Blowing in the Wind…

Blowing in the Wind

By Laura Davidson 

Archipelago is a strikingly utopian title for the show that Gary Stevens has curated. It recalls clichéd imaginings of bright blue skies and rocky, isolated hamlets effortlessly floating above an expanse of shimmering water. Despite the inevitability of having contrasting geological features, these differences allow the islands in an archipelago to create a vision of working in an aesthetic harmony. As Michèle Le Doeuff explains in The Philosophical Imaginary, there is a particular western tradition of developing intellectual enquiry through such idealistic imagery. Le Doeuff recounts the historical use of utopian geographies to describe the human condition. In particular her reading of Thomas More’s Utopia, provides here an account for Archipelago. More’s description of a crescent shaped island situated in a gulf; is translated by Le Doeuff as an amphitheatre with the surrounding water as its stage:

“The inland gulf is, as we have said, a stage. Now in a theatre the stage is the interior representative of exteriority, since what takes place upon it is supposed to take place somewhere else and at another time.” [1]

In the gallery space the artists are occupying their islands, waiting for the performance to begin in their private amphitheatres. Something on the gulf is coming: they just haven’t established exactly what it is yet. The atmosphere at the opening was convivial and sociable. The artists seemed content to be in each other’s company. There was no hint, as the press release suggested, of wars, stealing and occupation. The islands were not spilling over into each other. Over the next six weeks, the gulf between them will be their stage, a place inside that represents what occurs outside. It is apparent in Archipelago that this interior / exterior order is happening simultaneously. It becomes difficult to establish where the amphitheatre and the stage draw their respective territories whilst the artists start to install theirs.

Caving into the compulsion of philosophical tradition, one cannot help but picture storm clouds heading towards this collection of islands:

“The wind is the great foe because it always comes from somewhere else; it is a foreigner par excellence. And the wind may be, like the sea, an inducement to travel, to leave oneself.” [2]

In an approach that is unusual for a private view, the artist’s intentions became confused with something much more underhand. These concealed plans are Le Doeuff’s wind in waiting. What moves are being plotted? And why did they all seem so calm? Claire Blundell Jones’ installation The Crow who didn’t know… (2011) is maybe the first to reveal itself as an island state smuggling hidden objectives. Is a crow really indecisive? Encounters with crows often leave the person feeling harassed and overwhelmed. A crow knows what it wants to get hold of. Why would Blundell Jones enter a territory without a clear boundary and claim to be undecided? On the surface she is leaving her borders open for attack. Similarly, Helena Bryant claims to have been missing for a number of years. During the opening she was scanning the horizon with a large telescope. Is she searching for places lost or approaching invaders? Moreover what if, during Archipelago she was kidnapped, taken to another island and never seen again? Her mysterious missing claims leave her open to an offensive. A dubious background also suggests the alternative: is she an artistic mercenary, waiting for orders, at a price, to claim space for others?

It is of course reasonable to assume that not all interaction between the artists will be of a divide and conquer nature. On the outside the events of the past decade lead us to believe that anything regarding territory is something that leads to war and conflict. It is a curious presumption to make that events staged at the Cafe Gallery will mimic our recent human history. It is at least a defining point between the interior and exterior that Le Doeuff speaks of. In an idyll away from the main cluster of islands, Michelle Griffiths sat writing and performing folk songs. These actions recollected the same romantic notions that the title of the show provoked. The folk or protest singer is emblematic of another era, the 1960s, when nonviolent defiance to the Vietnam War came to define areas of artistic output. Her voice carried through the space and provided a subtle backdrop to the happenings elsewhere in the gallery. Griffiths indicates a possibility that the artists in Archipelago will struggle for autonomy through peaceful coexistence, rather than obliterating the hospitable atmosphere of the opening.


[1] Le Doeuff, M. (1989) The Philosophical Imaginary, Althone, London (p.23)

[2] Ibid (p.25)

 

Image: Emma Benson, Helena Bryant, Frog Morris and visitors in ARCHIPELAGO at Cafe Gallery. Photo by Teresa Noble.

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