While we may aspire, we have still figured the unknown through ghosts, gods, aliens and demons. Our doubts over biogenetic developments and the new controls promised over nature also find cultural form in the monstrous and in re-articulations of Prometheus’ downfall. Indeed, our origins are imagined in violent primal myths. Our future can be seen as a grim ecological uncertainty. We draw upon and wrestle with these states in the search for purpose and understanding. And still we aspire.
Those have stemmed from Them. This is an ongoing project where Treacy gathers abandoned clothing found in offbeat grounds and neglected spaces. These are dark underpasses, desolate riverbanks and lay-by overgrowth. They are on the other side of hoarding. His finds are assembled to appear as figures of retribution. They are perverse and macabre. Deviant. They are described by Treacy as the furtive fruit of these fertile grounds.
Those are born on grounds of transgression. We sense the temporal frailty of the Law in neglected space. The outsider and the freak lurk beyond its scope. We must negotiate the terrain on their terms, beyond civility. The discarded materials speak of bizarre infractions and inexplicable behaviour to the innocent eye. The excess is disturbing.
The sculpted objects hold this history in their present form. The rotting insole, the un-braiding threads and fungal growth also speak of reclamation. The original acts are silenced, meanings rebound, memory is inert. Those are archaic.
Those visualize the aspiring life forms of the underworld. Cellular structures, mitochondrial elements, seed pods, egg-like protrusions, vaginal and phallic shapes abound. They speak of dormant life forms and potentials unlocked.
They stimulate an awareness of our own instinctual responses. Those #19 exaggerates childlike proportions in its assemblage and so we are inclined to nurture and protect. For Those #45 we might presume pathogenic intent given its aberrant colouration and its origins in abandonment and transgression. Of course, these are the pleasures of horror and sci-fi in that the monstrous both attracts and repels. All too often in these genres, our downfall lies in trust.
These forms speak of our own origins. Secular understandings picture our beginnings as a product of the arbitrary. The question of purpose is limited to a wilful elaboration of life. Purpose is indifferent to and unbound by morality. Think of the crew of the Nostromo in Alien (1979) and their reactions to the creature. For Kane, the discovery of a possible life form is one of tentative curiosity and wonder. Even when the full horror of its hostility is revealed, the android Ash articulates the Corporation’s fascination: “I admire its purity … a survivor … unclouded by conscience, remorse or delusions of morality”. The alien mirrors a corporate ethic that can thrive on the raw competition of free market forces. This is one horror. Another, as Ripley recognizes, is where the alien’s dedication to procreation is absolute. For Barbara Creed, Alien re-articulates a patriarchal myth of the monstrous-feminine in the form of the amoral primeval mother. Other facets of this mythology are echoed in Those #38 and #41 in the reproductive forms evolved to allure, entrap and destroy (the vagina dentata). Once again, this is the stuff of modern horror.
These forms also speak of our own origins in terms of organic instability and sexual ambiguity. One senses the evolving structures probing their environment, elaborating and mutating in response to bodily forces and external stimuli. There is an assurance and a shrewd creativity in negotiating hostile terrain. Elizabeth Grosz speaks of sexual difference as a ‘morphological bifurcation’ which marks a crucial event in the evolution of life. Sexual attraction and selection, in all its sensory richness, ensures biological difference through genetic variation. Grosz calls this the ‘becoming-other that seduction entails’. Sexuality is seen to be marked by an excess, prone to profligacy in life’s drive to elaborate. Such excess is counterbalanced in our own thinking by an insistence of sexual specificity and bodily difference as the stable base of much cultural production. The various protrusions, orifices and hermaphrodidic qualities found in these photographs – indeed, the teratological theme of the work as a whole – function to undercut such assurances.
It is in this sense that the fictional aspirations summoned in Those are profoundly destabilizing. They are constructions after all, dramatized by the intense illumination of the object against a primal darkness. The implication is that a greater truth can be uncovered by an intense focus on the neglected and the overlooked. In this way, Those are forensic.
There is a clear link between the artistic process and forces underlying the elaboration of life. The provocation and perceptual play at the heart of the work find their counterpart in the instinctual probing of the precarious life forms summoned forth. Both would seem to work on and from contaminated resources. For this, the work is subversive but in ways we do not trust – or have yet to trust. These wanton malignant spawn are born in the absence of civility. They are beyond comfort. They are alone, neglected, auto-regulating and beyond control. The work is subversive in that the bodily forces of life brought into focus stand in contrast to the neo-liberal drive for increased surveillance, profiling and securitization that mark the times we live in. Ultimately, the lure of Those is gothic.
Gavin Murphy lectures in Art History and Critical Theory at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology