What follows is text describing an exchange of ideas between the artists Tanad Aaron and Mark Swords. This dialogue between the two artists has been compiled from their ongoing conversations, regarding their exhibition Portico, and digitalised to create an interactive experience. All images and underlined text are hyperlinked to separate routes of information, expanding on the points of reference which appear throughout the dialogue.
The second time we met in your studio you had a copy of ”The Truth in Painting” by Derrida because you were telling me about his use of the term “Parergon”. I wanted to share some of my notes about that conversation...
Parergon - a word that means a thing that goes in front of another thing? I specifically remember mentioning how that reminded me of the title of a collection of short stories by Raymond Carver - "What we Talk About When We Talk About Love". The shared meaning of these two terms being the implied importance of the "other" thing. I recall now that you had a small section of wooden skirting which had detached itself from that space between the bottom of your studio wall and its corresponding section of floor. You were talking about the skirting boards as a “Parergon”... a decorative solution to sit in front of the “problem” of where the wall meets the floor. On further reading of course it's a little more complex than this…Parergon - “A piece of work which is supplementary to a larger work". Parergon is an Ancient Greek philosophical concept defined as a supplementary issue. It is also referred to as embellishment or extra. The literal Ancient Greek meaning is "beside, or additional to the work". According to Immanuel Kant Parergon is;
What clothes are to a statue,
What the frame is to a painting,
What Columns are to buildings.
Parergon is separate/detached from the thing it enframes. Now, it seems to me, we are getting closer to ornamentation....dressing....decoration.
Since we met and talked about Derrida and “The Truth in Painting” I've been fairly certain of what I wanted to see in the gallery for our show, mostly as a result of seeing your work.
I found The Complex gallery space to be really cold and a bit aggressive when I visited as opposed to the gallery room in the Merrion Square Architectural Archive that I tried to show you photos of. I suppose to me that comes mostly from the kind of impact grey and white can have and generally speaking stone does that to people a lot too, especially internal space can feel cold (or maybe modernism does that to people). I started thinking about how I could invite people into the space materially at first then architecturally. I settled on a brown colour which I thought would be the most warming and maybe stay away from some of your works I had seen. So I started with an MDF floor. I like MDF, a lot of it is made with formaldehyde, it's a grainless mush of chemicals and a kind of 'used to be' wood. For this I'm thinking about treating it so as to bring the colour out a little, maybe make it a little more golden. I’m trying to fit a screen in too, at the moment that would be close to the entrance and made from thin verticals. The idea is to shield the space a little and force some movement forward. There will be two (maybe even three) soft and gentle gradient ramps made from the same material and will suggest a way into or off but practically I think you could step up anywhere.
As for the Parergon, the Merrion Square Architectural Archives Gallery is that exactly! It’s a room built inside another room, a sort of soft surface before you get to the Victorian surrounds. I started thinking about it like a pier, a sort of stepping off point. But something enticing and sort of permissive to a viewer.
In another conversation you mentioned the word “Portico” (was that a possible title for our show?). Of course “Portico” is just the classical term for a porch especially when it's attached onto a building with supporting columns ... so an architectural Parergon, an addition to the main building. What I found interesting here was... "A Porch allows for sufficient space for a person to pause before entering or after exiting a building...". It made me think of Church Porches acting as a space for mental (or spiritual) preparation.... A Pausing Room. I like the idea of a space, designed and built for nothing apart from the preparation to enter another space.
In the same conversation you mentioned the term “Mauerkrank”....
I didn't look into this straight away after our chat and so failed to realise that I had misheard you and that the term is "Mauerkrankheit" (“Wall Sickness”....a friend helped me identify it). Psychiatrist Dietfried Müller-Hegemann used the term to describe certain patients' psychological condition in Berlin in the 70s. These were patients who all lived near the Berlin wall though their shared symptoms seem to me to be problematically broad ... from listlessness to suicidal. Mauerkrankheit seems to be a term invented in order to give a word to a series of psychological problems to make discussion easier. After the Berlin Wall came down a new syndrome replaced Mauerkrankeit... "Die Mauer in den Kopfen" (“The Wall in The Head”). This seems to describe, to some extent, a way of thinking with barriers demonstrated by people who had lived with or near The Berlin Wall. An example of this or, at least near this idea..... Tobias Vogt grew up in the GDR and had an interest in Classical Greek Studies - His parents told him it was likely he could never visit Greece itself. Vogt "...collected maps of the world believing he would never see it."
One of the things that prompted me to think about Mauerkrankheit initially was realizing that I wouldn’t be able to make any wall works. I have started making small ‘tests’ or ‘books’ as I call them with most shows since around 2017. They started initially because I had a tiny studio and so, were hung on the walls for space. They became a kind of research tool, for trying colour tones/moods/lines and textures of various materials or getting familiar with a certain industrial technique on a small scale; sometimes this can be harder to do than working on a massive scale. But for our show I thought that there would be a real distinction made between the ‘sculptural’ stuff and the paintings and so I set about thinking about: ‘the walls are lava’.
Our conversations have been circling around ideas of interiors and exteriors… “wall sickness” being just one example. I’ve been reading “As I Lay Dying” by William Faulkner and I bring it up here because of the use of Italics in the novel. In case you don’t know the book it’s a story of a family who bring their dead mother's body on a journey to her hometown for burial. The story is told from multiple characters points of view and is largely relayed to us as a stream of consciousnesses. So it’s a somewhat obscure patchwork story (which appeals to me) that doesn’t reveal much in a definitive way. Italics are often used in the novel for different reasons but of particular interest in this context are some of the larger sections of italics. In these sections the italics mark a shift for that character into a different state of consciousness in which they can speak with far greater insight and poetry than they normally display or communicates to other characters throughout the novel. This is not simply their inner thoughts - it seems closer to (but even more than) their unconscious thoughts and at these times I wondered was it Faulkner himself who is intruding into his character’s chapters… making me consider - are these few moments the truth and definitive true and defining parts of the novel making the rest (and the story itself) a mere cover / veil / clothing etc…
I’m not against using a mixture of materials and I’m just remembering the odd mix design of plaster walls where they used to be made with horsehair. But when I was excavating walls in my studio building I didn’t realize it was horsehair and only found long brown hairs in the wall. Coupled with an eerie portrait in the wallpaper above my studio door of a woman with dark hair I started wondering naively if this was the lady’s hair and the entire building was made by this woman. There’s something a little uncomfortable in thinking of the walls being built by from someone’s hair. For me hair has a similar parallel or proximal thing going on, it’s often our first sensation and exists just outside the body reminding you of your boundary. Also, I remember vividly having long hair when I was younger and being able to use it as a sort of veil or visual shield to hide my angst behind!
For a while now and because of our conversations I have been trying to find my copy of “The Rings of Saturn” by W G Sebald. I can recall a description of the authors’ hospital room and window in particular. My clearest memory of that passage is of the window itself which was made of reinforced glass. A wire grid was in the glass itself making the window a kind of protective veil between the patient and the world outside which he had now left behind and was in some way no longer part of. The thought of a middle aged man looking out of that window was somehow far more sad and profound than the act itself should be. I know that the window became for me the point of contrast between the confinement of the hospital room and the open expansiveness of the countryside which occupies much of the rest of the book. I suppose I’m back talking about the interior/exterior again. I copied the entire paragraph and sent it on to you for clarity and in case some bits meant something to you and not me. My memory of this part of the book (it turns out) was not accurate. I always thought of that hospital window being made from reinforced glass but the passage itself describes the window being “draped with black netting”. Funny how what we read gets edited in our heads to better connect to our own experiences of the world. What I did manage to recall successfully from the book was the sense of sadness and a powerfully affecting example of how we relate to the world around us.
I’ve been fascinated with aeroplane furniture and travelling cases for a long time now. When I first saw a flight-case I didn’t realise it was a standardised thing. I remember the artist Yelena Popova showing a flight-case that had been retrofitted to hold a series of paintings on perforated concertina style mesh. The case could be opened and the concertina display panel unfolded, the paintings were there on the mesh ready to be shown. At the time I thought the flight-case, its bulky aluminium weight, the scuff marks, the scratches, the quick release clasps and the heavy duty hinges, the dark painted wood and fabric exterior were all part of the work. I really enjoyed that piece because it was all totally new to me and each aspect of the case was as important as the individual marks on the painting’s surface etc. Only years later did I see another flight-case and it hit me that it was an established method of transportation, mostly for instruments. I think the work lost a little bit for me. In the same way when I visited the US for the first time I suddenly realised that ‘movies’ are just pretending to be real life; they are filmed in real places! Before that, the ‘movie’ world always had something of the uncanny in it for me. I didn’t realise they were filming in real streets and locations in Hollywood. I assumed it was all a designed studio world; that the strange cars, water hydrants, kerb-sizes, yellow crossing signals and taxi cabs were all designed as a sort of common movie vernacular. When I went there and saw it was all real - the films lost a little bit and I wasn’t as interested in them any more. Not that I want a gesamtkunstwerk or a sort of total work and nothing less will do, but I like the idea that there is a shared language of objects and places in films and that everyone just adopts a different type of material reality in their films just as they adopt montage or soundtracks, why not also share a revised version of the world or a new agreed upon ‘site’?
A memory has stuck with me from maybe 10 years ago of seeing small Islamic window screens in the V+A Museum in London. These screens were on display in a dark space and were fitted into a wall so as to allow one to view them as openings as opposed to seeing them as objects on their own. There are many examples of screens for windows and latticework in different architectural traditions. I now believe the best fit for my memory is known as a "Jali", defined as "intricate ornamental openwork in wood, metal, stone, etc.". Jalis can be different sizes and be constructed from different materials but ultimately they are decorative and perforated screens which fill a window opening. From my cursory reading they are often stone carvings and have the effect of cooling the air which passes through them by compression. Jalis are probably most visually striking when seen during daylight hours from an interior. Then and there they become a dark, intricate pattern contrasting with the bright exterior view. Obviously they also affect the light of the interior as well and will, under direct sunlight, throw patterned light into the interior space.
It occurs to me now that what I'm describing here is not very far removed from your screen. Is it possible I have latched on to this memory without consciously realising that? My recollection of these windows has probably stuck with me because of how pleasurable it may be to make such a thing. What kinds of simple materials could be joined together into a pattern to arrive at a position where one had, almost by default, created a screen. It also seems worth mentioning that a Jali may well be a thing which connects to a lot of our discussion,..... a combination of construction and decoration,....... a screen,....... a thing in front of a thing?
I like the Jali and the science behind it. The more research I do into building and buildings the more I’m interested in sites and features like this. It’s a spot where aesthetics and function got tangled together and it’s sometimes hard to figure out what happened first. It reminds me of the skirting board as a solution for solving the problem of the wall and floor. I’ve attached some images of the model as well as a couple of screenshots of it in the space to give an idea of what I’m thinking. It’s missing something and I haven’t made much progress on the screen but I think the idea of a Jali might have sparked something, it reminds me of a Nathaniel Mellors quote that a character of his says in his Film “Ourhouse” ... while looking mysteriously through a found window in the middle of a field: “This could work as a means of exchange between the inside and the outside, figuratively”.