under the influence of "the rend" by Nicola Chalmers

(to) rend –

(to) tear (something) into pieces;

(to) wrench (something) violently;

(to) cause great emotional pain to.

Last week I went to the Tate Britain to see Sue Tompkins perform her new work MOB DE MOB. I was early so I spent some time wandering around the permanent collection. In display room 1840 I was stopped in my tracks by a painting I'd never seen before: the first in Augustus Leopold Egg's triptych, PAST AND PRESENT, 1858. A Victorian morality picture is not the sort of piece I’d usually stop for, but despite the drawing-room fuss and sermonising, this one left a scratch. Not the scene itself – a suffocating depiction of a (the epitomic) fallen woman – but the composition and immediacy of gestures, afloat in my eyes from the rest of the picture and constellating a meaning that surpassed the painter’s subject.

A collapse, yes, still a collapse, but –   

Nic Chalmers, THE REND (after Egg), 2018

Nic Chalmers, THE REND (after Egg), 2018

On the table, a knife.

The knife cuts an escape, returning for heads, hands, hair, a closed fist. Turning its blade on the hand (male) that grips a letter so tight it might be trying to hold fast the complaint – to ensure the canvas remains taut, the image unequivocal. But no use. Now cut, now held asunder and not-now harnessed, the image is situated elsewhere.

In the direction of the mother, a child’s gaze.

The rotation of her head, turned-unrewindable on the second cervical vertebra of her spine; her axis now, an imaginary line around which she spins. The line against which she’ll measure herself in the still-arriving moment of collapse. A pang, a sting, transmitted through the mother’s fingers, now clasped in the all-is-lost.  

It went on stinging for some time after I left that room. 


The original image: the first in Augustus Leopold Egg's triptych, PAST AND PRESENT, 1858. 

The original image: the first in Augustus Leopold Egg's triptych, PAST AND PRESENT, 1858. 

Later, on entering Tompkins’ performance, I was given a pamphlet entitled THERE IS SOMETHING ABOUT RIPPING. 

Sue Tompkins

Sue Tompkins

To write lengthily about Tomkins’ performances would be to defy their nature; she works with space, gaps, and a brevity of speech akin to the making of isolated gestures. To borrow from someone else’s work, hers are “words to be looked at”. Suffice to say it chimed uncannily with events in display room 1840.


To continue the strange symmetry of that evening, the next day found me reading Jenn Joy’s THE CHOREOGRAPHIC:

"Didi-Huberman speaks of the work of representation as a dialectical engagement of distortion, conflation and repetition, breaking with art history as a series of categorical imperatives based on style, period, or history, to instead conjure "open structures full of holes, of knots, of extensions impossible to situate, of distortions and rips in the net". For Didi-Huberman it is gesture that reveals the gaping impotence of representation. The gesture arresting representation is the "rend", the ripping of the net or what he describes as an opening or break within the image itself... To write of images under the influence of "the rend" is to call attention to the difficult distorting choreography at work in the image and simultaneously to the moving relations between image and viewer." 

Executing the line by Nicola Chalmers

"As soon as Kafka took his pen in his right hand, his left hand jumped on it (on his right) and the combat raged." Hélène Cixous

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  Helena Almeida, Desenho (Drawing) 1999

Helena Almeida, Desenho (Drawing) 1999

Helena Almeida, Desenho (Drawing) 1999

Helena Almeida, Desenho (Drawing) 1999

Hélène Cixous and Helena Almeida are the subjects of today's work. Whilst I'm familiar with their work individually - the writer and the visual artist - it hadn't occurred to me before that there are such vivid traces of the one in the other; now I'm looking at them through the lens of a short film I'm making. The film is about what Cixous would describe as the “[mingled] acts of birth, potency and impotency” that drive any form of creating. It’s about the ‘wrath’ of the studio and the studio as sanctuary; about the exhaustion, shame and euphoria of submitting to the suddenly-here-now; and the bodily, very bodily sense that in the end – even at the risk of making a terrible mistake – something does need to be birthed. A birth akin to an execution. The execution of a line. The execution of outline. The disappearance of the artist into the artwork and vice-versa; the idea that as one hand performs, the other is already engaged in the performance. For me, Cixous and Almeida’s work both exemplifies and exonerates these anxiety-ridden subjects; they are permission-granters.  

“Even if there is a landscape, a person, there outside… it’s from the body that the drawing… rises to the light of day. First it exists at the torment state in the chest, under the waist. See it now as it precipitates itself in spasms, in waves, the length of the arm, passing the hand, passing the pen.” Hélène Cixous

Quotes from 'Stigmata', "Without End — no — State of Drawingness — no, rather: The Executioner’s Taking off"

The one is in the other by Nicola Chalmers

I had to forget my idea of nature and learn again that stone is hard and in so doing found that it is also soft. I tore leaves, broke stones, cut feathers… in order to go beyond appearances and touch on something of the essence… A stone is one and many stones at the same time…

Andy Goldsworthy

As is a human.

outside, an action (is) outside (of) an action is coating is layering is hiding the what’s that that’s visible? acrobatic posturing O hesitating (between) Oscillating (about) a position a device an equilibrium for fitting over a something that’s O to protect to conceal to weigh and balance in the turning of cards upward facing

The one is in the other.

Andy Goldsworthy

Andy Goldsworthy

Still from PERSONA, Ingmar Bergman

Still from PERSONA, Ingmar Bergman

I love the pairing of these images.

The angel and the girl are met by Nicola Chalmers

Musing on angels and "the sadness of seeing oneself seeing" (Dora Inhof on Michaël Borremans' The Giant). Edwin Muir's poem The Annunciation - come "From far beyond the farthest star, Feathered through time" - will be the starting point for a scene I have in mind.   

Michaël Borremans, The Giant, 2007

Michaël Borremans, The Giant, 2007

Radical watermelon by Nicola Chalmers

marriage at cana.jpg

Winifred Knights, how is it that you have imbued even the Steinian pink-cut-pink segments of watermelon with suspense? The Marriage at Cana, 1923. A strange, unsettling and quietly dramatic scene - and a lesson in anthropomorphism. There’s something a bit rude and modern and maybe radical about the presence (colour?) of watermelon in this painting; the segments look almost as if they are poised to perform an act of subterfuge. I wish I’d written it.

Autumn Sonata by Nicola Chalmers

The trees have got me thinking about Ingmar Bergman's AUTUMN SONATA. And Chopin. Reading her reading the other. How much we expect of the ones we love.