I have for a long time been attracted to the work of Sue Henderson, David Marsden and Penny Mason, the work that they produce as individuals. I enjoy the allure of line and tactility of surface, and the chance to appreciate rather a lot of suspicious grungy objects. Somewhere between the methodical and the madness, I can find much to engage with. But in putting these three, Art3, together in one space the few similarities of practice seem to be accentuated, just as the disjunctions mess with your head. At first meeting, it’s actually quite confronting.
However, I realised when I saw an earlier outing by this collaboration, Space Antics, at Burnie Regional Gallery in 2011, that what disturbs me most about the project is the pervasive reference to the domestic. This is not my natural sphere of action, so when I made my usual dive into the dictionary of etymology for ‘swerve’ and found that it comes from the Old English sweorfan, to rub or to scour, it simply confirmed a lot of my suspicions about the project’s attachment to the kitchen or bathroom sink. I was only mildly comforted when Sue Henderson told me yesterday that the work ‘exploded the domestic back onto the walls’. Good spot for it, I thought, wondering whether the walls would now need a scour or a rub as well.
But, on reflection, it seems that this collaboration is all about a certain sort of activity experienced many ways. It is about action that is both deliberately performative – in that each element’s very materialising is a signification of its swerve – and it’s also the imposed yet serendipitous interaction that results from others’ physical interventions into the gallery space. You, as audience, are also participants, continually rematerialising, or performing, the work. Just in arranging yourselves for these formalities you will have realised that these objects – the carcases and panels; the discontiguous elements of other, imagined, ongoing domestic spaces – are also performers. So it is that the meaning of each performative act can be found in the coinciding of any object-as-carcase and how that object is enacted.
For all its disparate parts, this collaboration between three artists, and between you (the audience) and the outcomes of that collaboration, also relies on a cohesive context, its situatedness. Without this clarity, this whimsical locative referent, the continual repetition of the performative act would be groundless. That this site has been materialised by three individuals, and with its expected – indeed inevitable – making and remaking during the course of the exhibition, is what gives the project’s performative nature a fractured and disconcerting edge. It is domestic, yet you are not ‘at home’. (It is truly umheimlich). The trace of continual process indicates the expected lines of sight, those directional gestures, and syncopated patternings yet these connections are continually blurred, bothered, and broken by mirrorings, by leaps in scale, by fluttering surfaces and strangely unfinished structures. Wallpaper and drawer liners, overtly asserting respectability, instead hint loudly at another life beneath their decorative surfaces. Three languages declaim, repetitively and almost simultaneously, the coordinates of each element. You try to follow directions but encounter static … really, it’s better just to relax and listen to yourself.
While the battle between dodgy green formica and white-tile-terrorism is a pervasive presence, and the discovery of mould, watermarks, and some very suss stains hint at various domestic failures, this space has its own purity. It has its own momentum and its own system of values, within the bounds of its activity. In this it refers – admittedly obliquely – to another vernacular, where swerve, as noun, can refer to an intoxication, a toxicity, often from illicit substances; to getting into a rhythm, to taking a positive direction and, inevitably, to sex. I’m not sure about that link but it’s probably something to do with plumbing, or maybe those stains.
But it does take me more logically to Judith Butler who wrote, two decades ago now, in Bodies that matter\; the discursive limits of sex that:
Performativity is not a singular “act”, for it is always a reiteration of a norm or a set of norms, and to the extent that it acquires an act-like status in the present, it conceals or dissimulates the convention of which it is a repetition.
Here, Sue Henderson, David Marsden and Penny Mason, provide within the bounds of a gallery, multiple iterative acts that emerge from the norm as visually playful, spacially disruptive and cognitively critical. Swerve is all that a performative should be, and I take great pleasure in declaring the exhibition open – and that, too, is a performative.