Round Table, Big Stone
I decided to focus my thoughts on a single piece from the show – the image of the dolmen, in Huhnengrab II upstairs – and just to feel out the space that that work seems to open up. It’s quite a personal reading in some ways, but I hope that it might give us somewhere to start.
When I mentioned in an email to Katrina that I was going to concentrate on the Huhnengrab piece, she commented that it’s quite an enigmatic work, and it struck me that that phrase is very useful, because it describes something that is mysterious – something that is difficult to understand or explain, but it also has quite an attractive aura to it. An enigma is involving somehow, even though it may be quite silent at first, and even when it may reveal itself a little less immediately that we might expect. And I think that all of those qualities - of silence, and of the pace of a work, the time a work takes or contains, and of something being difficult to immediately understand to explain – are very useful.
Because this is a work that at first appears to have an omission – a silence – as its central weight. The work is right upstairs, I’m sure everybody here has seen it so I don’t need to describe it, but we can think about how that central image of the stone is surrounded by this blackness, the matt black of the blackboard paint that has been applied over the rest of the image to leave the stone isolated, apparently cut off from its photographic context, and anchorless, unmoored somehow. Juliana Engbuerg describes it very beautifully in the exhibition notes when she says that it “floats in a newly created space” And I think it is important to think about the work in those terms of that separation of the figure from the ground; of the visual cutting that has left the stone in this apparent void which questions what we think we are looking at when we look at an image – again from the exhibition notes: “As Magritte might have written ‘this is not a stone.’”
And that is a very important quality to the work, I think - that dissociated, floating, enigmatic quality that we’re left with by that act of obscuring the stone’s photographic context. But I think there’s something else that I want to bring up in relation to that, and it’s slightly different, although it is related to Juliana’s thoughts about the work’s weight. Because it’s also important that what we tend to think of (especially perhaps when we see the work in reproduction) as an act of concealment, separation and obliteration – the application of that blackboard paint - is actually also an act of mark-making, generation, and addition.
When I spent time with the work in that space, overwhelmingly the impression I was left with was not of floating or dislodgement but of a very substantial sense of connection to weight, and of time.
The dolmen piece is heavy. It’s heavy when we look at it, when we inhabit its space as viewers. It’s heavy in the way that it absorbs the light from that amazing window and becomes this very dense visual presence in the room. And the work is heavy on its paper – the paper has bowed and curled with the weight of the applied image. The image of the stone is tied to this curling paper and cannot be cut from it, even as the blackness of its surroundings tips the paper up to disrupt that image that it bears, like a very slow challenge of scissors paper stone; in which the nuance is all in that utterly sustained – almost painfully protracted - movement towards, which the various elements engage in. The image is dislodged from its previous image-based context but in the state that we encounter it, it is also embraced by a new and more dynamic, present context that is palpable and even quite seductive.
And for me this is utterly tied to what the image is of. The image moored to that curving, curling paper is a capstone from a dolmen; it’s the massive horizontal that would be borne up by two or more upright megaliths.
Dolmens of course are themselves enigmatic – we don’t know exactly what they were for, and yet we know that they were in some senses funerary. But what we do know about them is that most dolmens were not intended to be seen. Once constructed they would have been buried, they would have been concealed by an earth mound to form an immense barrow in the landscape.
So we come back to that complicated, layered, and enigmatic process of obliteration and mark-making through time. It seems to me that the processes of taking things out and putting things in to the realm of the visible, is important here. In a way I feel that’s what this work hinges on.
Because that act of burying, of concealment, or obliteration; the gesture of removing a weighty object from its context by the application of blackness – whether through paint or through soil – is not only a gesture of separation. It is also a rooting to, an adding of weight, and a connecting that gives us shape and resonance.
And just to finish, my instinct tells me that that is what makes Tacita’s practice so interesting. This ability to be nuanced and complicated, and to articulate the spaces between ideas or states, or qualities that we might otherwise consider to be mutually exclusive, or even binaries, So that she can show us something that is dark and luminous, and something that is light and which has weight, that is cut loose and rooted, that takes time and that is there in an instant. And she does that, I think, through a visual language that to my eye, speaks like poetry sounds.