PRETEXT – 1991
Mixed media installation: Custom built iconic frame, oil painting, assemblages, welded metal, custom built table and stair case, kelim rug, small box draw and human caul
H250 x W250 x D350 cm
“O yes, detected in his very heart of home: his children’s father and their brother son and husband of his mother;
bed rival to his father and assassin.” (2)
The component parts of the installation are oblique references which disguise the true purposes of their interrelationship. This visual/virtual image of dissimulation is intended to precipitate and provoke discourse around the notion of incest. The installation interrogates the extent, implication and culpability of each and every person’s conscious, unconscious or sub-conscious Oedipal guilt. The marriage of realism and modernism, while
constituting the form of the work, adds another analytical dimension. The contradiction and tensioning
of the of realist style, in concert with modernist conceptual devices, reinforces the necessity for a re-evaluation of the efficacy of painting.
The substance of the work is an invitation to re-examine the applicability of pioneering psychoanalytical theory.
The viewer is encouraged to engage and respond — ideologically and psychologically — to the centrally
positioned nude. The image is suggestive of voyeuristic desire, via visual access only to her view from behind.
Viewer response to the painting is at a remove from [their] reality, as the representation remains in the realm
of two dimensional illusion. A dual dimensionality is referenced by the placement of the rug, illusionistically
depicted in the painting, as well as in reality — placed on the floor, leading to and up the stairs under the
table. The rug functions as a directional invitation to enter and participate in the proposed dialogue of the
While access to the work is ostensibly gained via the carpet to the stairs, this is denied by the unnatural relationship between the table’s positioning and its architecture. The backdrop drapes define the tight boundary within which the installation is to be read. The partially stretched canvasses flanking the painted reclining nude (situated within the
elaborate iconic superstructure), could function as a metaphor for the structure and sub-structure of societal mores. All of the elements combine to create a projected micro-unit or family, an enforced normative paradigm, within which the potential for incest exists. The intention was to create a ‘harmony through disjunction’. The unusual table supports the centrally placed crucible — the wooden drawer, which contains the heart of the work — my late mother’s mummified caul. (3) The cultural cross referencing in the luxuriant carpet reflects [our] concerns with an appropriation of the exotic. It is also a status symbol, a projection of wealth. As the viewer reflects on the recurrence of the rug in two differing realms, both as illusion and by its actual presence, the co-modification of the carpet offers a similar reading towards the nude — as an object for consumption. By implication, the nude could be on offer in the real world! Questions arise which refer
to a malevolent male voyeurism in general, as well as the extent of the specific culpability of the male manufacturer/artist The ancient Greek notion of KAIROS, a personified opportunity — or what Michel Foucault refers to as “the strategy of timeliness” (4) — is textually referred to in the work. An altogether separate source, Ion of Chios refers to Kairos as being a God — the youngest
son of Zeus. Hence: opportunity is God-sent! “The importance of the right time in sexual ethics appears rather clearly in a passage of the Memorabilia, dealing with incest. Socrates states unequivocally that the precept, that parents shall not have sexual intercourse with their children nor children with their parents, constitutes a universal dictum — laid out by Appendices 369
the gods. He sees the proof of this in the fact that those who break the rule receive a punishment. Now the punishment consists in this: regardless of the intrinsic qualities that the incestuous parents may possess, their offspring will come to no good. And why is this? Because the parents failed to respect the principle of the right time, mixing their seed unseasonably, since one of them was necessarily much older than the other: for people to procreate when they are no longer in full vigour was always considered to beget badly. “Xenophon and Socrates do not say that incest is
reprehensible only in the form of an inopportune action; but it is remarkable that the evil of incest is manifested in the same way and with the same consequences as the lack of regard for the proper time.” (5) Bear in mind, that Oedipus never consciously willed the heavenly events which predetermined his demise. So, aside from the obvious questions raised by the issue of the bounds of social responsibility and criminal culpability connected with incest, the choice of moment can also be associated with the principles of the doctrine of causality. Access to inner knowledge, via beliefs in predestination, synchronicity or even fatalism do hold attraction to many. Most people at some stage toy with systems of divination and the notion of fortune,
2 – Oedipus the King, Sophocles [Tiresias to Oedipus] translated by Paul Roche.
3 – The occurrence of a human membranous caul at birth was considered to relate to its recipient being blessed with occult insight. It was commonly dried out and kept as a talisman for protection, specifically against drowning.
4 – The History of Sexuality. Vol 2 — The Use of Pleasure by Michel Foucault, Viking Penguin. 1986. p59
5 – The Memorabilia of Xenophon. iv, 4, p21-23
6 – The Australian historian Manning Clarke refers repeatedly to the “bitch goddess of success” in his autobiography — a metaphor perhaps? (herself a goddess personified); and its relationship
to success has a strong hold in people’s internal self governance. It is my assumption that in seeking this supernatural power in people’s affairs, there exists a link to the establishment of confidence [to proceed] and aspirations [to succeed] which implies productiveness, and its resultant reward in material terms. Associated with the interests of state and family control
mechanisms, and in seeking to introduce an associative signifier of behavioural compliance [which is often and intelligently rejected], I have introduced a powerful neo-Christio icon-like cross symbol.
I have often ruminated on the meaning of the passage from Revelations inscribed on the flyleaf of my late mother’s bible:
“Be thou faithful unto death and I shall give thee a crown of life”.
Victor Gordon September 1991