Ruth Barker

Catherine Street




(Page 1)


The body makes a small, fragile shape on the laminate flooring (1), and the kitchen’s bare bulb casts few protective shadows. Her edges are exposed and shocking. One foot rests against the wall and the other is tucked beneath her, turning her knees to an awkward, unnatural angle. She lies face-down, her left arm broken behind her back, her right fist bunched. Her fingernails are bitten to the quick with a ridge of dirt around the cuticles. Her face is buried in the imitation grain, and her mid-length hair is clotted and ugly, like seaweed after an oil-spill.

The bare back is bruised and lumpy. On it, the imprint of a shoe or boot shows as a heel mark in the small of her spine, with the stain of a toe against the ribs. A small amount of blood is clotted inside her ear. Her ears are not pierced.

(1.) The work of Catherine Street occupies a delicate territory of intimation that suggests both the active presence of narrative and the unequivocal status of something far more complex. There is a certainty to Street’s composition of space that lends a rigour to her elliptical constructions. 

Open work exists between a series of moments of absolved responsibility for the production of meaning. Items or images are made visible and offered up for association, with accountability for the synaptic firing that results resting entirely with the viewer, the reader, or the recipient. When this recipient discovers horror in the open work, the artist or author says with reason ‘Death exists, but you do things to yourself.’(2)

(2) ‘It Wasn’t Me’, lyrics by Lou Reed and John Cale from the album ‘Songs For Drella’, a fictionalisation of the life and death of Andy Warhol.


(Page 2)


You notice that the kettle on the kitchen unit is not in its cradle, but sits instead beside it. The plastic is degraded and there is a scuff at the front, below the spout. The handle is surprisingly clean in comparison; unmarked, and almost new-looking. You see that there isn’t a mug beside the kettle. You step over the small corpse to look in the sink beside the window. You find an unwashed bowl of cereal remains, a pan with the seared-on dregs of a tomato-based meal, and a bone-yard of cutlery - some of it metal, some in a child’s rainbow of rounded plastic. There is no mug, and no plate from what you assume was yesterday’s pasta surprise.

On the table there is a text in a language you can neither read nor understand. It looks at once academic and poetic, and you wonder if it might be Hebrew, or Icelandic. This might be a treatise you realise, or a story. The paper is thin and shiny and has been torn out of a book, with the tear running neatly down the left inside edge. There is a slight indentation along the tear, which has been made by folding the page along a ruler and then pulling the paper against it. The printing is good quality, and there is a chapter heading along the top indent. The paper is printed only on one side. The reverse is blank.


The generation of narrative however, rests on an implied relationship between provided items or images and the order in which we encounter them. This relationship, on examination, can convey suggestion, duration, proximity, and perhaps even causality. Responsibility for the presence of horror is more complicated here. Traditionally, the morality of depiction has been addressed through two questions:

What does it mean to look at images of horror?

Should artists be allowed to exhibit horrific images?

It is arguably more useful to ask:

What does it mean when artists make horrific images?



(Page 3)


The body smells slightly metallic, with an almost imperceptible undertone of meat. A single fly rests on her leg, just below the knee.

There is a clock on the wall above the gas cooker, although you notice that there is also a time display on the oven-front. The time display has been set incorrectly or perhaps has never been set at all and is still running from the 00.00 of its purchase. The digits read 14.37, which, you realise, is 4 hours and 12 minutes behind the wall clock. The wall clock is 4 minutes ahead of your own watch, which you believe to be accurate. You wonder who set the clock early.


Writing the murder, I am concerned to follow convention, just to see where it takes me. I describe a naked female victim, who is physically small in comparison to the room she is placed in. She is placed in a domestic interior.
The victim may or may not be a child. I do not reveal whether or not she is a child. I leave intact the possibility that she is a child.
The boot mark feels like the most gratuitous detail. I do not find it hard to describe the body in detail.
I do not identify with the victim; she is fictional, and has never existed.
I do not identify with You. He/She is fictional and has never existed.
The depiction of this murder is not a fantasy. The depiction of this murder is not self-expression. The depiction of this murder feels like a puzzle in which I can manipulate, and even invent the pieces.

Does writing murder feel different if it is True Crime? 

What does writing murder tell me about imagination?


(Page 4)


‘Imagination’ guesses Street ‘is an old fashioned concept.’ Perhaps it is.
I think about Lucretius and his shades (3). The ghosts of dislocated images enter my eye to deposit a-moral visions of murder, rape and centaurs.
I think of the jaded gumshoe who makes the leap of intuition too late, and stumbles onto the inevitable.
I think about the difficulty of talking about what it means to make art.

Street positions fragments with fastidious intent to frame her thinking around disasters and illusions. Her compositions (sometimes spatial, sometimes durational) become vocabularies of enigma, poised on the many cusps of meaning.
Her clues will never reveal a linear solution, but instead allow suggestion to inhabit the vacancies they leave between them.


(3) Interestingly, when Lucretius talks about imagination, he explains the process in relation to perception. He believed that in order for us to see an object, light must pass from that object into our eye. This light is what makes the object visible, and he describes it as a ‘shade’ or a ghost of the original, projected towards us. Lucretius imagines that imagining is a similar process, only slightly dislocated. He suggests that ‘mental images’ occur when shades from a far-distant object enter our eye by chance. How does he explain the imagining of ‘impossible’ objects or scenes? He gives the example of a centaur. When we see this mythical creature in our minds eye, we are actually seeing the separate shades of a man and a horse that enter the eye separately and overlap to give the impression of a man-horse.
Clearly this view of the imagination is entirely a-moral. Lucretius would say that we can’t help imagining a murder say, or a rape, any more than we would be culpable of seeing a violent act committed unexpectedly before us on the street. The way we understand the eye and the brain have since changed.