Karsten Schubert, London, UK
Entropic tragedy litters the gloomy stage upon which Anya Gallaccio performs. Or at least the unfolding oeuvre of life’s grand melodrama has, so far, been orchestrated with a theatrical staging worthy of the ‘aesthetics of loss’, accompanied in chorus by a gaggle of metaphoric inversions and binary oppositions appropriate to the job in hand. In Gallaccio’s latest composition, the walls of the gallery have been coated in a homogeneous layer of dark brown chocolate to a height of seven feet. Where the chocolate has begun to oxidise and mould, a whitish surface has appeared. In the centre of the space sit two dark brown seats which loosely resemble the segmented shape of chocolate bars. Their effect is suspiciously gratuitous: while they are presumably intended to add literal weight to the work’s contemplative status, the consequence of presenting these icons of the viewer’s passivity is clearly self-congratulatory.
As with many of Gallaccio’s installations, ‘Stroke’ will deteriorate, it will transform from one thing to another, and it will be a succession of entities between beginning and ending. This use of temporal scale, calibrated by the diminishing moments of decay (always reverent of the immanence implied by the second law of thermodynamics), acts as a familiar plateau upon which the flow from matter to metaphor is structured. The demonstration of the effect of time on an organic object, whether compressed flowers or smeared chocolate, makes claim to a connection between the aesthetics of decay and to the intentions which these materials are apparently appropriate in serving.
Inevitably in the endeavour to unite intention with means, pathos appropriates nature: a bid for possession humanises a process of integral monstrosity which is in diametrical opposition to man’s disposition to idealising its forms. The problem for Gallaccio is that the strength of the visual effects of decomposition must be subordinated to preserve traces of artistic expression, thus preventing the work from being merely decorative, otherwise the idea would have lived and died with the first apple, bitten, and then left to rot.
As with any gestural practice, the task for the spectator is to decode the evocations, and decipher whether it is appropriate to regard them in ambivalence, to laugh, or to cry. Unfortunately, the delusions of the solitary aesthete loom: a deeper emotional level weighs almost heavily upon the work once the press release claims the smeared chocolate as ‘an intensely personal response to an event in her life’. Closure performed, we adjust our laughter and frown.
The profundity of this binary exchange reverses sickly sweet for sickly sick. But if the ‘morbidly alluring’ pervades in any form within the nauseating smell and creeping nostalgia of rotting chocolate, it is in the excremental element of the work. Here the ‘organic repression’ of olfactory and aesthetic disgust, is sublimated in the form of shit-like food, and shit-like art.
As Freud suggests, infantile erotogenic pleasure occurs in the act of producing faeces, an experience which demonstrates the acquisition of symbolic production. It is this first detachable, free-floating signifier, declaring the existence of the narcissistic ego responsible for unleashing it, that serves as the basis for making art. There is something essentially funny about smearing a gallery with a substance that looks like excrement because it compounds this provocative notion of the origin of the creative act with the transgression latent in a morally challenging joke. If the repressed achieve escape in laughter, then laughter represents a momentary libidinal release.
However, the failure in Gallaccio’s ‘return of the repressed’ is that it emerges in measured form, gaining a further coating of closure in the retentive compositional order and aesthetically restrained framing the presentation adopts. The chocolate was applied with technical and methodical rigour, while the height its was actually defined by the size of the cardboard sheet on which it was spread. This height might otherwise have been mistaken for an ergonomic reference to the body, alluding to the artist’s reach.
Nothing has been unleashed, no violent expurgation of dark laughter, merely a restrained single-speed temporality, a representation of the process of time as historically constant, memorial and dull. It is the reactive retrospection of tepid bourgeois loss that familiarises and alienates this work of art, whereby alienation acts as a methodologically protective glaze encasing its surface with the effects of the picturesque posing as the sublime.
Jake Chapman & David Falconer