Chie Konishi discusses the work of Joanne MasdingPosted: January 20, 2012
As a part of the introduction of her works to new audiences in Cheltenham, Joanne Masding, the artist-in-residence at Meantime during January 2012, was asked to choose a film to screen. Searching For The Wrong-Eyed Jesus, directed by Andrew Douglas, follows musician Jim White on a road-trip across the American Deep South. In the trunk of his car is a statue of Jesus. Throughout the trip, White meets people and listens to their life stories, travelling from churches to prison, coalmines to juke joints. What this assemblage of different human stories reveals is the impossibility to grasp a total picture of the American South; the standard image, of the Civil War and racial antagonism, is broken down into micro-views of stories unique to each individual. In perceiving the beauty, and the tragedy, in each individual’s life, the presence of Jesus begins to appear not unreachable, but unnecessary. The statue of Jesus in White’s car never finds the perfect human-being; nobody is good enough. He gives up hope of finding one.
The choice of this film by Joanne was an enjoyable addition to her introduction. The film and Joanne’s works are both fundamentally concerned with the same thing; the filtering system of human perception. I am talking of two different filtering systems here: one is Christianity, in the film, the social filtering system that separates what is good or evil. The other, that Joanne is concerned with, is the medium of film itself; how our perception of the world is constructed with images framed and mediated by camera lenses. These mediated and reproduced images create images of what the world should look like rather than how it actually is. Through constant exposure to mediated imagery, our minds have become saturated with, and expect, images of how the world should look. And if things contradict our expectation, we either ignore, reject, or try to fix them. The people who White met in the film were either included, ignored, rejected or being fixed by a social ordering system that is ruled by the goodness of Christianity, replacing the world as it is with the world how it should be.
In this sense, Joanne’s work is also located in the gaps between our expectation and the truth. Overblown Gesture (keep your lid on) is a looped film projected onto a wall and a lid on the wall. The lid is slotted between the wall and a pipe. The film shows the image of the exact same wall, but without the lid. A hand appears holding the lid and places it where the real lid is. The lid now has a projected image of itself projected onto it. The installation resembles how we unconsciously project preconceived images onto the space even before seeing it; we think we already know what we are looking at.
Joanne’s work can be interpreted as compositional representations of the spatial relations of elements composing human perception; a body, an object, and the distance in between. By reducing the visual materials to the bare minimum, her work reveals the mechanism of a phenomenological double-bind. We possess a body, therefore we can be neither everywhere nor nowhere. A body has a singular, subject-centred perception rather than total perception, and therefore can never perceive the world as it truly is.
Another work that caught my eye was an animation Joanne produced during a residency at Curfew Tower in Northern Ireland, at the end of last year. It is an animation of a stool photographed from above; the artist moves around the stool 360 degrees, photographing it from different angles, at the same height. What intrigued me was the ghostly image of a donkey engraved on the surface of the seat. If you are familiar with other works by the artist, one might ask, “Why didn’t she find another stool that doesn’t have the absurd image of the donkey on it?” One possible answer is that the specificity of the object became important for the artist. In other works the specificity of the object was an obstacle that revealed the mechanism of human perception, which constitutes composition rather than content.
So, if my assumption is correct, why has the specificity of the object become important? The answer can perhaps be found when we identify exactly what the artist is referring to when she describes her work as a response to site and spaces. As well as the site-specificity of the work, the sites themselves are specific; they are re-purposed for the viewing of art. Therefore, when the artist refers to the site-specificity of her work, she is referring to a response to architectural form and fabric, rather than historical or political specificities. The reason why the formation of each room is important is because, as described earlier, her work is concerned with the spatial relations of elements composing human perception; a body, an object and the distance in between. Each time the artist positions herself in a new space, she responds to the architectural framework and composes the spatial relation accordingly.
In this context, the engraved image of a donkey suggests the artist’s gradual shift from formal site-specificity to a historical one. The image of the donkey indicates the history of the stool, the surface engraved by somebody’s hand, or machine-tool. And our perception of this stool traverses between two images of it; our eyes try to perceive the stool how we think it should look, but the donkey resists this expectation. This conflict between our expectation and the historical specificity of this stool disturbs our knowledge of a stool, the stool in our head. It becomes apparent that the expectation of what a stool should look like has been historically constructed, it is not universal and can never be perfect, just as Jim White could find no-one that lives up to Jesus’s standard.
There is also a clear distinction between Joanna’s work and Searching For The Wrong-Eyed Jesus; the former is the creation of a singular autonomous space of art (contained in an art space, or a room); the latter is an open-ended journey of assembling. The journey from one place to another is a necessity for the latter to assemble different stories, and break down preconceptions of the American Deep South. Accordingly, I am curious to see how Joanne’s move from Birmingham to Cheltenham may affect her usual way of creating a singular autonomous space of art – where the state of antagonism experienced by the artist displacing herself from her everyday life would be absorbed into the content of her work, so that it is no longer something that we experience through an occupation of time and space, and is compressed into an object that offers a view of a state of antagonism. If this singularity is a fundamentally important element of her work and is unaffected, perhaps we can explore further the significance of the aesthetics of such a formation in the current socio-political context at a later stage of the residency. And if the image of a donkey on a stool suggests a shift from site-specificity towards object-specificity, we need to look carefully at the kind of specificity the artist will be exploring during her residency at Meantime. When Joanne speaks of her intention to explore the town of Cheltenham to find the material for her work, what specifically is she pointing at?
Joanne Masding’s website: http://www.joannemasding.com/