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But is there any such thing as a beginning. Be natural is there. And a middle. And an ending.
Gertrude Stein. Autobiography Number Two 1
The chronological and Hegelian 2 sequences of 'history' are not, apparently, the motivating forces underlying Lynette Voevodin's and Franz Ehmann's collaborative installation , Human Generation, although time is an attendant factor, and spatial considerations dominate the foreground.
The effect of this show by two locally trained artists is undeniably significant. Even 'suffocating ' – to appropriate one recorded comment. "Art that explores the potential for human energy"3 was employed to convey, package and deliver a sense of artistic intention. This fades to a token, a mere bait, when the subject is installed, pursuing a foolhardy attempt to privilege elements.
Through Ehmann , Human Generation appears like a concave mirror of archaic symbolic order, reflected and reengaged via 'Beuysian-spirituality' 4. An almost exclusively figurative presence by Voevodin decentres Ehmann's bodiless flight, adding generative foci yet inscribing the human role.
Generation then calls on notions of production and reproduction, supported by reference to tactile systems of survival and conductivity, honey bees, copper wire and human action. Human Generation was installed like a restrained coil in the Gallery confines. Incredible strength was achieved through an indefinite scope for interconnection between observed and perceived elements. Discard the matrix array for a non-linear assault!
The installation oscillated between sensitivity and brutality, sliding between the visible and the phenomenal, reconstructing and re-presenting the obvious with epistemic intentions and consequences. Reference to a co-existence of polarities was carried through from the organic potato stamp (on one of Ehmann's work benches) carved with the interchange of positive and negative signs , to the fusion of sexes in Voevodin's larger-than-life nine metre paintings.
Essences of generation were in the dynamic exchanges of energy, within each work and between the artists' contributions. In writing on Beuys Secret Block, Caroline Tisdall states that the play of shifting levels was required to bring into being a new all embracing thinking forms Beuys considered that the solution which lay between these poles was in finding "the evolutionary step towards a new kind of freedom."6 This recognition of generative energy at the margins of difference becomes the means for transformation.
The dualistic exchange is thus extended to multiplicity, invoking Beuysian principles of thinking/communicating as widening, unifying and energizing.7 Such a process encompasses and extends rather than obviates the dichotomous structures of phallogocentric society. While such actions are occurring within the postmodern project, feminist writers such as Irigaray, Cixous and Eisensteins have made fundamental contributions to the underlying imperatives of practising on the margins of difference. Sexual difference in particular.
In Voevodin 's Sex and Dancing, a compositional solidarity of figures, coupled like genes, occurs between an ethereal rendering of wax and oil pigment. It isolates and partitions, emphasizing figurative expression, raising the spectre of substantive segregation and simultaneous alienation. Collectively the rhythms of sex and dancing and what exists in-between play an elusive tune on the psyche.
The in-between, or interval is occupied by desire, the expression of a sense of attraction and tension. "The transition to a new age coincides with a change in the economy of desire, necessitating a different relationship between man and man, man and the world, man and woman ."s lrigaray posits that a return of wonder to this gap could motivate a new generation, "Wonder cannot seize, possess or subdue ... an object... ", allowing an autonomy based on difference.10
How to Explain Death to a Bee and How to Explain Time to a Bee by Ehmann reinforce the dimension of synchronic energy referred to figuratively by Voevodin.
Tactility, communication and interaction with the subject activate a tension as visitors, confronted by beeswax oozing with honey and suspended above a camp bed , try to effect detached observation. This 'invitation' to ingest the fluid of Human Generation is contrasted with a clinical relegation and moral avoidance of life 's juices in wider society.
Elemental codes are intrinsic to the materials employed. The Irish word for perfection, ceirbheach, is beeswax. 11 In calling upon perfection in terms of bee colonies, unity, complexity and product (honey=love), there is a corresponding statement on human generation. Biological science contends that the survival of a bee colony depends on the ability to communicate through dance. Dancing conveys essential information on the location of food sources as well as forming a mechanism of democratic decision making within the swarm over community issues such as the site of a new dwelling. The means of explaining death to a bee may occur through dance, but it is futile when the concept of individual fate is superseded by the regenerative nature of the community. The prospect strikes a disturbing chord to libertarians.
The significance of dancing resides not only in the communication between individuals but, in the process, is sustaining and regenerative to society – a vehicle between the one and the many. In Treadmill and Life's Expectations, Voevodin appears to consider the consequences of wonder/desire and the nature of human engagement-to what tunes are we dancing and where is our energy directed? These works are painted on doors with locks set on vacant and engaged respectively, and the former consigns crowds of figures, active in individual concerns, to a bounded panel, absent or disengaged from the project of life 's possibilities which lie behind the door.
Christopher Downie's catalogue essay overlays the work with phenomenal form. The nature and product of body energy are examined, not at the sites of sexual difference and margins of productive tension, but in terms of an historical sculpting of human capacity. Under principles of acceleration, such as technology and the media, humanity is consumed "[i]n an environment bordering on the hysterical, the body is the final site of inscription as it disappears under its own weight of history and science."12
The show as a whole exemplifies the futility of trying to contain meaning, and, although the viewer is prompted to re-construct, it is an explorative exercise of will. Books of Ehmann's drawings reveal points of germination, where the sculptures and paintings express some of the possible outcomes.
If, as Conrad Atkinson wrote, a function of the existing system is to render its controls invisible, then many of the works in Human Generation render the means for transformation of the system visible .l3 Engagement and recognition are pre-requisites.
1. Janet Hobhouse, Everybody Who Was Anybody—A Biography of Gertrude Stein, Arena Book, 1975.
2. Hegelian in the sense of the sequence; thesis, antithesis and synthesis.
3. Used in artist's publicity and promotion, see also Christopher Downie's catalogue introduction to the exhibition.
4. This attributes a particular perspective and approach to Beuys as creative rather than creator.
5. Caroline Tisdall in the catalogue essay for Joseph Beuys—The Secret Block for a Secret Person in Ireland, MOMA, Oxford, 1974.
6. Ibid. Beuys in The Secret Block…
7. Ibid. Tisdall in The Secret Block…
8. For instance: Luce lrigaray "Sexual Difference" (trans. Sean Hand) in French Feminist Thought—A Reader, Toril Moi (ed.) Basil Blackwelllnc. 1989; Heleme Cixous and Catherine Clement, The Newly Born Woman, (trans. Betsy Wing), University of Minnesota Press, 1986; Hester Eisenstein and Alice Jardine (eds.), The Future of Difference, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, 1985.
9. Ibid. Luce lrigaray, p. 120.
10. Ibid. Luce lrigaray, p. 124.
11. Op cit. Tisdall in The Secret Block…
12. Christopher Downie, catalogue introduction to Human Generation Exhibition 1990.
13. Conrad Atkinson, catalogue statement in Picturing the System, Caroline Tisdall and Sandy Nairne (eds.) Pluto Press/ICA, Britain, 1981.