art > Musings from Halicarnassus (2011)

Artwork developed and exhibited for 'Evidence of Absence', at DEATH BE KIND gallery, Melbourne, July 2011.

Artists: Catherine Bell, Michael Needham,
& Alarma! curated by Tony Garifalakis with Artemio, Ruben Gutierrez, Manuel Mathar, Maria Alos, Cristian Franco, Edgar Cobian, Felipe Manzano, Joaquin Segura, Daniela Edburg, Eduardo Abaroa, Ilan Lieberman

Text from exhibition, by Jess Kelly

Evidence of Absence at DEATH BE KIND is an exhibition of works where death is assimilated via ghastly consumption, melancholic digestion, and prodigious excretion. Catherine Bell triggers feelings of abstract abhorrence by filling the gallery space with a sea of thousands of hand-made pellets of rat shit, which the audience is compelled to pass through.

Stemming from Bell's own horror at discovering rats living in her studio (a fact witnessed by the faecal visiting cards left behind by the rodents) this work plays on the complexities of scale and the emotional response to matter experienced en masse.
While a single innocuous pellet would barely warrant a second glance, this flooding of the space with ordure invokes a deep revulsion because in viewing it we are forced to contemplate the sheer number of rats it would take to create this mess, and suddenly the gallery is haunted with a smell, the sound sharp teeth devouring everything in reach and the scratching of hundreds of sharp claws scampering across the floor. These imaginings carry with them the miasma of disease and squalor, the black death, and the disquieting feeling of unwelcome visitors.

The work plants unsettling seeds which thrive easily in our imaginations, thus our discomfort arises not from the work itself, but from what it represents.

Michael Needham's work draws upon the ancient story of Artemisia, the widow queen of Mausolus, whose grief became larger than the life it recalled. After her husband's death, Artemisia devoted her life to his mourning. She built the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, the grandeur of which was given to represent the enormity of her grief, and it is believed that she also consumed his ashes.

The story resonates with Freud's theory that deep melancholia signifies the rupturing of the ego – the loss of the self – as a result of the internalisation, rather than release, of the lost object.

Like a tomb or memorial, Needham's work underlines the absence of that which is recalled, and leaves us with a strange sense of loneliness and undirected yearning. As viewers we fumble for a point of recognition: Faceless resin busts fail to meet our gaze; our own reflection escapes us in a darkened mirror; and a glass decanter, holding not wine but the ash-like remains of the mirror's reflective surface, reminds us of Artemisia's cannibalistic consumption of her husband's ashes, and the turning of her own body into his tomb and final resting place.

Both Bell and Needham's work dwell not on the object, but the fact of its absence. In contemplating the work of these artists we find that memory has an almost tangible presence, like a stain, which continues to occupy the space long after the object itself has disappeared.

curated by Tony Garifalakis
Artemio, Ruben Gutierrez, Manuel Mathar, Cristian Franco, Edgar Cobian, Felipe Manzano, Joaquin Segura, Daniela Edburg, Eduardo Abaroa, Ilan Lieberman

Alarma! is a Mexican tabloid magazine that focuses largely on violent crime. The content of the magazine, while being dominated by gratuitous coverage of horrific murder scenes, is interspersed with advertisement for dating agencies, horoscopes, and sexy centrefolds. These juxtapositions are disconcerting, and yet somehow humanising. In this bizarre, sensationalised account of what are often argued to be the two greatest motivators – sex and death – they act as a reminder that despite all things, life goes on. Tony Garifalakis invited artists living in Mexico City to respond to the magazine for this exhibition at Death Be Kind, the array of responses examine a forensic aesthetic influenced by the tabloid demand and consumption of death and violence.

Musings from Halicarnassus
Erased mirror, plaster, enamel, Turkish decanter, mirror shavings, marble shelf, steel brackets, resin, ash, cast-iron, pencil on etching paper
Dimensions variable
Mortgage in Self (Undefined)
Erased mirror, plaster, enamel, Turkish decanter, mirror shavings, marble shelf, steel brackets
75 x 30 x 17 cm
Faceless #1, #2, #3
Resin, ash, cast-iron
42 x 14 x 9 cm each
The Queen's Lack
Pencil on etching paper
91 x 90 cm