Wounds, real or imagined, dangle, delicately weeping, from the silvern thorns interwoven through Natalie Drays exhibition ‘Kierkegaardashian’.
Trompe l’oeil plasters suggest that both the injury and the healing may be less than skin deep, hovering above the physical in the brittle, info-injured, media molested psyche. ‘don’t be a dick’ is daintily printed on one plaster, bookended by two impervious smiley punctuation mark faces. ‘fuck you hater’ calmly chides another. Borrowing from the rhetoric of social media’s battleground of aggressors and victims (the virtual home of one half of the exhibition’s titular protagonists), gives the two faux Elastoplast’s a humorous quality, casting the bloodless avalanche of daily digital wounds in an illusory, gently mocking light. Their highly aestheticized rendering hints at injury being a mere narrative prop, posturing means to a battle between good and evil, themselves binary bookends to the eternal flow of gossip, news and information.
Left alone in the hermetic basement gallery at Blain Southern, the two plasters might have made an arresting enough interjection, perhaps taking on tropes of the building’s invulnerable stature and its own broader signifiers, including the #metoo movements overlap with the art world. Taking its title from a twitter account of the same name, ‘Kierkegaardashian’ moves fluidly beyond its namesake’s simplistic contrasts of apparently opposing worldviews, sorting the wounded wheat from the wounded chaff as it drags us thorn prick by thorn prick into an altogether more complex engagement with such subject matter. There’s definitely more Kierkegaard then Kardashian in the thorny punctuation marks as they overwhelm their electrical cable tray frames, giving the barbed tendrils the guttural foreboding of an invasive philosophical plant tying its way around your tongue.
Drays simultaneous interweaving of the structured and the organic, and her sense of the man-made being overwhelmed or antagonized by primal, natural forces, sets up her interruptions to the thorns with a purposeful deliverance. Leaves, condoms, pill blister packs, and wound probes ornamentally brooch the thickets, flowering in seductive murmurs that grow into wincing rumours. The condom’s rational shawl is punctured in our imagination, engaging our fears and politics around fertility, the body and mortality. There’s a surprisingly emotional response elicited by Dray’s quietly poised work, and it develops a subtle poetry evident but perhaps not quite as fully realised in her previous solo exhibitions. The preceding accent on functionality and an accompanying aura of theoretical detachment, of a withdrawn observation of the rules of engagement, here gives way to a structural dissolution that feels more solicitous, more inviting. For electricity, read blood, for petals read timorous metaphysical tumours wilting under the taciturn heat of salivating reproach and baying affirmation that tweet and insta us into contemplative oblivion. The use of hand cast pewter brings an original and absorbing elegance to the work in ‘Kierkegaardashian’, allowing the emergent dialogues to take flight from a point of material fascination.
The theme of the wound has been the catalyst for many exquisite art works historically, perhaps most pertinently illustrated in this case by Caravaggio’s ‘The Incredulity of Saint Thomas’ (1601–1602) which depicts Thomas’s surprised face as Jesus holds his hand and guides it into his wound, an image which in turn helped give rise to the term ‘doubting Thomas’. A sensitive, doubtful scepticism, and searching for a truth rooted in personal experience underpins Dray’s work. Is the role of art to suggest a kind of healing, i.e. to propose a dialogue between disparate elements or opinions, or to maintain rifts, i.e. to dramatise and thus entrench existing worldviews? Whilst twitter storms might spiral lazily from the latter, Kierkegaard’s, and by extension Dray’s placement of a fragile human reality set amongst an everyday that constantly redefines, or wounds us, happily or unhappily, would point to the former approach being at play here. For those who feel art should be a serious meeting point between a visual expression of philosophy and contemporary culture, ‘Kierkegaardashian’ provides rich pickings, just mind those thorns.
Natalie Dray, ‘Kierkegaardashian’. Blain | Southern London 25 July – 15 September 2018 Article by Agnes Calf https://www.blainsouthern.com/exhibitions/kierkegaardashian