8 - 29 May 2010
Opening Saturday 8 May at 14:00
Exhibition brochure available
(Text by Christine Dixie, 2010)
The ritual of sacrifice which seems to be intrinsically linked to the establishment of male identity and the unspoken central role of the mother as witness to the father-son relationship, is at the heart of this exhibition. Daniel, my son, was six years old when I took the photographs I used as reference material for the prints and sculptures which make up this installation. Six is a transitional age, an age when boy children seem to be hovering in between their mother’s and father’s worlds. It is at this age when the young boys of Sparta had to leave the homes of their mothers and move to the military camps of their fathers to start their military training.
The six prints that constitute the exhibition are loosely based on the narrative of Isaac and Abraham, a story also known as ‘the binding’, or ‘aqedah’ (binding refers to the ancient practice of binding a human sacrifice before it was put on the altar). In the story of Isaac’s near sacrifice, the child symbolically dies and is then reborn through the hand of the father. The witnessing of the child reborn becomes visible evidence of fatherhood. Unlike maternity which is visible, paternity is not biologically visible, and it is this evidence which is needed to establish the patrilineal line.
The first and last prints in the series depict a sleeping boy, his body partially covered by a woven blanket (the warmth and comfort which is associated with the mother), next to him a toy gun, an object manufactured to imitate the masculine world of weapons but useless as a means of defence. These two prints, respectively titled To sleep and To dream, frame the narrative told in the other four ‘in- between’ prints, which narrate the boy’s dream of near-sacrifice. In the second print, Bind, he is wrapped, mummy-like, in tight bandages, seemingly oblivious of his eminent sacrifice. Burning, the third in the series, shows the boy wide-eyed and dazed, as if awoken from a bad dream. In Offering, number four in sequence, the boy is wholly covered with a sheepskin, perhaps anticipating his own ‘skinning’ or sacrifice. In he fifth print, Blind the image of the boy seems to be obliterated completely: he is submerged, foetus-like under a blanket, as if this hurdled bodily stance would protect him, in his dream, from the anticipated ritual sacrifice.
Only in one image, Burning, does the boy ‘wake up’ to look at the viewer. The viewer stands in the place of the parent, but more particularly, the father, looking at his child. The role of the viewer/father as a witness to this dream is a crucial one, for it is central to an understanding of how fathers are linked to sons.
While conceiving the prints I made a deliberate decision to make the child, Daniel, to scale. This, I anticipated, would create a more intimate relationship between the child and the viewer. These prints combine etching and collagraph; it is the collagraph which is used to create the blind embossing on the print. The etching component of the print was made by cutting out the image in the copper plate, in this way introducing an embossed edge in the picture plane. The cutting out of the plate meant that the embossed edge was sympathetic to the blind-embossing which made up the rest of the print. The matrix or collagraph which creates the blind-embossing is from an actual blanket, sheepskin, bandage, etc. My intention was through the combination of these two techniques to create a dreamlike illogicality, the three-dimensional illusion of the real in the etching placed against the trace of the real, or indexical in the collagraph component.
The socialisation of children through contemporary culture, in particular male children, is a central topic that I explore in this exhibition. From a young age a multitude of toys and video games are available which make children feel very familiar with weapons and war. Toy soldiers, as objects and on screen, familiarize children with war and violence, yet the reality of loss is beyond the child’s comprehension. This disjunction between fantasy and reality is an area which interests me.
In the gallery installation, the six large-scale prints are hung on one long wall (the narrative reading from left to right) invoking a sense of an army barrack, or a dormitory, or hospital ward. Placed underneath each of the six prints is a bed which could also be read as an altar or operating table. Over each of these beds is an altar cloth. On the ‘altar’ lies a mirror image, or shadow of the sleeping child. This embodied shadow is made from plastic toy soldiers, mass manufactured in China. While making these shadow boys, I often had to chop off the arms and legs of these toy soldiers to make them fit into the shape on which I was working. This action seemed to in many ways imitate the real violence of war, and positions me in a complex relationship as an artist creating metaphorical images of sacrifice, addressing the real fears of a mother for her son.