You Had Another Skin (The Super 8 Series)
February 22nd – April 2nd 2011
By Simon Fleming
You Had Another Skin (The Super 8 Series), Cecilia Danell's solo exhibition at Bar Eight in Galway, is a small and intimate sampling from a diverse artist. It immediately brings to mind Lucy Lippard's quote from her book The Lure of the Local:
“If place is defined by memory, but no one who remembers is left to bring these memories to the surface, does a place become no place, or only a landscape?”
The paintings themselves are of semi-abandoned villages and buildings in rural Sweden, taken from Danell's Super 8 film of the same name. Consisting of 8 A4-ish (30x40cm) paintings, they stutter across a long wall and onto another. The show is sparse and hung high over the restaurant's tables. I construe the hanging is a stipulation of the venue, as it is a non-neutral working space; it is other than a gallery. This does pose a problem though, due to the intimate nature of Cecilia's work the viewer at some point needs to get close.
You had another skin - the Super 8 series pt. 7
The most striking feature of the paintings is that the imagery does not cover the entire surface. These derelict spaces are rendered with delicate and exacting detail, occupying about one third of the overall surface. The rest is a heavily painted thick black impasto frame that literally 'boxes in' the colourful landscapes, thus contrasting between the two. This is visually referencing the Super 8 film the images are taken from. The Super 8 film medium can be an incredibly nostalgia-inducing format. With its association with home movies, washed out colour and the stuttering of the film, it often fondly harkens ones mind back to past personal narratives.
The first piece, titled You had another skin - the Super 8 series pt. 8 the viewer sees is a painting of an older appearing cottage-like house. A psychological read asks us to consider houses as metaphors for ourselves. Does Danell want this entry piece to be read as that? Taking in the first work, one discovers of the structure a few shingles are missing; the paint is faded; the roof sags a bit; it is an old house. But the most interesting feature is the missing/open door. What a symbol! What is the painter trying to convey? Is it a literal recreation of the structure or is it artistic liberty? If it is the indulgence of the artist then what are we to take from it? Is the house to be read as the artist herself and the door an invitation into her inner being; her personality? Is it self-reflection, inner exploration or is it simply a missing door of an empty house? The press release tells us that the artist is exploring these images, these scenes, through a Jungian interpretation. In this case, we are satisfied to see this home as a metaphor of the artist.
This reading does not hold up for the other pieces. Ranging from a serene suburban neighbourhood, eerily quiet and void of any human activity (yet, oddly reminiscent of common real estate adverts), to factory like buildings, to an oddly postcard-like scene of a waterfall complete with cute red houses in the mid-ground. Are we meant to compare and contrast old and new structures? One occasional feature that does stand out with some of these paintings is the position the viewer is put in. Look closely and you will find your self in the bushes. A voyeur to these Lippardian non-places. You are not a part of these places. There is no immersion into these experiences. The flickering of a Super 8 film becomes palpable as you can only watch from a distance, separated.
You had another skin - the Super 8 series pt. 1
When looking at Cecilia’s paintings, when you stop long enough you will see the story of each one. You see a narrative of how the artist worked through these pieces, how she stops and starts, the changes in direction, the indecision painted along side the confidence. You had another skin - the Super 8 series pt. 1 a silhouette piece of a house or shed along side a skeletal tree is well painted. The dark house is slightly illuminated by a setting sun, it anchors the eye and serves as entry point. Your gaze then moves to the only other figure in this work the large winter nude tree. playing visually back and forth between tree and what could also be read as veins of a leaf, a fallen leaf striped of its blade. This is more like the leaf found in the detritus of a forest floor than the actual physical tree. While again we are presented with the question: artistic license or actual scene? if we take the liberty of reading it as a metaphor of decay then we see the pattern emerging from this series.
Is this utopia?
From deserted housing estates to empty factories, Cecilia explores concepts of forgotten space. Technically the images themselves are rendered very well, what is missing for this reviewer is the organic looseness found in Danell's other works (such as Regeneration project no.1, Is this Utopia? or the Hockney-esque playfulness of the Ever after series). The works are a touch too closely rendered from the Super 8 source material, but maybe that was the intent for the rather dark moody subject matter. Danell is a skilled painter and one can see the time she put into each piece. There is a focus to the brush handling, and an obvious attention to detail. Yet, overall Danell's exploration into notions of forgotten space might have incorporated more visual information. More clues. That sentiment of abandonment or motivation of dereliction doesn't transfer easily in these paintings. If the viewer does not invest enough time with these quiet snapshots they will most certainly miss the intent.
Images courtesy the artist