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Although Justin Avery's installation, Cell, physically occupied nine square metres of space, it 'filled' the entire room at Soapbox. It consisted of seventy-eight narrow cylinders constructed from calico, stiffened with beeswax and suspended, in a rectangular formation, by thread from the ceiling. Each cylinder hovered between the roof and the floor, humming almost imperceptibly with the vibration of the room, and belying the heartbeat pace of the metronome installed on a low shelf close by. A warm, muted glow emanated from the single globe at the centre of the construction, casting shards of light and shadow that blended with the scent of warm wax, and the dried rosemary scattered underfoot, to complete this multi-sensory performance in which tangible and intangible elements played equal roles.
As a construction which encapsulated the seemingly contradictory qualities of fragility and solidity, segmentation and unity, eel/was essentially an analogy for the interdependence of the components which make up living entities. It explored the idea, perpetuated by eastern philosophy, that we are not autonomous beings but, rather, are the sum of forces and experiences originating, partly, from outside ourselves. In other words, we are our relationships, everything is interrelated and the very concepts of 'identity' and 'autonomy' are mitigated by the circumstances of human existence.
Cell was a metaphor for the self, a self which operates on several inextricable and equally significant levels. As the title of the work implied, one such level was the physiological- the self as a microcosm of interacting cells whose relationships enable the body to function as a united entity. Hence, in the installation, wax cylinders were structured in such a way as to give an impression of corporeality, an impression emphasised by the nucleus-like light radiating from within. The intellectual plane was alluded to by Avery's incorporation of dried rosemary- the herb of remembrance-leading the viewer to acknowledge the significance of circumstances, events and relationships in shaping our internal lives.
Cell also paralleled the spiritual, emphasising the impermanence of the body and the ephemerality of life, as opposed to the endurance of the spirit. Upon first encountering this installation the immediate impression was of a solid, unified mass. However, another viewpoint revealed the core of the work and from here the illusion of solidity collapsed. Closer observation revealed that the installation's parts were fragile, moveable and easily broken. The work referenced the body through the skin-like texture of the calico and the association of this material with clothing. By impregnating the calico with wax-which has insulating and preservative qualities-the cylinders became hardened shells, analogous of preserved human remains absented by the spirit. The pulse-like ticking of the metronome was evocative of a heartbeat and of the passing of time, likewise serving to remind us of the fragility and impermanence of our existence and imparting a sense of urgency.
Finally, Avery's work also could be understood as a comment upon the role of the individual within society. Just as the self is comprised of interrelated parts, so too is society. The self cannot function independently of society, nor can society function without contributions from its various constituents. In this sense cell might be interpreted quite literally as representing a bees' hive: being composed of wax cells and containing a complex society of organisms. The hollow open-ended forms of which Cell was constructed alluded to the flow of energy, relationships, and ideas-to society's constant state of flux and evolution.