Rachel Apelt

The golden carp The golden goose
Ipswich City Council Regional Art Gallery, Ipswich

' .. . the subversive position is a function of the feminine in the subconscious. '

A. J. Meltzer 1988’


A conscious subversion of issues dealing with identity is at the heart of Rachel Apelt's installation, the golden carp the golden goose. The inversions of public issues and private, coupled with the potential for the images and style used in the work to subvert the artist's intent, provide for a fluid and provoking interaction between the viewer and work. Apelt endeavours to straddle social and feminist issues along with questions of a more psychological nature.

The work is structured around myth and fairytale, it is figurative, voluptuous and painted in a sensual, expressive manner suggestive of a folkloric heritage. Using myths to clarify ideas relating to the subconscious self, Apelt addresses fundamental issues of disintegration and re-integration, and at the same time, strikes a blow for women creating a space for themselves to 'be and become'. The installation includes two portraits - one of a younger, the other an older woman – which face into a central wall. These are inscribed and accompanied by motifs of fish and birds respectively, referencing the processes of metamorphosis and creativity, a cycle completed with the reptilian form of the snake. Centrally placed are two large, urn-shaped panels, separated by three smaller square panels. The large panel to the left shows a nubile mermaid-woman, unfolding for all the world like the birth of Botticelli 's Venus. The right-hand panel is painted with an angel, androgynous and struggling to escape the prison of the urn. The narration of faces, figures and their attendant motifs is further enunciated by text which relates to each stage of change and growth: 'existential courage, subject, cohesion, unfolding, r/evolution and stasis, entropy, fragmentation, object, heritage and power.'

Whilst it critiques the sentimental, reductive applications of myth, the installation consists of images in which there evolves a personal mythology of psychic change and growth. Acknowledging the unstable nature of the idea of gender, the work does not present issues of one sex or another, but in a broader sense, deals with the feminine aspect of the psyche. The feminine may be understood as that which is most eloquent within relationships, and perhaps in some ways the work acts as a cautionary tale to warn us to give heed to this aspect of ourselves.

Attacking the limitations of culturally deter mined roles, Apelt makes reference to cultural and psychic boundaries in her depiction of the two central female figures. Their painterly treatment and monumental proportions make specific art historical references to the Renaissance tradition, and more generally, to Western metaphysics. (They also coincidentally connect with the fallen – and perversely all the more 'beautiful'-women of the Pre-Raphelites). The figures are contained and indeed trapped within the urn-like shapes of the paintings, suggesting at once their imminent release from the Grecian forms, and the potential for the vessels to become containers for their remains.

The three panels between the figures are painted with truncated parts of a torso-breasts and unseeing head, hips and pelvis. The proposal here is one of disintegration, and disembodiment. Read as a societal challenge, these panels could signify the loss of wholeness through the separation and objectification of women's physical, intellectual and psychological potential, and, on a more unconscious, psychic level, they might also bear a relation to recurrent snake motifs: the possibility of escape from the confines of conscious structures, and rebirth through the resolution of conflict or crisis.

The use of the sensually painted female nude and the voluptuous shapes of the canvas urns has specific art historical references which will not necessarily be available to a non-art-educated viewing public, and there remains the possibility that the work could be interpreted in just the heroic framework of domination and submission which it seeks to dismantle. Apelt argues that women have the right to depict female nakedness, that the targeted audience is primarily women, not a narrow art educated audience. The overt intent of the work is to 'retrieve women's experience from patriarchal culture; to affirm their bodies, and to counter the (internalised) notion of women as spectacle, distorted, fragmented and posited as other'. the golden carp, the golden goose endeavours to politicise personal experience and to reverse the disempowering process which minimises its value and denies its political status.

In combining the residual and transcendent meanings of the myths with a feminist instinct to tackle punitive, rationalist, patriarchal perspectives of women's potential, Apelt elucidates the significance of the connection between the external and the psychic feminine.