BY Tom Morton in Reviews | 01 JAN 12
Featured in
Issue 144

Donna Huddleston

BY Tom Morton in Reviews | 01 JAN 12

Donna Huddleston Maidenhair 2010, watercolour on paper

Sometime, somewhere, Donna Huddleston will stage Smoke Garden, a performance in which seven women will gather around a lamppost to play a chamber piece on the triangle. This (so far notional) work shares its name with the artist’s recent exhibition at Galerie Juliettè Jongma, which might be read as a sort of prologue or prelude. The triangle, of course, is an instrument associated with summoning. Here, its tings and clangs, or rather the broken delta of its form, called us toward a future event.

Huddleston’s show was accessed through Helmut (all works 2011), a proscenium arch fashioned from ghostly lengths of white fabric. To pass through it was to pass into a more elegant province, one in which Art Nouveau and Art Deco combined with a vaguely sci-fi aesthetic (Flapperpunk? Gatsbypunk?). Here, Smoke Garden’s future performers disported themselves across a series of poised and delicate watercolour drawings. In Lamplight Poster Series / Triangle, two naked women inhabit a triangle’s tubular frame, their pubic hair like puffs of tobacco smoke, their hands linked by a long cord that slumped downward like a sleepy phallus. In a beautifully composed moment, the woman on the right extends her foot into the instrument’s ‘missing’ corner, as though in acknowledgment of the fact that for a triangle to sound, its Euclidean purity must be breached. Two performers become three in Lamplight Poster series / Three Women, in which the central figure shoots rays from her eyes in the manner of a mesmerist or Gorgon, while her sisters bask in the glow of a Victorian lamppost that has been bound with white tape, as though it were a maypole or a rangy bondage enthusiast.

Containment of another sort featured in Lamplight Poster Series / Clouds. Here, a woman rests her pretty chin in her right palm, while her left supports a glass bell jar (another, perkier, phallus) beneath which tiny birds swoop over an explosion of tropical foliage. A lick of her hair forms the word ‘Smoke’, while a passing cloud takes the shape of the word ‘Garden’. This is a place of plants and plumes, of geometry and gesture, where images melt into language, and forms shudder and give voice. The suggestion of sex is everywhere, vibrating through Huddleston’s meticulously controlled line like a note struck by a triangle player’s wand.

If Helmut and ‘Lamplight Poster Series’ pointed toward a theatrical production, so too did the diamond designs taped, like stage markings, to the gallery floor. In the wall sculpture Fountainhead, a dressing-room mirror mounted on a latticework frame – from which hung a length of rope, a black leather glove and a shiny steel triangle, – seemed to anticipate a highly ritualized performance, somewhere between a magic act and an S&M scene. Perhaps it could be summoned into being by Liz, a bronze doorknocker in the shape of a woman’s turbaned head that visitors were invited to rap; or perhaps it was already being played out in some out-of-sight spot in the looking-glass realm evoked by Lamplight, a triangular mirror onto which was fixed a silhouette of a female form that appeared to be walking both forward and backward, into our world and its spectral twin.
Perhaps, in the end, Huddleston’s strange and beautiful show was about the pains and pleasures of waiting. (It is surely no coincidence that the title ‘Smoke Garden’ evokes a place where one might gaspingly scratch a nicotine itch.) The geometric triangle is wholly predictable – its interior angles will always add up to 180 degrees. The musical triangle, an instrument of indefinite pitch, is not. To guess at what notes it might ring out, we must look to its player. It is she that sketches-in its vanished vertex with the lines of her desires.

Tom Morton is a writer, curator and contributing editor of frieze, based in Rochester, UK.