Salt Cellar and Glass, 1988; video installation; dimensions variable

Salt Cellar and Glass, 1988; video installation; dimensions variable

Carol Rudyard's first exhibition with Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery.

Exhibition Dates: 25 May – 11 June 1988

According to a certain popular interpretation of the Freudian analytical method there are no such things as chance associations. On this account the famous 'Freudian slip' (lapsus) is always revelatory; the accidental substitution of terms is necessarily symptomatic. An underlying 'authentic' discourse (that of the subconscious) irrupts through the cracks in an otherwise precise language. Disorder in language use is resolved through an appeal to a higher order of logic and thus language is brought to heel, tamed, in a manner that recalls the explanation of natural disorder (eclipses, etc...) as the visible manifestation of the divine will. 

Secular humanism needs its own touchstone too and unconscious desire has been a strong candidate in our century.

However some have argued that lapsus may be more innocent than this; that free-ranging associations, puns and so on may on occasion betray nothing more than a kind of ludic delight in formal or phonetic similarities. If this view is the correct one then associations and substitutions may be 'freed up' to produce rather than to disclose meaning.

One suspects that Carol Rudyard would be sympathetic to this latter position. Neither in Salt Cellar and Glass nor in any of her earlier video works is there any indication that she wishes to interrogate or dissect cultural artifacts in search of some one or more essential 'truths'. 

The raw materials of her work are, most frequently, exemplary instances of modernism; literary, musical and visual. However unlike the analyst or the coroner she grants them the dignity rightfully accorded to living species. The signifying chains which are at the core of her art follow no predetermined path inwards to some underlying unity (the 'hidden truth' of classical modernism) but are allowed instead to roam at will. In the course of this
peripatetic journey the boundary between meaningful correlation (morphology) and coincidence (psuedomorphosis) becomes less and less stable.

Rudyard is attracted by the possibilities of association for ends that are, we might say, 'poetic' rather than 'expressive'. Hers is a process of production rather than of recovery and, given her taste for the elegant encounter - for the serendipitious intersection of works that are often radically disparate - it is perhaps not surprising that she has been drawn to Marcel Duchamp.

Duchamp's The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors Even (A "Delay in Glass") has often been pressed into service as the bad conscience of modernism. Arguably no work from the first half of the twentieth century has so relentlessly aimed at deflating early modernism's litany of pretension. Cubism's insistence on the formal and notional commensurability of figure/ground is 'resolved' in the 'Large Glass' by painting on a transparent support. In a similar vein Duchamp replies to Cubism's deconstruction of the illusionistic system of Renaissance humanism with a mock traditional deployment of vanishing-point, modelling, diminution across a 'window onto the world'.

Further, the attempts of early modernism to model social subjectivity on mechanistic paradigms - an inclination which merely reflects larger urban tendencies associated with a range of new 'sciences' such as behavioural psychology, cybernetics and Taylorism - are unmercifully parodied under Duchamp's dada dispensation.

Most tellingly Duchamp disowns the petits recits of the major early modern movememts. The expressive gesture as the immediate privileged trace of desire, the reductivist fantasies of the utopian social engineers and the neo-platonic 'essences' invoked by such artists as Juan Gris are all treated as examples of premature foreclosure; as instances of what Theodor Adorno was later to call 'spurious reconciliation'.

For Duchamp (at least in the 'Large Glass') the work of the artwork is never done. Like the relationship between the Bride and the Bachelors the relationship between modernism and its audience remains unconsumated.

Duchamp's art is, among other things, a parodistic argument against attempts to reduce modernism to a program. It proselytises on behalf of openess and irresolution; for historically flexible definitions of art and of art's potential.

Rudyard takes Duchamp at his word. She subjects the 'Large Glass' to the same processes which it inflicts on Cuba-Futurism. Hence Duchamp's 'Glass' which opens onto ever changing vistas (his studio, the Dreier garden, the Philadelphia Museum of Art) becomes the glass of the cathode ray tube which contains, by way of contrast, a highly controlled and contrived world. The term 'delay' occurs on several occasions inscribed on a mirror in Rudyard's maquette.

Thus Rudyard plays with the metaphorical possibilities of glass. The world preserved behind glass, the window onto the world and art as a 'reflection' are all qualified by a 'delay' of the sort which Derrida characterises as differance. The 'delay' in question is the inevitable and eternal postponement of resolution. It is the resistance offered by sign systems in general and art works specifically to definitive characterisation. The implication here is that all artworks are in principle inexhaustible. However Rudyard's work, like Duchamp's before it, goes further by weaving that inevitability into its very fabric. Her 'bachelor' element, the salt and cellar, and the 'cocktail glass' bride complement each other formally; the reflective surface and the transparent one are explored, juxtaposed and attenuated to the point where the functional distinctions seem to dissolve. We are left with the onanistic image of spilt salt.

Rudyard's Duchamp conscripts the impossibility of sexual gratification to stand in for the futility of the quest for hermeneutic fulfilment. The artwork resists the embalmer and the taxidermist; its deep 'essential' secret is that it has no secrets apart from those which the viewer elects to whisper in its presence.

Rudyard's work as a video maker has been consistently directed against dogmatic closure and in favour of the eternal freshness of poetic association. Salt Cellar and Glass suggests to us that the artwork might be something like a player's set of rules and that each viewing might be something like a new game.

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