Frontiers

Greer Crawley, Space and Truth, 2009

Gerry Judah’s paintings reveal the constructed nature of representation. They have their own logic and reality. The considered placement of the debris and rubble and painterly manipulation of form, light and shadow are scenographic. ‘The rigour of the tectonic form is broken up, and while the wall crumbles and holes and fissures arise, a life quickens which quivers and shimmers over the surface…’ To create a convincing representation of a ruinous building, Judah recognises that the original model prior to his creative demolition must be structurally and organisationally accurate. As William Gilpin wrote ‘…to peel the facing from the internal structure-to show how correspondent parts have once united; though now the chasm runs wide between them and to scatter heaps of ruin around…are great efforts of art.’

Judah also understands that the remains of a modern building which has been demolished look different from an ancient one that has fallen into decay. The physics of demolition produces unique patterns and arrangements of rubble and modern building materials and infrastructures have their own ruinous vocabulary. Although ‘l’architecture c’est ce qui fait les belles ruines’ the end result is a painting – a composition woven from paint, card and wire. Threads are drawn out from the folded and crumpled fabric of the wrecked buildings. The fibres of defunct power lines and telecommunication networks bind together the collapsing structures. These former carriers of digital data become a physical calligraphy which inscribes the paintings with a catastrophic narrative.

In this ‘theatrum mundi’ of encrypted landscapes and fractured cities, the spectator is disorientated, the experience vertiginous. Temporal and spatial orientation is illusive. There is no fixed perspective, no horizon. The perceptual shifts in scale and location leave the spectator adrift –without signposts or coordinates. The taxonomy of the disaster-the exact nature or causation of the detritus and devastation is unspecified. The work exhibits the discontinuous change, hysteresis and divergent processes associated with catastrophe. These crushed and twisted planes occur when systems are pushed from equilibrium. It is the topology of entropy –the collapse of complex organisations and networks. Communication is severed, architecture dismembered, landscapes ruptured, the population displaced. This epidemiology of disaster creates ‘a wounded geography-the architectural, bodily and psychic wreckage caused by war.When a building is destroyed, there is a corresponding loss of history, memory and identity; both space and truth are concealed beneath the dust of demolition. In Judah’s studies of urban erasure, the desolation and emptiness are palpable. The stillness creates an aura of beauty but also uneasiness –we peer into the ruined structures looking for signs of life or evidence of death. The paintings become infected with psychic imaginings. ‘What had formerly been the city of Pompeii assumed an entirely changed appearance, but not a living one; it now appeared rather to have become completely petrified in dead immobility. Yet out of it stirred a feeling that death was beginning to talk…he, who possessed a desire for [a comprehension with soul, mind and heart] had to stand alone here…in order not to see with physical eyes nor hear with corporeal ears. Then-the dead awoke…’ We share our desire to awaken the dead with Benjamin’s angel of history whose ‘face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.’

In contrast to the angel who wishes to restore the wreckage, Benjamin’s ‘destructive character’ ‘sees nothing permanent…but for this very reason, he sees ways everywhere …What exists he reduces to rubble-not for the sake of rubble, but for the way leading through it.’ ‘The destructionist’ sees new relationships, juxtapositions and possibilities in ruination. Judah’s destruction may be a fabrication; an enacted event visited on inert materials but may also be the reality. The bodily presence of the artist and angel is felt in these performative works. Violence and its aftermath is recorded and documented-each work a representation of the forces of making and unmaking. Through these paintings we can reflect on the very real conditions of disaster and war while speculating on imaginary situations. These are psychic as well as material and physical constructs; studies in absence, disappearance, the building and unbuilding of space and truth.