozen bands of vapour, produced by airplanes under certain conditions. The lines are the residue of many bodies, contained and travelling anywhere. In working with this formal interruption to the blue Gojak is also attempting to measure the anywhere space of the sky, and to contain it. The titles of previous works, Take 14 minutes (2015) and Take 16 days (2015) indicated a measure of time. These new forms contain a measure of distance: the distance to the colour blue, or the distance to the colour black. These measurements have been carefully preserved in the woollen material of the work. Gojak has weighed out her materials. This is the amount of line you would need to reach our outer atmosphere, and then return to the earth.

Gojak has stated that in preserving these measurements she has attempted to index the works to the real, to something in the world, but I cannot help but think of the arbitrary nature of containers of time and distance. The atmosphere may be a measurable distance from the spot where we stand, but what does this mean to us in an embodied sense? I would prefer to index these works to the body, or to a specific body: to the lived experience of time and the body’s cyclical rhythm. Thinking back to Gojak’s earlier work, such as From the outside to the outside (2009), the form of the work is full of pulse and hesitation. The work circles around itself with fine descriptive lines that become heavy and voluminous. Some parts of the work seem solid, but they are only filled with air. The distinction between the internal and external space of the work is unclear, as is the point from which the work is supported. This work defies the proper organisation of a body.

In The Rope Dancer Accompanies Herself with Her Shadows (1916), Man Ray attempts to recall a body in motion: a trapeze artist in a vaudeville show. Dissatisfied with his attempts at description, the artist turned to chance. He looked down at the discarded paper cut-outs that he had been using and saw that they were more like his memory of the dancer. In the work Man Ray’s desire to depict the dancer had to be deferred through the impression of her shadows.1 Looking at The Rope Dancer on a recent visit to New York, I was drawn to a small dense form in the top of the picture: the point where all the rope-lines meet. The form is a collection of lines that appears to be illuminated by an electric charge. It could be a nuclear sign or an electric angel. This figure is the place in the work where the dancer was. As with Gojak’s work, the body is gone but its forces remain.

In a recent conversation, Gojak told me about a strange creature, the Odradek, who appears in Kafka’s, The Cares of a Family Man (1919). Kafka describes the creature as ‘a flat star-shaped spool for thread’. Odradek is propped up by one crossbeam but can also appear to be standing on two legs. ‘He’ is both star-shaped and, yet, has no discernable shape. Kafka seems to have designed the character as a puzzle for sculptors. I imagine Odradek as a form of domestic tumbleweed. The creature is located in the home—in the house of the father/narrator—where he rolls and gathers detritus. Although he is domestic he is also homeless; he has no fixed abode. Odradek epitomises aimlessness: he is not properly alive with purpose, but cannot die from purposelessness. He stays in the in-between spaces of the home, the corridors and halls, and avoids categorisation. He can talk, like a subject, but also rustles like leaves: he is between subject and object.

Odradek brings to mind another spool of thread, a situation that Freud describes in, Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920). In the game, fort/da, a small child flings away a wooden reel; as he does so, he exclaims, ‘fort’, or gone. After, he draws the reel back. As it returns, the child exclaims, ‘da’, or there. Freud speculates about the child’s motivation which seems, at first, ambiguous. When the child throws away the object, he can experience his own capacity to be a ‘good boy’, in the absence of the mother. As the spool returns, the child also satisfies his anticipation of the mother’s eventual return. By recreating the mother’s absence the child makes himself an active agent; he controls the mother’s return. Both Odradek and his cousin spool are creatures that find their animation in the gaps produced by desire.

In Man Ray’s The Rope Dancer the body is missing, he trades on the dexterity of an unknown figure. Her name has not been recorded. The dancer enters into a long lineage that demonstrates the split between artist and muse, sculpture and material, or subject and object. In Mira Gojak’s works the body has also left the scene. As in previous works the sense of the artist’s body continues to impress itself on the form of the works. She has looped, strung and bound these lines. The lines cut another path through art history, one in which the subject/object relation is ambiguous.

Mira Gojak, Distant Measures, 13,689 metres, 2016. Courtesy the artist.

Mira Gojak, Distant Measures, 20,059 metres, 2016. Courtesy the artist.

Distant Measures, 2016. Detail, installation view, Margaret Lawrence Gallery, Melbourne. Courtesy the artist.

notes: 

1. These shadows also have a strong formal rebalance to Marcel Duchamp’s bachelor machines: other shadowy accompanists, who wait their turn.