REVIEW

Duncan Higgins: Unloud (part of Site Platform)

Site Gallery, Sheffield
11 November 2006 to 11 November 2006

Reviewed by: Emma Cocker »

Working against the teleological grain of Western knowledge, irresolution is the wicked genie of ambiguity and ambivalence, preferring a turbulent state of disorder to the illusionary calm of logical or rational cognition. Irresolution is a threshold space of the conceptual kind, analogous to the Greek notion of aporia; for it is a zone of contradiction and confusion in which nothing is stable, where everything remains in working flux or interminable disarray.

Redeemed as a creative gesture, irresolution is perhaps, the ghost at play in Duncan Higgins' work, Unloud, one of the short experimental projects as part of Site Gallery's Platform series. Whilst the presence of unpredictability and incertitude might be felt in varying degrees in other artists' work in this programme, here in particular it seems to be deployed wilfully as a tactical endeavour to create a sense of disquiet; a term that can be brought to play as a kind of linguistic or hybrid inversion of the exhibition's title.  Irresolution functions on both a formal and conceptual level in Higgins' work, creating havoc and discontinuity between the visual cacophony of filmic images and allusions played out on numerous monitors and projections in the gallery space; but also haunting the sites and locations which are represented therein.

In video works and a series of small paintings, buildings and outhouses loom large against a landscape emptied out of detail, that featured undisclosed Russian territories plunged frequently into inky darkness or luminously bleached by light reflected back from snow. Fleeting and ambiguous, these markers of human existence remain mute and incommunicable. They hover like phantoms at the edges of a narrative that slips beneath the register of concrete meaning, where the gravitas of unspoken histories stirs from under a fiction of normality. In other instances, the lurching pan of a hand-held camera, the barely audible register of intermittent breath and footfall or a fragment of spoken dialogue serves to locate the footage securely within the realm of the everyday encounter or relational exchange.

In Unloud, dualities are blurred and slip out of their habitual roles: fact and fiction; past and present; the romantic and the catastrophic; the magical and the mundane all bleed across into one another such that at times they become indistinguishable. In the work, nothing appears to be truly black or white; it cannot be categorically fixed or resolved but seems instead to occupy a temporary condition of conceptual greyness or oscillation.  

From the personal to the political, the notion of irresolution suggests that something has been left unsaid: it describes a form of psychological stalemate resulting from a social bind that has been left in limbo; a relationship forsaken but not forgotten, a history that has been shelved but not yet archived. Politically speaking, irresolution might describe ideas and belief systems that are pitched in perpetual tension; the friction of irreconcilable histories; the jarring of incompatible agendas and of binary forms. On a more personal level, irresolution is the condition manifest in the failure to forgo or abandon a romantic attachment: it evokes a sense of emotional ties which refuse to be severed, conjured whilst melancholically tracing a finger over a lost lover's letter, or dwelling hopelessly in the imaginative space afforded by fading photographic mementoes. Representative of a dialogue broken or sentence stalled, irresolution emerges as a gesture of both futility and pleasure, attesting alternatively to the frustration felt at the argument abandoned before a deal is struck, or the sense of promise which follows the conversation postponed until some future moment.

Resistant then to closure, from the judicial point of view irresolution is the wavering of the jury, or the loop-hope that prevents the final sentence. As a spectral occurrence it describes the state of purgatory or spiritual limbo arising from some unresolved turmoil or trauma during life, the dreadful motivation for restless ghosts that flutter at the hem of a known reality. However, irresolution also serves a more productive function, for it is the beat at the heart of all curiosity and intrigue, creating the dynamic of the cliff-hanger or the residual horror of all denouement. It is the force that propels the filmic sequel or episodic quest: the pulse that sets in motion any serial or repetitious action. It is a site of potentiality where nothing has been fixed, but where infinite solutions might yet be within the realm of possibility.

Akin then to the way that the work functions in Unloud, irresolution voices only ever a partial or fragmentary story before inviting each individual witness to take some responsibility in plotting the trajectory of the future narrative or action. In this sense the notion of irresolution functions as both an imaginative and ethical catalyst: it operates as an incentive for creative practice but also performs a critical role through which latent or habitual conditions of existence might be scrutinised or put to question.

Writer detail:
Emma Cocker is a Lecturer in Fine Art at Nottingham Trent University, and co-editor of the publications Transmission: Speaking and Listening Volumes 3 -5

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Venue detail:
Site Gallery »
1 Brown Street, Sheffield S1 2BS

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