Notes on the exhibition McManus Art Gallery & Museum, Dundee
In Herman Melville’s novel, Moby Dick Captain Ahab unsuccessfully pursues the white whale, resulting in the destruction of himself, his ship and his crew.
Ahab’s undoing lies in his inability to discover the whale as an object, instead through his obsession with vengeance he “(shapes) what exists by the way in which he sees it”. Likewise each crewmember’s version of events is determined by their own perceptions of them.
Moby Dick represents a universe whose protagonists are trapped by their subjectivities.
By contrast the exhibition The White Whale is a refusal of the subjective. Escaping from a world saturated with meaning it seeks refuge in objects.
It is an installation of sculptures whose materiality refuses to think in terms of material finiteness. Instead it offers a virtual seduction; an other-world simulacrum.
The sculptures appear as beings from another time or place, consistent with ideas of primitivism from the 20th century canon but divorced from any symbolic or ideological intentions associated with it.
As in the 20th century canon the sculptures’ meaning is internal to the logic of the work. Each work determines the course of its own making. The development of the work is a gradual stripping back of subjective content in favour of increasing formalism.
Arrangement and re-arrangement of form is given priority over interpretative or symbolic value.
The objects speak on my behalf. They are no longer subject to the rules of my desire, but to the artifice of their own rules.
They are no longer a reflection, holding a mirror up to society or self. Here, where the real and the virtual collide, the objects are no longer even mine, being indifferent to me.
The objects are my Other.