8 January 1998 - 14 February 1998
Opening Reception 8 January 1998 8pm
Encountering Philip Grauer’s Baby Pictures sculptures-in reproductions, at the gallery-one is compelled to ask, in quite a normal tone of voice: What are these strange lumber shapes which are ready to be tucked into bed or taken again to the kindergarten? Or else: What are these twisted sisters and brothers, these unfurled children with their extra-anatomical organs which extend to become larger that their own bodies, and which, judging by the ease and naturalness with which each child bears them, one believes to be congenital?
At time we are reminded that what we discover through inquiry was constantly bound up in the form we posed the question. Should we imagine, then, the artist walking around the lumber yard, selecting plywood all the while knowing what no one else around him knows-that there is a snowsuit, a set of jammies, a girl’s dress back at the studio, waiting for this lumber with infantile attributes others cannot see. Or should be imagine him at the children’s clothing store or dollar-a-pound, selecting the most suitable outfits for these quasi-Siamese bodies. This is where the question hinges: was it the outfits which needed these wooden bodies, and which sent the artist on an errand to the lumber yard-or was it the bodies which needed to be clothed, in accordance to their own particular physiognomy? Which came first?
Another dilemma proposes itself immediately. Infant-plywood or tumor-baby: do we ask What-or Who?
It is truly beyond question that the sculptures are from the start before us in full solicitation of our concern. These sculptures, these cabbage-patch children with weak open arms, these children of the milling-plant-tiny persons alone even while in the company of others, and always insufficient without them, dependent on others like every real child is. These merchandise-display statues, humanoids, which, even as one may take them by their tiny hand, yet tower above us, the adults. They give birth to us, in a way (quite normal, really, the way every neonate does)-they give birth to us, we little mums and dads. We are born at the same time, them and us, bound by a secret concentric umbilical cord, being each the other’s annexation. “Love me…”
We look closely upon their jaundiced but sunny skin, their fibrous skin of wood, and note before we rub our eyes in disbelief that the knots in the wood repeat! There is a symmetry to the bodies before us. Not a mirror-image symmetry, the symmetry of a body with two halves. But a serial symmetry, the symmetry of two things standing side-by-side, of sequence in-depth spread out laterally. What novel complication is this, which by rolling the baby our tortilla-style into the standard construction module of plywood sheets, produced dub-copies of its fingerprints, its pattern-baldness, it cicatrices, its nipples-and merged these onto the same continuous skin. What new twist is this for us to know! We, who are children of the blinking cursor, children of the last-call redial, children of genetics, children of our grandparents, children of our traumas, children of archaic severance.
There is a story, famous in our epoch, by which we describe the world of the baby, In this world-buccal cosmos of the baby until three months of age-there are no people. There is no mother, there is no father, no others there, not even baby. There is only Mouth-excellent introceptivity without arm-span or field-of-vision-full swimming pre-presence in the mouth, brimming with joy and anguish. In the world of the baby’s mouth there are no people, but these have not gone anywhere-people have not yet attained the kind of presence which would enable them to vanish, to no-longer-be-there.
With the acquisition of control over its own body-its eyes, its hands, its own motion-and the sealing of the corresponding neural channels in the brain, the baby finally, traumatically, triumphantly lays open its experience to one of a world outside. There are no persons as yet, but these are not too far in coming. Already people press themselves in by tying, diapering, swaddling and colour-coding which, one must admit, simply makes the baby look all the more cute. They hover deep behind every appearance, speaking the same language, choosing what in the world is to exist for the child. The baby doesn’t even know it, but others are already there for it, pressing themselves in, long before they can be present as such for it. Poor cute little sun-king baby: centre for others before it can be centre for itself. Gorgeous little Richard Serra children, flat and deep simultaneously, lovely cross-eyed angels all.