"Unnamed: Judith Kentish", by Dr. Rachel Haynes, Exposttriennial (catalogue essay) 2012.
Unnamed: Judith Kentish
By Rachael Haynes
There is a special kind of time in the studio. As Brian O’Doherty observes, in the studio, time “…is always subjective, that is, elastic, stretching, falling into pools of reflection, tumbling in urgent waterfalls.”[i] I recently visited Judith’s studio at Kobble Creek. In Judith’s studio, time is fluid and ebbs softly. The moment is meditative.
To be here, one must quiet the mind.
These forms hover. Each is gently pinned into place. Sunlight slowly traverses the wall. The light delicately nestles in the folds of each surface, scribing the skin with hollows and rises.
Each form belongs to the other. Judith’s works seem to accumulate, the forms cluster together. They are created as series, in families. Here, the forms are placed in a gentle line that rises and falls. There are distinct markings from one to the next.
For each form to come into being, a sequence of gestures is repeated in the studio… dyeing… dipping… pinning… drying… threading… pricking… stitching. While working within carefully set limits, Judith acknowledges the subtle material possibilities; for example, the moment as the dye seeps through the cloth and delicately draws its own edges. There is a tender to and fro between planned and chance elements. Through the repetition of such moments, from one form to another, and then another, one can observe the traces of studio time.
I imagine Judith alone, working in the studio. As John Cage remarks,
You know, when you enter your studio, everyone is there, the people in your life, the old masters, everyone. And as you work they leave, one by one. And if it is a really good working day, well, you leave too.[ii]
I consider an empty studio.
Judith is building a secret room. I imagine a small room, hovering, in-between places and outside of time. Judith, like Virginia, knows the necessity of possessing a room of one’s own.[iii]
In her drawings and sewn works, Judith employs the repetition of mark-making, intricately mapping the surface of paper or fabric. These works explore a relationship to language and the gesture of writing itself as a kind of marking. Daniel Mafe describes this eloquently as ‘crafting’s contemplation of writing’s trace.’[iv] Stitching is often used by Judith and becomes a trace of the hand at work, the measured motions of making. Traditionally handicrafts are positioned as ‘women’s work’ and the value of labour is strongly imbued in Judith’s works. In this series of new works, the stitching is selectively applied near the central point of each form and the threads are deftly left to fall. The stitching becomes a cipher for other time-based works, an engendered performativity of the practice itself.
This process seems like an exercise in endurance, as one works across and over time. Here, in Judith’s studio, however, it is as if time itself has stretched and slowed, so that each mark flows continuously into the next. Through this persistence, Judith marks off the steady current of time and ‘being-ness’, being in and of time, re-making time as her own.
“This is not necessarily about making something in particular, but just about making some thing.”[v]
In Judith’s work, the material is in a process of becoming. Form itself is provisional and the process of forming is improvised. Judith has engaged with particular materials over an extended period of time. She concocts dyes with materials found in the bushland that surrounds her studio, such as eucalyptus and silky oak leaves and silver wattle flowers. The soft folds of cotton voile are stained with dye, erased with droplets of bleach, calcified in wax, sutured with black stitches.
These forms dwell in the interstices. Between lightness and weight, they appear to hover in the air, and yet are fixed to the wall, precisely pinned down, and anchored to the ground by dangling black threads. Between liquid and solid states - skin bone stone air - one seeks for an appellation to tie these forms to. One is struck by manifold allusions, an abundance of associations. It is, in this case, “the proliferation of words (which) points to the difficulty in naming these enigmatic things.” [vi]
These forms are muted; each is precisely articulate yet remains elusive. Judith’s works become strangely intractable. One is confronted by emptiness and the absence of speech. It is discomforting. Why is it difficult to speak of the inchoate experience that such art can engender in us?
Emmanuel Levinas examines such an experience in his ethical philosophy, whereby one is called into question by something that escapes the cognitive power of the Subject.[vii] He describes this as face-to-face, an encounter in which one is called upon to respond to the Other in its irreducible difference, being pour l’autre (for the other).[viii] Following Levinas, Doris von Drathen describes the work of art as a being and as the Other per se.[ix] This confers a new note to the expression a ‘body’ of work, or when artworks are described as having a ‘presence’.[x] The artwork as Other is both an artwork and Other; it hovers between states – a temporal process, a material presence and an alterior being.
One is never alone when in the presence of these works. Or, perhaps, one is more so.
As Daniel Mafe observes in his experience of Comforter (2010),
The artwork shares in the unutterable and withdrawn solitude of all beings in their relation to one another. This sharing is this artwork’s gift, its connection. In sharing solitude we are no longer alone. Or rather we finally can share and partake of our communal aloneness, that is, the human condition.[xi]
I stand alone observing the works, traversing from one form to the next… breathing.
There is a thickening of time.
One is confronted with a certain kind of affinity, a body-sense. One becomes skin (like these skins), one becomes matter. In this moment, language is insignificant.
“It’s the idea of extending out into something that doesn’t exist yet – almost like falling off”.[xii] Cindy Nemser’s response when in conversation with Eva Hesse in 1972 is an eloquent expression of one’s experience in relation to such works. Falling off… language, time, self.
One listens for the sound of the work as it gently unfurls.
The sunlight is important, illuminating and breathing life into these translucent skins. The rays saturate and transcribe the delicate surface of each form, warming the edges and yielding a gentle glow.
Judith relates to me a particular experience when the removal of works from her studio and the absence of light affected a kind of ‘deadening’ of the work. What transpires then, when these works are separated from the sanctity of the studio and positioned in the gallery? Daniel Buren describes this journey as a hazardous passage from the studio, where the work is in place, to the gallery where placelessness isolates and reifies it.[xiii] In the gallery, one senses that this work is for someplace else. Perhaps, it takes its place in imagination’s chamber[xiv] - in Judith’s secret room.
I heard from Judith today and she proposes to title the series Unnamed.
[i] Brian O’Doherty, Studio and Cube: On the relationship between where art is made and where art is displayed (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2007), 18.
[ii] Robert Storr, “A Room of One’s Own, a Mind of One’s Own” In The studio reader: On the space of artists, ed. M.J. Jacob and M. Grabner (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 60.
[iii] Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (London: Penguin Books, 1929).
[iv] Daniel Mafe, Working Spaces (Brisbane: Eyeline Publishing, 2002), 72.
[v] Briony Fer, Eva Hesse: Studio Work (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), 19.
[vi] Ibid., 16.
[vii] Simon Critchley and Robert Bernasconci, eds., The Cambridge companion to Levinas (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 15.
[viii] Emmanuel Levinas, “The transcendence of words,” (1949) In The Levinas reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989), 149.
[ix] Doris von Drathen, Vortex of Silence (Milan: Charta, 2004), 17.
[x] As in Mel Bochner, “About Eva Hesse: Mel Bochner Interviewed by Joan Simon,” (2002), in Eva Hesse, ed. M. Nixon) (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002), 42; and Frances Colpitt, Minimal Art: The critical perspective (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1990), 71.
[xi] Daniel Mafe, Picture. This. Judith Kentish: Comforter (Brisbane: Metro Arts, 2010), np.
[xii] “Cindy Nemser in conversation with Eva Hesse,” (1970) In Eva Hesse, 10.
[xiii] Daniel Buren, “The function of the studio,” October 10 (Fall 1979), 51-58.
[xiv] Michael Peppiatt and Alice Bellony-Rewald, Imagination’s Chamber: Artists and their studios. (Boston: Little Brown, 1982).