BY Melissa Gronlund in Reviews | 01 APR 06
Featured in
Issue 98

Damian Roach

BY Melissa Gronlund in Reviews | 01 APR 06

I was once standing in a Starbucks and forgot which one I was in. Then I thought: what if you could beam yourself through chains? Order a latte on Oxford Street and pick it up in Ladbroke Grove. Then you could pop into an Accessorize and wind up in another branch in Manchester. Imagine the possibilities! Damien Roach’s exhibition ‘The Deepness of Puddles’ also attempts to re-order the world according to new criteria. Rather than by subject, organize your library by colour. Maps could reflect physical resemblance rather than physical proximity. The world opens up. The show – Roach’s engaging though uneven first UK solo outing – brings together a number of works in various media, each addressing the possibility of escape afforded by altered perception. For reasons that are clear he grounds this thesis in the historical context of the 1960s and ’70s.

Mind expansion is taken literally, with tricks of perception translating into geographical displacement. The wall installation Transit (#2) (2005) creates a crossword puzzle-like maze of vintage postcards, juxtaposing the photographs according to formal contiguity: the edge of a mountain in Wales attaches itself to one in France; the crest of the Mediterranean flows into the Pacific. In a publication distributed at the show – a compendium of 1960s’ artefacts such as optical puzzles, mandalas and fractals – Roach underlined similarities among maps of rivers, bolts of lightning, spindly tree branches and the bronchi in your lungs.

Formal characteristics trump all others, and the works suggest an interesting link between altered perception and Classical notions of mimesis. In the work Eidolon (2005) tea stains on an overturned table become palm trees. The title, which is Greek for the ‘image of an ideal’, alludes to Plato’s theory of the Forms (eidos). Plato perceived reality as already imitative of the eternal Forms; therefore artistic imitation (imitation of an imitation) is doubly false. (This was his rationale for banning artists from the Republic.) Rather than seeing art as deception, Roach proposes eidolon as emancipatory, something that will free your mind in a way vaguely analogous to the LSD-laced avenues explored by psychedelic adventurers in the 1960s. If everything is just representation, we need only concern ourselves with the outward semblance of an object. Skies can be marmalade, and tea stains palm trees. Roach’s best works, mining these possibilities, draw a line between mimesis in art and everyday perception, seen afresh.

In River, Trees, Cloud, Sky (2005), for example, a stack of books – many of them travel guides, with faded blue-green spines – creates an elegant column of colour. Sky blue transforms into aqua and then into cobalt at the top. The guides become a visual representation of the environment rather than written descriptions – or, just as nicely, a pure and simple examination of colour. In the same way that lightning relates to antique maps of river basins, so under Roach’s ordering principles the aqua-toned Rough Guide to Prague logically lies next to the blueish Virgin Guide to New York as well as the cerulean Sons and Lovers.

In the corner of the gallery the DVD Meanwhile (2005) loops a scene of Milla Jovovich from the film Dazed and Confused, Richard Linklater’s 1993 homage to the year 1976. A nostalgic memory of real events, it is a reminder of the fact that many representations of the era smack of parody or the sentimentalization of adolescent rites of passage. Roach avoids this tendency towards psychedelia fatigue by being precise about his interest in the period – in particular, its investigations into appearance and reality. Instead of aiming for a reconstruction of the time, he sets his works into what he has already identified, to a certain extent, as his own palette and style.

Roach has a real eye for colour and form, and this is most evident when he sticks close to the visual qualities of his material. Transit (#2) carries your eye across the vistas of the landscapes, gently playing off the shallowness of the cartoonish vintage cards. The two-dimensional can still be profound.

Melissa Gronlund is a writer based in Abu Dhabi, UAE.