Bruce La Bruce, Lisa Deanne Smith, David Grenier
14 May 1998 - 20 June 1998
Opening Reception 14 May 1998 8pm
There’s Something I’ve Been Meaning To Tell You
To utter the classic leading line There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you…–even without making the specific revelation that it preludes–is to already betray a great deal: that there is something to be said, that something prevents it from being said, and that something else means it must. This simple phrase declares that a critical moment has been reached in a system of forces: an internal compulsion has overcome an external proscription to force a revelation. Something erupts. The present perfect progressive tense–I have been meaning–describes the deferral, more or less long and more or less painful, between the arrival of a consciousness unto one’s self and the possibility of its announcement to another. It implies that all that has been needed for this meaning to come forth is the right time, the right place, an occasion. In short, an opening.
There might be nothing more conspicuous than someone who has a secret. To conceal something creates a fundamental division in the self, setting into opposition an inner self, which holds its truth, against an outer deceptive self. Out of this division comes that odd feeling of temptation to betray one’s self, a pressure to state really and truly who or what one is. The attempt to regain a lost unity through revelation has emerged historically as the medieval confession, the Romantic struggle, and, in this century, the psychoanalytic “talking cure”. But of course, the hidden does tend to ooze out. And, of course, it is the very nature of a secret to slip.
The works in this show respond in complex and canny ways to the condition of having a tale to tell. They are ready, excessive, overfull. They bleed through their own narratives. The artists are as intent on expressing the structural condition of having a meaning’s specific content. These works sit on the edge of pronouncement–pointing to the idea of the hidden, they speak about the pleasure and horror of not being in language, of not having words.
The mouth is the most obvious instrument of revelation, and it is this opening that Bruce La Bruce has sewn closed to make his phantasmic self-portrait. He has done this twice, to different effect. The first instance assumed the form of an eight-by-ten black and white publicity still, like that of some McCarthy era star –Montgomery Cliff or Frances Farmer come to mind. Out of this type of studio-controlled image, La Bruce has fashioned an uncanny portrait of an inner self that has no access to language precisely because it has become a screen for our projections. While it is an angry image of rebellion, it is phantasmic because it says something about the decentering effect of fame that no publicity still ever does. In the image shown here, on the other hand, La Bruce dissimulates the brutal pain of the stitching. Assuming the conventional pose and gestures of the loquacious gay man, he enacts a casual chatting that cannot be prevented even by his sutures. This irony challenges the general denigration of chatting, suggesting its origins in the spellbinding effect of the raconteur. Reading Lisa Deanne Smith’s declaration, I AM EXTREMELY RATIONAL, leaves one feeling a queasy unease that is the opposite of reason’s certitude. Each of the twenty letters were sewn by the artist into her own skin using her hair as thread. They were then individually photographed in close-up detail –serum and tiny traces of blood well out of the points where the skin was pierced. We can only imagine why a declaration of reason might need to take this form. I pause over Lisa’s images and imagine myself doing that to myself. Would I have lingered over the “R” of rational, wondering if indeed, the project were insane? Why do these letters, so deliberately enscripted on the body, seem so strongly to have emerged spontaneously from it? In the gallery, the letters which were stitched onto various sites of the body are presented in single file, a format which reconfigures and flattens the body’s topography. With a certain cruelty, the staging of one letter after another forces a submission to language’s insistent logic. Being rational is presented as a paradox that the body itself must write.
David Grenier’s three grey flannel panels each bear two short poems rendered in straight pins. The texts describe conventionally ‘queer’ characters and each incorporates, in the manner of an acrostic, a label for a homosexual man. The acrostic form, which flourished in the Elizabethan court, was characterized by being condensed and doubly coded: an encrypted word functioned as a hermeneutic key governing and unlocking the poetic conceit. This elaborate exercise was the means through which the repressed could appear. Grenier’s painstaking labour performs a similar function –it is like embroidery, but he has subverted the traditional dyad of needle and thread, making the successive penetrations of the needle visible simultaneously as a glittering field of pins. Within the text formed by this process, another text, the label, emerges. Revealed in a manner which dramatizes the effort required to disclose, the label is inflected with the tension of not being able to say enough, yet already having said too much. Here, disclosure assumes the posture of posturing itself, for no word is pliable enough to speak the personal truths these poems allude to.
The opening through which the artists of this exhibition draw their secrets is a penetrated surface, like a textile. The works could all, in fact, be called needle-works. They point, more or less directly, to stitching and penetration –a process we don’t witness here except in its trace. The works are also speech-acts –performative, expository, didactic: acknowledging language as emancipatory, a surface through which meaning erupts, but also accusing it of forcing the secret under. Perhaps it is in the gap between revealing and repressing that the works, in distress, finally act. Little stabs at happiness.
– Kenneth Hayes and Kym Pruesse for the Main Gallery Committee