This is the place of forgetting.
“…At the foot of the prison walls, the wind is kneeling. The prison draws along all the cells where the prisoners are asleep; grows lighter and slips away.”
“He was holding in his ringers a little soldier whose symmetrical face expressed only foolishness and caused that feeling of malaise which we also get from primitive drawings, from the same drawings that prisoners carve on prison walls and scribble in library books, and on their chests which they are going to tattoo, and which show the profiles with an eye in full face.”
“…Memory thus becomes the instrument of moral conversion, and its effects are to be heightened through an enforced solitude which will necessarily promote introspection. The cellular prison comes to stand at the centre of a ‘technology of salvation’.”
Evans, The Fabrication of Virtue.
Schema builds from a research period in Paris where the artists were developing the authenticity of the Henri Papin character by researching aspects of his childhood, focusing them around institutionalisation, and their concept of architectural orthopedics as they relate to trauma – an examination into psychic stains and residues left upon a ‘place’.
In this exhibition the artists have chosen to construct something of the inner psycho/physiological workings of the Henri Papin character in an attempt to explore the mapping of his psychological schema through both architectural and mechanical methods.
They are seeking to combine those psychic historical and place stains with the internal mental transformation and scarring left by experience, memory and the development of chemical inbalances.
The installation is composed in three sections;
1. The ‘palate-cleansing’ waiting room - it holds a fragment image - a tiny disconnected thread of active memory currently occupying the thoughts of present Henri.
2. The interpretation panel displays an interconnected series of blueprints of particular sections of Henri’s brain that concern themselves with the formulation, storage, recall and contextualisation of memories, sense development and motor functions.
3. The Machines. Part stage set, part factory, the separate stations interconnect through a series of electrical impulses. Throughout the machinery memories inhabit the lost places.
Recurrent themes of mushrooms and fish litter the works. They exude moisture, they allude to the terrestrial and oceanic, the saltwater internal, the subterranean – they flock in the darkness, glistening damply. Significant totems from both the artist’s histories, they act as symbolic stopping points, marking moments where the neural loop sticks and repeats, over and over again.
The Oubliette is another story of course; a pit within a pit; the inescapable prison. Here its used as a resting place for the things forgotten, with intention and without.
“The great topmost sheet of the mass, that where hardly a light had twinkled or moved, becomes now a sparkling field of rhythmic flashing points with trains of traveling sparks hurrying hither and thither. The brain is waking and with it the mind is returning. It is as if the Milky Way entered upon some cosmic dance. Swiftly the head mass becomes an enchanted loom where millions of flashing shuttles weave a dissolving pattern, always a meaningful pattern though never an abiding one; a shifting harmony of subpatterns.”
- Charles S. Sherrington - Man on his Nature.
Henri Papin came into being gradually, though there are a number of significant moments that fixed his particular personality in place. The last smear of mortar happened in a mall in Hobart, of all places. We were walking though the mall talking about the upcoming show we were having, past a decrepit engravers nook that was emitting the most intriguing music from it, that literally stopped us both in our tracks mid-flight up the stairwell.
Compelled, we stopped to ask the odd, introverted man who worked there what it was, thinking it must be some sort of experimental orchestral music, when he replied quite guilelessly
“It’s the engraver.”
We walked away, feeling like pretentious twats, and a little weird from the exchange with this man who must watch the drama of the passing traffic everyday safely from his innocuous shop, and something fell into place. What if we made work about someone like that - or even, what if we involved them in the work more actively - made it from their first person perspective.
When people ask us about where he comes from the standard response is a little bit from literature, and film; dregs from the pop culture soup pot, but he also comes from aspects of our own personalities
The first time Henri surfaced was after I had arrived in Tasmania. Financially modest with a sense of misadventure I ended up staying in an abandoned residence where the collected history of a woman had accumulated like fungus within the humble façade. To this day I have not experienced the kind of obsession it takes to collect that much stuff. I understand the impetus – that need to keep everything that reminds one of oneself, in the hopes of remaining together, and in control of all of your bits.
It’s something I share with Henri, in fact.
But the house – each room was an exaggeration of the previous; objects spilling from cupboards spilling from corners, spilling from rooms. Every available space was filled with some vessel which contained something else – the lounge room; tools residing next to a dusty piano, on top of an ancient sewing box next to a pile of magazines from the 60’s. And so on.
To get in you had to duck down a driveway into the backyard and climb through a window into the lower floor laundry. It was dark in that perpetual 3pm summer afternoon inside kind of way – because the blinds were drawn in every room downstairs and each room filled to capacity except for the narrow channels left to maneuver through each space.
Other people had stayed there, clearly – there were even the decaying remnants of some anonymous squatters’ last meal amongst the refuse that served as their bed in the dining room
I would spend my days sifting through the refuse downstairs, and return upstairs well before the sun went down and the shadows grew even longer and inkier.
One room held an avalanche of personal effects – clothing, old medication, toiletries. They rained from the bed down into the foot of an open closet, and stuck upon the wall above the bedhead not at all haphazardly was a calendar of sorts.
A sort of calendar to mark a person’s private journey through aging; taped to the wall in a regular string were clumps of blonde-to-grey hair. I found this particularly chilling, and amongst the refuse and the culmination of a lifetime of not letting go, seemed awesomely considered.
But each room held its funny little moments; One room was entirely stuffed with collected recycling and ancient cupboards full of men’s clothes. Newspapers and faded fabrics, the anti-smell of stasis, a kind of a newsprinty-mothbally-dusty carpet-y kind of aroma, not entirely unpleasant, but not particularly comforting either.
There was one room whose door was locked and this perhaps was the most chilling of all. I combed the house for weeks before I found a key that would open that door, and I remember quite clearly standing in the hallway with it in the lock, wondering what excessive horror must be locked behind it. Eventually I opened it and the door swung open onto an entirely empty space. A table, a chair in the centre of the room, and upon the table a beautiful stainless steel old Sony cassette recorder. Inside it, with a handwritten label on a BASF cassette was a woman’s voice, reciting French lessons. Voila.
Mish once told me a story about when she was young and living on the murray river and during her brief spate there, the river fell into its inevitable drought period; where the water thins to a sluggish trickle banked in thick brown mud. The mud is metres deep, and if you stand still long enough, it will pull you down like a mythical bog creature. Except if you’re a bunch of carp lying distended and dying; out of the water, horrible gulping mouths slowly sucking to a stop. The river mud refuses those offerings - and to a child it’s like some sort of sign of the apocalypse to witness.
So many evocative childhood memories.
Mine have similarly earthy roots - hunting for mushrooms in dank fields, squatting down to stare at wetly glistening toadstools and wanting desperately to touch them. The delightfully named fly agaric; Amanita muscaria. They look a bit like honey cakes, and even though you’re told they’re poisonous, that doesn’t register particularly strongly.
I was attracted to all things considered deadly by
child-lore; those abundant red berries, stormwater drains, cemeteries, train tracks, weird strangers in the bush, listening to stories about Mr Baldy, but feeling alright
because of a hidden trove of cap guns and stolen hammers in a secret cache under a bridge.
These things stay with you, the oddly defining moments often resurfacing at the least expected of times.
We’ve given Henri a few to define him more clearly.