This is the second exhibition Rachel Goodyear has given in Manchester in as many months, the last one at the Cornerhouse with The Intertwining Line, where she exhibited with other artists. I meant to blog on it but never got round to it (naughty me!) Anyway, I became interested in Goodyear’s work there and decided to pop along to The International 3 to see her latest work.
Goodyear draws, in graphite and ink, small intimate pictures of people and animals, and the natural world usually entwined in ambiguous moments, that was the impression I had going to this exhibition, and my imagination wasn’t disappointed. On leaving I did a word association game in my mind to try and distil some of what I had just seen. I came up with ‘isolation’, ‘void’, ‘unprotected’, ‘suggestive’, ‘technical’, ‘mythology’, ‘miniature’, and ‘sightless’, among other words, and these words, or the impression they give, sums up Goodyear’s recent work for me.
I attended a talk that Goodyear gave at the Cornerhouse to accompany her art in The Intertwining Line so I already knew that she was interested in concepts like the void and isolation. But I think that any viewer of her work can come to this conclusion, I get it initially from the medium her work is presented in: white paper with minimal pencil or pen drawings. We get pictures of dogs, people, birds and wolfs, alone or in groups, branches reaching out, insects invading, and it becomes clear to me that they cannot be ‘isolated’, that there is always something going on, an interaction of some sort, no the feeling that is inspired is vacuum, or maybe ennui and a sense of aloneness, extenuating the space between, as no phenomenon is in isolation. I am making a philosophical point here, ‘isolation’ is a word misused in much the same way that ‘nothingness’ is misused, as, strictly being, there is no such thing as ‘isolation’ or ‘nothingness’, there always being something. It is impossible to represent ‘isolation’ one can only approximate something similar to it, say, a vacuum: that is: ‘a region containing no matter, free space’. Scientists can measure vacuums because they can be compared with what is around them (a region), ‘isolation’ on its literal meaning (‘without regards to context, similar matters’), cannot be measured and, therefore, cannot be known.
I digress, it is a bit of a bug-bear with me as I have a phenomenological theory that ‘no phenomenon is in isolation’ because no thing has ever come from nothing…………(I’ll leave that for another post); but what these thoughts bring to my impression of Goodyear’s art do tally with something she has said about her work, the unprotected nature of what she does and what she represents: “Drawing manifests itself upon paper or the manipulation of found objects, all displayed unprotected, offering no evident elevation of status from conception to display.” (from this website) We get this unprotected narrative, look at Girl who smiles at dogs, 2008, four dogs in a semi-circle (Alsations?) facing us snarling, teeth showing. There is a woman’s back, shoulders and head facing us, we must assume her condition, fear? terror? or something malevolent, “a look of ghastly, twisted satisfaction on her face.” as the exhibition leaflet says. That’s the point, its unprotected, and to a degree, sightless: when the eyes are not facing us, they are either physically missing, altered in some way or misplaced as in Making new acquaintances, 2009. This art is very suggestive, presented on the walls with no accompanying titles (though they are all titled) they can be viewed with your own fantasies in mind. The titles, when you come to them, are straight-forward, descriptive titles that leave no room to dream…….Stags with dark eyes……Girl through a hoop……….Dog digging…….yet every single image leaves questions (unprotected?), why is she doing that? what does it mean? why are they interacting like that? There is no obvious narrative.
Or maybe the narrative is fantastical and mythological? On the face of it, of course we’re in some sort of fantasy when we view these pictures, they’re so unreal, everyday objects (people, animals, trees, ect) taken out of an everyday context, with interactions between man and animal, incongruent relations…….ah, now we’re in the realm of myths. Traditional definitions tell me that a myth contains super-human beings, determined in an earlier age, a pre-literate age, that natural phenomenons are interpreted by such fantastical creatures. or that the myth is a theme or character-type that represents an idea. Goodyear’s myths should be treated as similes, that is the drawings, like a figure of speech, resembling one thing in order to represent something other, of a different category. We get a sense of this in the graphite scene, Cave that Coughed, where out of the white void comes a cave entrance spitting out some twisted branch on which resides a wolf, snakes, some birds, one of which is falling off. The exhibition curator, Angela Kingston, in her explanatory notes, refers to Jung’s interpretation of a dream he had about a cave: “Jung interpreted the cave in his dream as a passage to the unconscious.” She should know that this ‘interpretation’ was actually Jung’s interpretation/use of Plato’s Cave Analogy, inverted: while Plato wished to show the ‘real world’ to the cave dwellers by leading them from the cave and into the light of the sun, explaining that to begin with the brightness of the sun (true knowledge, which comes from the Forms) would make it hard to see, Jung was interested in the psychological aspects of the dark, the unconscious. Truth is to be found in the recesses, of the mind as well as in nature. (Another bug-bear of mine is that, philosophically and phenomenologically speaking, there is no such thing as the ‘unconscious’, what is meant by this word is ‘repressed memory’, it being impossible to ‘unconsciously recognise the unconscious’, no we forget conscious moments.) Goodyear provides another interpretation bringing in the thought of co-existence and evolution: how do these animals live (and evolve) together in a cave, this wolf, snake and birds?
And this is what I like from art, the posing, the disputes over meaning, but there is also beauty involved, a technical element that pleases. These are delicately drawn illustrations that show technical virtuosity, with a naturalist’s eye for detail. Close up viewing is required and this takes me back to the minimal presentation of these drawings, their focused nature: the surrounding void focusses the eye. I am also reminded of Goya’s engravings, individual moments of madness frozen in time, the sense of abuse, the implied torment that some of Goodyear’s characters go through, we see women in unnatural positions, with physical abnormalities, alien-like growths………where do we go from here? To the art gallery, I say.