spacing out and the shady realms of self... by Elizabeth Ruinard (catalogue essay "Judith Kentish... blindfolds")
Judith Kentish’s work is a form of mimetic drawing and fashioning – twistings and torsionings of the body, where these activities are in turn re-performed on a large scale by that mimetic machine which is the computer. Her drawings image the body yielding to the call of space, the body submerging itself in space and its subsequent engulfment by that space. From this perspective, the subject slipping out of form and its vertigo might also be a point from which we might capture a glimpse of the soul.
The central act of Judith Kentish’s artmaking is the act of pleating or folding in her handmade work, an act which she describes as mirroring the process of incorporating knowledge into one’s self. She began folding as an exploration of a physical, bodily mode of thinking. She characterises folding as a bodily form of thinking that has little to do with thought as we usually conceive it. Nonetheless, Didier Anzieu submits that thinking is as being as much an affair of skin as brain, especially as we gain greater understanding of the relationship between periphery and centre in various domains, such as biology, psychoanalysis, quantum physics and so on.2 He describes thought as the insertion of surfaces, one inside another, which is quite consistent with Kentish’s anatomy of the folding of thought.
Getting to know something for Kentish is not merely an activity which occurs in the head. It is therefore to go to the inside of the thing via the pleat, whereby outside becomes inside. The emphasis on the depths as well as the exteriority is maintained by the artist’s employ of the term ‘proprioception’ to designate the way in which we define the boundaries of our bodily existence, as proprioception involves the sensory receptors inside the body, especially in the gut/viscera, which are especially concerned with a sense of position and movement of a body or part of a body. The body is gauging its position, and this position is not reliant on an image of self.
Walter Benjamin has celebrated that urge to get hold of an object by taking its likeness, which is mimesis, affirming that the child laying hands on the object in play is akin to releasing the object’s magical properties.3 The form of mimesis that Kentish performs includes an urge to go to the inside of a body as well as palpate its surface, and the bodily remnant of this activity is the artwork. Within the artwork the artist hopes to collapse something of the gap between the dualities of mind and body and to approach some possible seat of soul within the mutated body. This collapsing might enable us to re-make palpable connection with our whole condition.
Benjamin believed that, ironically enough, the new mimetic modes made possible by the camera might allow us to reconstruct the capacity for experience lost in industrial society.4 For him mimetic machines create a new subject-object relation, greater sensuous connection between viewer and image and a new sensorium (which involves more sensory activity than simply sight, as if to compensate for the loss of hand activity in the industrial age.) Just as children mimic objects as a means of mastering their experiential world so might we re-learn to do this. The neurotic symptom, similarly, imitates a traumatic event in an (unsuccessful) attempt at psychic defence.
The pulse/movement of the body which ‘burrows in and rapidly retreats’, endlessly and vertiginously, is a rhythm characterising Kentish’s oeuvre. This constitutes a shifting from something like form to formlessness, with the surroundings enfolding, absorbing, hiding, protecting, engulfing the form to the point where the form as if loses its form completely. In a situation of constant flux and disorientation, one feels for edges, horizons, and orienting forms. Rosalind Krauss writes of mimicry as one of the dark pockets of Modernism, which proclaimed the primacy of vision. Mimicry for Krauss is ‘the blind irrational space of the labyrinth’, the refusal of vision; it is of the new order of the unforeseeable…5
Kentish’s work has always stretched its boundaries quite radically in terms of the vast shifts of format between drawing, three-dimensional object and computer work. The variations in scale between the drawings to the objects to the computer work are large. Further, the serial format in which her drawings and three-dimensional cloth and wire objects exist is more evidence of the shifting boundaries through time, the repetition of an impulse through a range of different and never-ending variations, permutations, ‘insidious mutations.’ Kentish avows that she delights in multiplicities and uses the compounding effect of the multiple as a format. ‘Multiples add truths, overlap, and blend and bleed into each other resulting in a blurring of boundaries’.
Beyond the shift in format, flux is evidenced in the very images. In the artist’s earlier ink wash drawings we find forms overflowing with some sense of exchange between inside and outside (or out and in). This is augmented by the hushed delicacy of the work, its quality of being there and almost-not-there, so exquisitely feint are the markings, and the play between body and shadow.
The artist comments:
‘These ink wash drawings are dependent on a heavy paper that acts almost as a skin to be soaked, brushed across, scrubbed and wounded with heavy umber ink…its depth fracturing into the deep blue of bruising, its highlights almost disappearing like the ghostly faces of over exposed film…the form itself almost dissolving, leaving only the cropped shadow of some sensed presence.’ Her language attests to the process as a vicious attack on the ‘skin’, as characteristic of a ‘body’ bereft of a secure sense of its frontiers.
Casts and Silent Infestations are series of smaller and larger works where the larger pieces hang somewhat precariously off the walls like trophies, billowing veils, shrouds or large bandages. Some casts of the smaller folded pieces are also reminiscent of bandages covering wounds. As some of the ‘bandages’ are not entirely self-contained, they have already broken their boundaries with the possibility for inevitability of a certain seepage…The shadows of the smaller pieces are quite large relative to the size of the forms, almost like another version of the piece, a ghost piece, a double that is overwhelming, challenging it.
The play of light through, across and under these forms becomes the focus that enlivens, dissolves or absorbs them. Kentish tells us: ‘The casting of multiple shadows fractures and extends the form beyond the skin limit of the body, hovering with a presence of an absence.’ Shadows devour in the manner of the infestation which is announced in the title. The objects sometimes almost disintegrate with the penetration of light through the fabric.
In this sort of terrain it is apt to summon up Didier Anzieu’s conception of the skin ego:
‘The skin ego is an intermediate structure of the physical apparatus, intermediate chronologically between the mother and the infant. It is a state of permanent fusion and differentiation of physical agencies of the second Freudian topography. From the cutaneous fusion between the mother and child, their having a common surface…the child develops a surface which has both an inner and an outer face, an interface, permitting a distinction between inside and outside, and an encompassing volume in which he feels himself bathed’.6 This is a stabilising image and protective envelope.
The maternal environment surrounds the baby with an external envelope made up of messages. This adjusts itself with a certain flexibility – and leaving some free space between – to an inner envelope surface of the baby’s body, site and instrument of transmission of messages. To be an Ego is to feel one has the capacity to send out signals that are received by others. To have an Ego is to feel unique…To have an Ego is to be able to withdraw within oneself.’7