Disintoxication

Elizabeth Day and Christopher Dean
Pendulum, Sydney

The meeting of Elizabeth Day's textile pieces with Christopher Dean 's painted objects in Disintoxication amounts to an intriguing and complex meditation on the processes of memory which underpin consciousness. The medium and the metaphor for this meditation is clothing. One's initial experience of the installation is of a tension between Dean's painted works in which items of clothing are attached and painted over and 'into' canvasses in thick coatings of pink, blue or lilac monochromes, and Day's large pieces where clothes are assembled in phases of disintegration.

On one wall of the gallery Day has arranged a plethora of pre-loved items under a gauze covering which acts to unify the ensemble by blurring the individual items under a filmy haze. On closer inspection the ensemble contains areas where the clothes seem to have unravelled into shapeless masses composed of their constituent textile materiality. This unravelled formlessness becomes comprehensive in the other of Day's pieces These  include two large floor piecesone rectangular and the other circular-comprised of fluid patchworks of unpicked jumpers. The rectangular work dominates the second, smaller room in the gallery space while a similar patterning-or rather undoing of patterning covers a - column at the entrance to the show.

These works privilege deformation and disintegration in their encounter with clothing. Clothes are the most immediate and intimate of cultural forms which, as items purchased, made, worn, worn out, discarded, lost and exchanged are integral to one's life-experience and personal history. The size of Day's works emphasise the significance of clothing in this regard. Her reworking of clothing form and material becomes a leitmotif of the processes of memory which inform and deform personal and cultural identity. The way her works associate themselves with architectural structures-one fills an entire wall of the gallery space, another repeats the rectangular shape of the floor space it covers and the third transforms a supporting column-adds to the sense that they want to assert the foundational, structural importance of these processes. But Day's unravelling of clothinginto blurred and unidentifiable non-forms points to an entropy haunting the relationships between sensation, intellection and recollection which we call memory. Her works seem to pose a paradoxical architectonics of individual /cultural subjectivity inflected toward the female subject through the choice of clothes and the un-picking of hand-knitted items- in which de-structuring and disintegration seem to be fundamental to the subject's re-membrance of its own experiences in/as an integral self.

By contrast, Dean's works involve a process of fixing, framing and preserving items of clothing in such a way that they are retained permanently as objects classifiable in a simple, colour-coded system. These objects recall Jasper Johns' proto-pop version of collage/assemblage in which plaster casts of everyday objects and fragments of the human form were fixed on the canvas to the point of petrifaction beneath thick layers of monochrome encaustic paint. If Johns' works of the late '50s/early '60s seem to suspend and make relative the significance of the human form and the objects with which it interacts in the everyday, Dean's works perform a related operation on the clothes which they re-present. The sense of  an intimate relation between the items (bras, panties, ties, braces, booties, lace dresses, skirts) and the bodies which they clothed (or would have clothed) is both evoked and eradicated in the way these items are flattened into a crumpled quasi two-dimensionality by the uniform imposition of paint.

Dean's objects propose a form of recollection dominated by an ambivalent process of retention and transmutation. The systematic, even obsessive process whereby the piece of clothing is retained in toto is also a process of reframing and congelation that eliminates something vital of the clothing 's existence. Remembering must, these works would indicate, unavoidably involve the fixing and classification of a fleeting and complicated material reality in order for something to be retained and rendered coherent in the temporal structure of consciousness. But Dean poses a question about the unavoidable casualty of such a synthesizing of experience.

From seemingly opposite directions, then, these two contributors to Disintoxication converge in a meditation on the paradoxes of memory which seem to simultaneously perturb and underlie the illusion of continuity and coherence which we call subjectivity. Day's passage from recognisable clothes to an unrecognisable 'abjection' of clothing 's form first appears in stark contrast to Dean's rigid and systematic processing of personal apparel. The latter's focus on the most intimate items such as underwear, a girl's lace dress and baby's booties and his choice of nostalgic and over-determined colours such as pink, blue and mauve (the commercial name for this colour is 'Girlfriend') seems, however, to respond to Day's larger, looser pieces. [1] And Day's unraveling forms are all constrained in geometrical and/or architectural framings. Like Dean's works they too remind one of the sobering limits of memory which are both its poison and its cure. For memory would involve, impossibly, both the limiting of the intoxicating complexity of sensations and associations surrounding the experience of clothing (what we could call memory's 'clothing of experience'), and the overwhelming of the structure of that experience in the permanent unpicking of stable forms intrinsic to the dynamics of 're -collection'.

notes: 

[1] One could elaborate here an intriguing complexity of trafficking across conventional gender and artistic borders '" play between the two contributors to this exhibition which I have only hinted at. For instance, Day’s large floor pieces resemble that most masculine· of art productions, an Abstract Expression drip painting which is understood in part as a record of the artist's consciousness as "he" experienced it during the act of creation. And Dean's paintings allude to "femnine" practicos such as lace-making and interior decorating even as they activate a quasi-scientific archiving of these items of largely infant and feminine apparel.