Saturday, February 10, 2007

Musings on Fear (The Whiteness of the Whale)

Fear is an unusual thing, as an abstract concept fear seems a harsh, pointed and aggressive thing but in reality it is a dull and slow feeling. Fear doesn’t push you forcefully into its realm and drag you to the finality of its actions, it does its work slowly, the speed between the feeling of fear and the playing out of the consequences of the fear inducing act may be fast but once we are in its hands it removes control from us and time slows down, the moments between its inception and its final play are like slowly grinding wheels that catch our sleeves and drag us into its dull and slowly crushing inevitability. From personal experience of a Alpine related accident I can tell you that fear subsides into a quiet but unsettling calm before the conclusion of the fear inducing act, when faced with a conclusion that appears to be certain death fear is soon replaced by a resignation to inevitability, especially because ten seconds feels like ten minutes.

On Friday evening the Transition Gallery opened their current exhibition “The Whiteness of the Whale”, three artists ponder issues relating to the novel Moby Dick. Fear and dread, mortality and the loss of control when faced with forces more powerful than yourself run through the novel’s text and that is echoed by the quiet forboding that emanate from the works on show. In a world of bluff, bluster, ego and artwork that shouts and screams for attention it is fascinating to be drawn into the orbit of these works, quiet whisperings draw you close and then grab hold of you and don’t let go. It is a great tribute to the artists that in a crowded room on such an opening night that the subtle power of these works can vie for attention and win. As a complement to the work on this opening night there is a continuous reading of the novel by a kind of endurance reading tag team, on my arrival the reader is holding booklet or newspaper megaphone style to his lips to try to be heard, he fails to be heard and is only contributing to the collage of voices chatting around the room.
In other settings the social atmosphere of the gallery would distract but the work quietly insinuates its way into my thoughts.

Reece Jones large monochrome almost landscapes do not register with me as images but as a series of deep dusty black streaked sheets, imagery gives way to something more ephemeral, they look like oversized photocopies of charcoal drawings but it is the combination of their cleanliness and grubby earthiness that attracts me. Anna-Karin Jansson’s videos are single frame films of forested wilderness, in one a moose sits in the grass watching and waiting, we look for some time for an action to take place, what will the solitary and perhaps fearful creature do?, who is scared of who?, this large and powerful beast has a strength that we could not match and in some ways it must know this but it’s fear of us just brings it slowly to its feet to turn and slowly slip away from danger. In the other film a spot of sunlight reaches the frosty ground, with a background of black dense forest the heat from the sun melts the frost and mist lifts from the surface into the air. In Nadia Hebson’s large canvas the rigging of a sinking ship lists to one side as it sinks into its blue black watery grave, this is a timeless image, once again an image of fearful inevitability is portrayed but as the act makes its slow progression to conclusion we can only watch and wait.

This exhibition does not answer any questions it just reminds us of human frailty in a powerful and uncontrollable world, we can only participate when the things that cause our fears to be realised plays itself out, there maybe an inevitable conclusion but we can do nothing but wait for that conclusion.

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