Lyn Plummer: Endgame

A matter of balance

On one level Lyn Plummer's installation deals with matter of (im)balance-notably, the place of women in art historical representation. The seven imposing fragile/strong free-standing forms measure up to almost five metres high and are positioned like chess figures, in keeping with the semantics of the title, Endgame. The fragile/ strong dichotomy indicates the precariousness of any enterprise that would seek to redress an (im)balance.

The hard-looking geometric and metallic coloured 'bones' of the pieces contrast markedly with the organic matter that drapes and shrouds the skeletal structures. it is this somewhat anxious unity of apparent opposites in Plummer's work that carries her emotive request to us to reassess our socially received notions of 'femininity' and 'masculinity'-a theme with which Plummer has frequently dealt.

The seven forms of this installation are mounted on pedestals (or circus podiums), and some fabric spills onto the floor. This has the effect of endowing the works with a remoteness, a sense of ceremony, an apparently untouchable quality. It is as though we have entered some manner of temple, or sacred chamber. The setting is at once ethereal and charged with atmospheric power. It suggests that the concerns of sexual politics are not the sole object of Plummer's investigation, that also she hypothesizes upon the notion of the social universality of the rite.

An initial reaction to the veil-draped forms of the installation is to construct a possible connection to Salome and her celebrated dance of the seven veils. This idea, however, can be dismissed as rapidly as it is entertained because it is not, in fact, the seduction process we are witnessing but its end result-endgame-checkmate-no further moves possible-entrapment ; the Bride of Shahmat (or King in the chess game) and the sacrificial offering to the victor, the offering of the Thalamus, being at hand. This offering is somewhat veiled and obscured from the frontal perspective, augmenting its status as that which is desired.

The connotation of entrapment is reinforced by the relative immobility of the forms. Apart from a certain 'play' of the banners on the walls, and a sense that the forms might 'give' somewhat, the 'chess figures' can move no more. Their placement is quite deliberate and there is a near-consistent use of linear forms. Everything points to the inevitable conclusion that the sought-after figure has been snared at last.

The other aspect of the 'play' that underpins the installation is the use of steel forms resembling circus ladders (as well as heraldic spears). These reinforce the possibilities of risk, danger, threat, and the omnipresent mood of precariousness. Twelve banners line the walls around the space: collaged images of women from art history, from women's magazines and from Playboy pindowns (sic). The mosaic effect thus produced is enhanced by delicate application of paint. The artist would appear to be asserting that the representation of woman has been "played around with" in visual history.

The number twelve is not gratuitous, referring as it does to the hours of the clock, the months of the year and various cyclical functions, notably life, birth, death, menses. The shroud effect of the veils contributes to a mood of looming death, as does the entrapment of the bride and the faceless forms. As opposed to this, there is the coincident insinuation of life blood staining the fabric.

By extending the metaphor of the church/the atre, the wall banners might be likened not just to medieval heraldic cloths, but also to altar curtains/ stage props, and the like.

In the large forms themselves there is again a marriage of "fragile/strong" materials, with the metal structures, and the meticulous and intricate layering, embroidery, and highly decorative manipulations of terylene voile, tissue paper, cheese-cloth, woven thread, basket fibre, lacework, paint and lacquer. The forms can be seen as being bird-like, with membrane-like wings (or sails) outstretched over curved ribs. The association is in line with Plummer's previous play on the idiom "bird" to signify woman.

The layering-draping-binding factor is important in the constitutions of the forms, both in reference to its protective, swaddling emphases, and the idea of building layers of meaning with their eventual de-constructing and revealing.

The placement of the figures is carefully ordered in the square gallery space. The bride or king is positioned top centre. Predictably this is a highly decorative piece, evidencing obsessive care in its "dressing", and "crowned" by a curved membrane of fabric.

The two adjunct figures are the queen's or bride's attendants. They flank the bride of either side, being the light and dark queens in chess. In front of the attendants stand the guards, perhaps more phallic in shape, and between them the sacrificial "womb", a hollow organ-like structure which is said to house a bird-form. This element of the installation also resembles some form of extricated organ, or flayed animal. Alternatively, it is reminiscent of the enclosure of a chrysalis, or larvaltyp material. The three gold masks below, their hollow garments spilling onto the floor, again look like victims to the cause.

One is simultaneously attracted to the opulence of treatment of the fine materials and extreme decoration, and repulsed by the horror of the brutal overtones of applied detail. In her treatment of the fabric, Plummer achieves a sense of skin bleeding, exposed and partially peeled away, torn, somewhat decayed. She calls it "impregnated tissue ... distressed flesh ... " Is this the fate of the bride-priestess, adorned on the stage in all her empty glory?

Plummer's workings on the fabric register sacrifice, sexual contact/violation, torture and the scars of birth, life and death. She says the effect of exposed flesh is "erotic like lace"-a push and pull between concealing and showing the female 'wares'. The ceremonial gown in- particular is treated in this manner, bespeaking sacrifice.

Plummer plays semantic games with the names of her actors, and we can deconstruct them variously, employing numerous mythologies and etymological variants. The Bride of Shahmat might relate to shamanism, as well as the wellarmed virgin warrior, the partner of the Sun, the high priestess in some mythologies. Attendant

Aurum would seem to designate golden matter and thence alchemy, and Attendant Akronukas might signify another metallic compound in alchemy, among other possible mythological meanings. The Offering of the Thalamus refers variously to a metal, a monstrous creature in some mythologies, the brain, the enclosed part of a plant and the enclosed female parts. One might probe these titles further as it is evident that they yield rich and multi-layered signification, just as the forms themselves are multi-layered.

Above all, the installation works to great advantage in the experimental gallery of the Queensland Art Gallery, and represents a daring change of pace in Lyn Plummer's work. It documents her transition to a much bolder scale and to the creation of intentional harmony/discord between traditionally disparate materials.