Mapping the substance

Glen Henderson
Queensland University Art Museum, Brisbane

My footsteps make this place familiar to me as they repeat and retrace the pathways which form my journeys, connecting sites and sights in the city. it is busy and bare, ordered and disordered, fragmented and cohesive. In this place of contradictions, I find my bearings through the familiar only to realise that it is a// too familiar. Strange, uncanny, [un]heimlich.

In Glen Henderson's Mapping the Substance, that familiar and contradictory urban environment is stripped into modular architectural features and distilled into minimal sculptural works. These sculptures do not act through simulation, but as metonym and diagram, forming both a symbolic relationship with the exterior and a spatial relationship within the interior. They come to signify their reducible worlds. In this systematic reduction, Henderson presents a matrix of suggestive details by which we experience both orientation and disorientation.

The architecture shifts from the exterior to an interior which is white and silent and still. Is this inside-out or outside-in? This arrangement, however, is not a simple reversal but a re-routing of knowledges grounded in experience; this reducibility of the city reveals the irreducibility of the body. As Maurice Merleau Ponty contends, the body is the continual site of return and experience. Situated in dialogue with the world, the body speaks of the world and the world speaks through the body.1

In the city the body is lost until it finds its way or finds its fit, pressing onward, somehow reflected in and imprinted on the surfaces which surround it, us. From the spaces in which we are dwarfed, we extract and reference fragments, details by which we come to know our places and ourselves. I would like to say that I am lost in this space, that I cannot find my way. The four rooms which comprise the gallery forbid this: this is the intention , if not the purpose, of such architecture. Installation works both with and against the gallery as site. However, Henderson's works do layer the space through this experiential deterritorialisation. She creates folds and surfaces, discreet spaces which give the illusion of depth: measured, referential and reflected.

Yet there is always a return to the body. Henderson's work pulls us closer to the phenomenological. The artist's body in relation to its work- the sculpture, the hand, the gesture-and my body in relation to this composition. I am aware of those marks as details. In his catalogue essay, Peter Anderson refers to this as a 'shift in register, moving in to observe the detail of the hand-made, to the close work of stitching, carving and surface- making'.2 In this respect, there is so much to see. In one room where every1hing is white, Henderson has placed a series of boxes on the wall. Each is open on the side. Looking into the box, mirrors reflect the 'underside' of the frontspiece made of stitched wood. Through this double vision, the artist reveals the making of these maps: this surface is not seamless. On the facing wall are a series of small sculptural works, somehow corporeal and pulsing. The body measures, it makes and maps. Despite their solidity and the sense that the artist has laboured, these works retain their delicacy, variation and musicality. As such, there is a whispered promise or possibility of flight.

Mapping the Substance unfolds slowly and methodically, legato. I can describe myself in this space. I am not a viewer here, but a reader and a navigator: perhaps a traveller acutely aware of my trajective randomness. As the architecture endures by subtraction, I become aware of my movements, my walk, my breathing, my rhythm. In the precision of this environment, I am so imprecise and clumsy, staccato. A pleasant surprise when I see something I hadn't noticed as I passed through before. These minimal works belie their apparent simplicity. Standing close , I search for more complexity ,intermezzo. This is a search for knowledge, the knowledge imbued in these objects, the imprints of body and gesture. it is also the evocation of memory, the memory of passing through, passing by, of not being in one place but in all places. In Mapping the Substance, I am aware of a breath and a becoming that is strange and in-between.

notes: 

1 . Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Prose of the World, Ed. Claude Lefort, trans. John O'Neill, Northwestern University Press. USA, 1991 (fp 1973), p. 77

2. Peter Anderson, Building from the Body: Glen Henderson's Mapping the Substance, Catalogue Essay, University Art Museum, University of Queensland, St Lucia, 1998