SCREEN SERIES: CELLULOID CAVE
17 - 20 November 2010
Ry David Bradley, Jade Burstall, Paul Candy, M. Leaf-Tierney, Paul Rogers, Zoe Scoglio, Andrew Turland + Leon Van De Graaff
Tens of thousands of years ago people began marking their life onto rock. Across Europe, Asia, the Americas, Africa and Australasia are carvings and paintings of remarkable sophistication. Although their origins are still debated, the task of creating these images was most likely bestowed upon a select few (Pericot Garcia, Galloway, Lommel, 1969). They practiced, painted, carved, and etched humanity’s first art. These totems, hunting scenes, handprints, female forms and animals reflected daily life, fertility and spirituality. They formed a language of pictures that was as important as survival ”’to protect them against powers’ as real as the forces of nature” (Gombrich, 2006).
Celluloid Cave pays homage to cave artists and the 30 000 year history and evolution of art, the ritual of creativity, and the power of the image. With 21st century technology, the eight artists in Celluloid Cave (Ry David Bradley, Jade Burstall, Paul Candy, M. Leaf-Tierney, Paul Rodgers, Zoe Scoglio, Andrew Turland and Leon Van De Graaff) investigate and reinvent cave art to reflect on contemporary anthropological activity, belief and ritual. It is a study of the modern day artist as ‘cave artist’ examining the lives of distant prehistoric cousins.
The artists have explored the theme of Celluloid Cave in diverse ways, drawing on an array of subjects: motifs of ‘The hunter’ and ‘Venus’, animal totems, archeological discoveries, evolution and identity, and the significance of ‘the cave’ in contemporary society.
The two prehistoric motifs of ‘The hunter’ and ‘Venus’ are apparent in the works by Van De Graaff, Leaf-Tierney, and Burstall. These images of ‘male’ and ‘female’ represent the ongoing challenge of sexual stereotyping in contemporary culture and the evolution of gender identity. Leaf-Tierney’s Mute City Dreemz, (2010) and Van De Graaff’s Hunter / Ritual V1.3 (2010) examine the roles of the hunter and the hunted. The hunt contrasts the clearly defined masculine role of survival with the spiritual role of the animal in the hunter-hunted relationship. Van De Graaff throws contemporary man into a ‘hunting’ costume a proud and hopeful character who dreams of turning grocery shopping into a more dignified ‘hunting’ experience. Leaf-Tierney explores the evolution of consumer culture in Mute City Dreemz, (2010). Leaf-Tierney projects an electronic transformation where we worship a technological materialisation, becoming more removed from ‘organic’ life, while delving deeper into virtual dimensions.
There is synergy in the female forms emerging from the fog in Burstall’s Above the Fog, (2010) with the 30 000 BCE stone ‘Venus’ figurines discovered throughout Europe (Sieveking, 1979). Burstall’s female lead undergoes a transformation from girl to woman while she searches for a new identity. She is a weapon-wielding, quasi-femme fatale, determined to confront the stereotypes cast upon her. Robert Graves in The White Goddess (1997) examines the ‘original myth’ of the goddess throughout mythology, history and language. The female images in Burstall’s Above the Fog, (2010) incorporate aspects of Graves’ (1997) moon goddess, but as images etched in fog, they are elusive. In contrast, the stoic and ancient ‘Venus’ with her exaggerated breasts, hips, and abdomen constitutes an unmistakable child-bearing form.
Andrew Turland’s INSTRUCTION 2 (for a modern man)(2010), like Van De Graaff’s, Hunter / Ritual V1.3 (2010) is a meeting of old and new. Turland reflects on the place of history in contemporary life through the ritual of shaving. Facial hair for pre-historic man was a natural defense as well as a display of sexual maturation (Muscarella and Cunningham, 1992). Just like the hunt, facial hair had a symbolic place in the male identity. Shaving and the beard for ‘modern man’, however, have a different meaning, being mostly associated with fashion. As a viewer, we witness Turland undergoing a transformation from the ‘rugged’ to the ‘clean’, as he awkwardly sculpts into his hair with an archaic shaving tool.
Rodgers’ The Other Below the Surface, (2010) and Scoglios’ Skull Study 1: Origins, (2010) explore prehistoric activities and the cave from a different angle. They turn our attention to archaeological discoveries and evolution. Rodgers’ video of the Parisian Catacombs, ‘the man-made cave of the dead’, is a disorientating experience. Rodger’s footage provides a privileged view of kilometres of twisting tunnels, shot on Super 8 film. It is a noir abstract thriller of skulls and bones, cave decoration created not from pigments and carvings, but from our ancestors.
Like Rodgers, Scolgio examines what we can create from the past, presenting her own view of evolutionary history in Skull Study 1: Origins, (2010). Through the ritual tracing of projected patterns over artefacts of bones and shoes, Scoglio asks where have we been, and where are we going? She presents the viewer with a trance-like experience of the history of the earth. In contrast to the treatment of the dead in the Catacombs, Scoglio looks at the use of bones and rocks as compressed particles of decomposed matter, burnt as fossil fuels.
Platos The Allegory of the Cave, discusses ‘ideas and philosophy [as] the highest and most fundamental kind of reality’ (Baird & Kaufmann, 2008) beyond the physical confines of ‘the cave’. Through exploring animal totems, Candy’s Totemic Interior #1, (2010) illustrates The Allegory of the Cave beautifully with the bird symbol. Used across many cultures to represent the spirit and spiritualisation (Cirlot, 2002) Candy’s bird, with its elegant, slow-motion flight upwards, flees the confines of surrounding architectures.
‘Celluloid’, as used in films and photography, is a reference in the title of the show to the evolution of art making and the adoption of technology into the artists’ repertoire. Ry David Bradley’s Superimposition, (2010), with pixel manipulation of a photograph of cave art, is a nod to the meeting of minds from polar ends of the time line. Whilst creating an overarching umbrella under which the artist’s desire to create is presented across histories and societies, he simultaneously highlights the vast distance over which we have travelled.
From carvings and pigments on rock walls to dazzling lights, smoke and mirrors in contemporary gallery spaces, what do we experience now as artist and viewer? Although the gallery is still the main arena for artistic expression of the visual arts, it is continually being challenged. With the merging and crossover of many art forms and display, the gallery as we know it is expanding, and with the escalating role of the internet, the walls are slowly disappearing. Yet the power of art to communicate ideas remains constant. Cave paintings and carvings are suggested as the ‘first evidence of [man’s] spiritual life’ (Pericot Garcia, Galloway and Lommel, 1969). Whatever spirituality and magic modern day art possesses, humanity’s intense drive to create continues.
Natalya E. Maller, 2010
Baird, Forrest E.; Walter Kaufmann (2008). From Plato to Derrida. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall
Cirlot, J.E. (2002). A Dictionary of Symbols. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc
Gombrich, E. H. (2006). The Story of Art. London: Phaidon Press Limited
Graves, R. (Grevel Lindop, ed.) (1997). The White Goddess. A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth. Manchester: Faber and Fabber
Muscarella, F. and M. R. Cunningham (1992). The Evolutionary Significance and Social Perception of Male Pattern Baldness and Facial Hair in ‘Ethology and Sociobiology’, Vol. 17, Issue 2, 1996, pp. 99-117. Miami Shores, Florida: Barry University Press
Pericot Garcia, L., Galloway, J. and A. Lommel (1969). Prehistoric and Primitive Art. London: Thames and Hudson
Sieveking, A. (1979). The Cave Artists. London: Thames and Hudson