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Not so long ago the world was a bigger place. Communication was a slower affair. Postcards and letters were expected; public telephone boxes occasioned long-distance conversations with far away loved-ones.
Sometimes there is an imperative to clear away the clutter of these former times. The old desk for instance, parked unhelpfully in the hallway near the front door, had been there too long. I decided to sort it. It was heaped with coats, a couple of shoes, a woollen hat and a sliding pile of junk mail. There were five drawers. In them I found a little lead elephant, an empty spectacles case, various lists on scraps of paper, a folded receipt, a faded party invitation, a confetti of hole-punch paper, a pair of suitcase padlocks still in their plastic package, six unflattering passport photographs, seven sleeves of self adhesive labels, an old identity card, a blank diary, some out-of-date magazines, an unpaid electricity bill, a handful of francs, one paper clip, fourteen elastic bands, a plastic snowman, a fat felt-pen, several broken pencils, a tiny light bulb in its box, a biscuit tin full of candles and two picture postcards.
In the middle drawer – the one that always got stuck – was a broken bicycle pump and an oversized envelope, full and smooth, licked shut. I made an irreversible mistake. I decided to open it. Inside was a collection of unread letters on thin, foreign paper. They were all of the same hand, and all written to me.
– Roy Voss, 2016
Layers of meaning, gaps and leaps
I’ve been told that as soon as I could talk I was speaking both in Italian and English. There was no confusion between the two and I knew where and when I could speak the one or the other. Italian was spoken mainly only at home in London or in Italy on holiday and so I rarely had need to write in Italian. However, that came quite naturally in what seemed to be an intuitive way – I was never taught to write in Italian in any formal way.
These works have links to written language. Language affects our mental ‘constructs’, our internal ‘spaces’ and cognition. Much of the “matter in hand” developed in Intervallo and Inferire started as postcard sized sections of automatic writing, asemic writing and text painted in household paints (so there is a domestic link and a link to the postcard) before reorganising the visual energies into the painterly collages we now see. I was thinking about mental containers, divisions, cusps and transitional space. Donald Winnicott’s writings on play, transitional space and the inbetween interested me greatly and were part of my research at the time.
“Nothing is quite apart, not only external, not only internal; a someplace in between.” (EC, 2014)
Two of these works are titled in Italian. “Intervallo” means a gap or an interval and is relevant to both gaps and leaps in meaning generation and in translation. Instinctual and intuitive leaps when painting, can be split second decisions that seem to defy any kind of neat translation into language and vice versa. The title also hints at the gap between the painting and the language surrounding it (like this very text). It somehow ‘fails’ the work and ‘falls short’ of it. The word “intervallo” is also used in music and so again there is that ‘leap’ into another field of activity, but one that might be said to have qualitative similarities to visual art in how we can experience it. “Inferire” means to infer but if I break it up and take “ferire” it means to wound. “Phrased” as a piece struck me as quite musical in it’s visual movement but also references text in it’s forms and some collage material that enters it and disrupts the surface. The “Phrase” being both a musical term and a linguistic one made this title ‘stick’.
If there seems to often be a perceived failure of language when alongside visual art, visual propositions, how else can we think about it? (The problem is there are many its to think about! There is not one kind, one quality of text). Speaking more generally, rather than it being a hierarchical battle between the two (language and visual art), I prefer to see it as more combinatorial and that the text or language does not compete with or threaten the visual in some way (and vice versa). Unfortunately sometimes painters can tend to get very defensive and angry about language, and those interested in language or text can often dismiss the visual thinking going on as no kind of thinking at all. They might describe it as belonging in some kind of inferior position on a league table – a lower thinking function (if they’ll even grant it the word ‘thinking’ at all). I think this impoverishes our experience and limits our interests and sense of play. It can be more playful than that and not some weird ideological fight, splitting things off from something potentially more integral. – EC, 2016