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In connection with this subject of “mysterious disappearance” – of which every memory is stored with abundant example – it is pertinent to note the belief of Dr. Hem, of Leipzig…This distinguished scientist has attracted some attention, “particularly,” says one writer, “among the followers of Hegel, and mathematicians who hold to the actual existence of a so called non-Euclidian space – that is to say, of space which has more dimensions than length, breadth and thickness – space in which it would be possible to tie a knot in an endless cord and to turn a rubber ball inside out without ‘ a solution of its continuity’, in other words, without breaking or cracking it.” Dr. Hem believes that in the visible world there are void places – vacua and something more – holes, as it were, through which animate and inanimate objects may fall into the invisible world and be seen or heard no more. The theory is something like this: Space is pervaded by luminiferous ether, which is a material thing – as much a substance as air or water, though almost infinitely more attenuated. All force, all forms of energy must be propagated in this; every process must take place in it which takes place at all. But let us suppose that cavities exist in this otherwise universal medium, as caverns [within] the earth, or cells in a Swiss cheese… Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce From “Science to the Front” found within Present at a Hanging and Other Ghost Stories
The above passage, written by late 19 century satirist and fiction author Ambrose Bierce, is composed as a rational, yet fictional argument for a series of preceding ghost tales. This concluding segment exists as a speculative foil for the emotional resonance of supernatural disappearances. The passage opens up two roads for the reader - one being a suspension of belief in the supernatural, the other a suspension of disbelief in the scientific. Both capture the idea that there must be a parallel reasoned, albeit inadequate, argument for the realm of the invisible. In the work of Amy Beecher and Susan Bricker, we are presented with visual criteria establishing both presence and absence in the material and in the immaterial. In both of the artists’ work, there is a manipulation of paint, yet there exists an elusive and supernatural component to the work that suggests a tenuous relationship with the traditional or fundamentalist modes of abstraction and representation. In Susan Bricker’s studio, the artist made mention of her appreciation of the work of Henri Mattise, which makes for a compelling alignment in practical similarities with regard to the production of space within the picture plane. Mattise’s use of the brush stroke, which occasionally would act as a representative object, reinforced the tactility of the paint and created a rift in the suspension of illusion within the picture. In Bricker’s case paint itself constitutes forms, allowing for infinite potential for the accelerated self-referential quality of the paint. Mattise and the Post-Impressionists played an important part (along with photomechanical reproduction) in liberating painting from the relatively restricting confines of representing reality at a one to one ratio. By opening up paintings potential, the technical aspects of painting, brushstrokes, color, content, became less subservient to the lens of reality and more capable of approximating the supernatural.
In Susan’s work we find objects, totems and devotional items constructed of paint and slipping in and out of recognition. There is a viscosity ratio within the production and creation of these objects that allows for slippage, both literally and figuratively speaking. This resonates within the content by the simulation of decay, erosion and other principles of loss including time. In one picture, an ice cream cone wrapper vacillates between painterly abstraction and sticky-sweet representation, the paint acts much like melted chocolate and ice cream smearing and staining, a gooey ghost of a day-dream treat…. We see all of these objects in the absence of a figure. One may read the work as melancholic, denoting the heartache and after burn of an emptied out gathering… perhaps the absence of a human presence is meant to exalt the potency of finding the poetic in the everyday. Another may read this as a strategy towards delineation and inclusion, allowing for the viewer to populate the scene. Regardless of the perceived disappearance of figures within the space, we are privy to a variation of views in each scene, birds-eye, in-perspective, flattened space, each seeming to increase the abject possibilities of figure/ground relationships. By creating a sensation of distortion, these views act as a painterly equivalent of mise en scene, heightening the privation of the view whilst augmenting the quirk of the abject voyeurism. There is a pervasive sense of the paranormal and the animate in the work that leaves one with a feeling of sinister qualities. In Amy Beecher’s work we also see the viscosity of paint acting as a figure at once frozen and crystallized, yet also captured in a state of possible transition. The document both accumulates and loses information as it passes through several modes of technological reinterpretation, ultimately sputtering out as ink from a printer to constitute a final frozen image, the result of both accumulation and loss. The work speaks to both the limitations and the possibilities of contemporary imaging, capturing information that is just as in flux as the technology supporting its production. One might hark back to the work of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and the inventiveness of the early Bauhaus practitioners who made it their mission to reject paint and focus on the techno-scientific possibilities that allowed for new ways of both capturing and seeing light. In Ms. Beecher’s work there is a temporality that does not seem as much revolutionary as it is peremptory, the resulting image becomes just as slippery as the fictional passage at the beginning of this essay; offering scientific reason for “mysterious disappearances”, here we have a mysterious “appearance” instead. An image that slips both into the (digital) void and back again, gaining aural ectoplasm as it returns back into the realm of the visible. Moholy-Nagy made reference to a third kind of space, one that was multidimensional (perhaps non-Euclidian) that was created when producing his photograms. This space/image exists in the invisible realm, both out of time and liminal space, only to enter our world through the technology that birthed the image. The technology and the image, both inextricably linked through necessity, like some spectre that has been banished from our reality, yet still haunts us beyond the technological void. The difficulty of crossing a field here can be recognized as difficulty in transportation via imagery, something like traveling without moving. The field in this sense is that of a force, supernatural and phenomenological, an aesthetic force field. With these two artists we find that the threshold (the ether) is the medium itself, paint. The modality is constituted by arrival and departure, absence and presence. These binary and polemical states actualize,
bring forth and conflate both the abstract and the paranormal in both of these artists work. Ultimately we are left with pictures of vacua, both literalized and allegorical. These views, scenes and objects are captured in flux and frozen, haunting us as so many successful pictures often do. This brings us to the conclusion, for the moment, where I should state that this essay exists as the analogous equivalent to the explanatory paragraph written by Ambrose Bierce, the author himself having mysteriously disappeared around December 1914, just about a year before Kazimir Malevich filled the void with his Black Square. For what it is worth, the passage from “Science to the Front” concludes with the following sentiments:
Baldly and imperfectly as here stated, Dr. Hem’s theory, in so far as it professes to be an adequate explanation of “mysterious disappearances,” is open to many obvious objections; to fewer as he states it himself in the “spacious volubility” of his book. But even as expounded by its author it does not explain, and in truth is incompatible with some incidents of, the occurrences related in these memoranda… It is not my duty to indue facts and theories with affinity.
And so it goes that perhaps reasoned argument will not suffice… These pictures require your presence! If all things are in flux, then let us celebrate the work of Amy Beecher and Susan Bricker for snapping their views into our reality! Jeffrey Scott Mathews XXTDCF 2011
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