BY Lars Bang Larsen in Frieze | 05 MAY 01
Featured in
Issue 59

Secret Gardens

Tal R's 'Back Garden' (1999) series of drawings are memory implants. Stale air. Bags and balls, big heavy Jehovahs and a looming Habakuk. Things that are what they are.

BY Lars Bang Larsen in Frieze | 05 MAY 01

A miasma of urges and their outlets; feeble-minded forms of childish production - like when you spend half a day hurling old fruit at the white garden wall just to watch the juice splatter and the pulp explode and turn brown. You were the grand mufti of the backyard, your self was the matrix of the world and your body your munificence. This was just before things got seedy, but the driving force remains the same: big-headedness and indolence.

Tal R's back garden psycho-geography collapses the dumbness of the suburb with that of desire. The 1950s-style 'Back Garden' drawings (originally published in 1999 by Pars Electronic in a volume entitled Baghave) are wrapped in the trappings of miscarried attempts at cultivation. The air is clotted with dots, leaves and debris, blowing graphically in the wind; flies describe stuttering, stalling lines of flight, as if reeling from a cosmic fart. Imagine the narrative voice of Samuel Beckett's The Unnamable (1953), rotting away in its vegetable bed, hooked on martial arts and sex. The back garden's recurring elements, rendered in various states of disarray, comprise a kennel, a clothes rack, a stumpy tree, a fence and a sand pit. Various types of anonymous bodies - human, animal, mineral - occupy the space. They are shown engaged in rituals, tests, orgies and everyday acts. Some of the drawings are so base their meaning is crudely obvious. Others depict fantastic tableaux, such as a naked girl appearing in the now diamond-studded garden, or the botanical and magical mutation of the garden's contents. There are other scenarios too: rock bands, kung-fu gyms, a couple of subterranean worlds and a sci-fi cityscape. Some testify to an awry, fairy-tale psychology: under the hairdresser's salon there are the ten ladies - modelled from portraits of Australian transvestites - in their underground chambers, waiting for your visit.

The 'Back Garden' drawings speak of the way (male) obsession, in its narrow ambition, multiplies or elaborates an object; either graphically (dense ballpoint hatchings) or through repetition of a motif ('This drummer is wicked, man - he has 47 tom toms and 16 bass drums!'). Art itself partakes of the back garden's fragrant pleasures - in an ironic jab at the innocent self-referentiality of high Modernism, a bunch of Henry Moore sculptures are shown copulating among themselves. The Freudian topography of the back garden is as primitive and comic as the elementary school model they taught us in Danish lessons: '... here's the Ego-house with the Super-Ego attic, here's the Id-cellar, and here's the back garden where a few nasty things are stored away. They could be on the front porch, but for some reason they're not.'

The Danish artist's broad, statuesque and lumpy figures remind me of Freud's study of Little Hans, in which the child is considered to be a 'sausage', something that breaks away from the body through the bowels. In Tal R's case, all libidinal traffic must pass not through the bowels but through the back garden, which both defines the trajectory and comprises the material constitution of things. It is here that the conversion of forms takes place. The obsessive energies of Tal R's drawings invoke a halo of silence around them, like a record you have heard a thousand times but still can't get out of your head. It is a bodily thing, not something consciously and logically formulated; the representations lack clarity; they are unhygienic, crude, and their language is obscure. You can't tell if they are yelling at you or whispering your name, which creates a sense of unidentifiability that remains tenaciously unresolved. It could be the result of a complete fallacy: suburban claustrophobia generates the need for retreat, while retreat generates the need for further release, except that in your self-imposed exile you have nobody to talk to. Restless and anxious, if you can't direct your surplus energy outwards, you might as well allow it to leave traces of its own mute presence, turning it towards its source of energy: yourself.

Just as the artist's imagery suggests the material density of all things, his nom de guerre is a reduction: the 'R' is short for Rosenzweig. In Danish the third person singular for the verb 'to be' is er, pronounced 'r'. Tal R - Tal is. Or maybe even Tal the self-begotten? Perhaps the big question underlying the 'Back Garden' drawings is: 'Might something exist outside myself?'

A difference has been created in order to reveal the tragi-comedy of provincial subjectivity. At the other end of the spectrum from the provincial lies the exotic, and the desire for otherness (the diamond girl, the sci-fi landscape, the wizard, the Asian endurance tests ...). But these things are also located, or dreamed up, in the back garden. Maybe this tension between the mundane and the exotic, as long as it can be upheld to provide the fuel to continue, is what keeps production going, within the limits of the backyard and within the framework of the artist's 'system'. Still, in the garden deliverance never comes and ecstasy is melancholic; maybe because these two qualities remain organized around subjective fantasies and the more twisted, self-explanatory aspects of laddism. You become a sightseer among the alien things in the province of your back garden. Tal R's drawings seem to say that you can manifest yourself in a number of ways - territorial, repetitive, exalted, imaginative, introverted, adventurous - but most production, including artistic production, is simply a way of whiling away the time. After all, the back garden is a garden of Eden ... of sorts.

Lars Bang Larsen is a writer, curator and director of artistic research at Art Hub Copenhagen, Denmark.