Friday, April 23, 2004

Essay : Amy Todman for 'They Had Four Years' catalogue

There is familiarity in our everyday lives; a familiarity that evades touch but is a constant reality nonetheless. We are surrounded by a society that speaks a non-verbal language that we not only understand but also absorb in to our mental and physical functionality. Walking down the street or sitting in our living rooms we are reflected back upon ourselves, be it by a soap opera character, reality TV or own mirror image rebounded adjacent to the asymmetrical mannequins in the window of Harvey Nichols.

“for sorrow’s eye, glazed with blinding tears, divides one thing entire to many objects; like perspectives, which rightly gaz’d upon show nothing but confusion; ey’d awry distinguish form: so your sweet majesty, looking awry upon your lord’s departure, finds shapes of grief more than himself to wail; which, look’d on as it is, is nought but shadows of what it is not.”
Shakespeare, Richard II, II/I

Amy Todman’s world vision is more awry than most. As she highlights the battle with the prescribed self, that she lives everyday, I begin to see my reflection constantly in the city’s streets. And I realise that I have an easy morning routine, I see my own form looking back at me in the mirror, whereas Amy sees “ a blank wall or a distorted and confusing image” as her work begins to slowly swallow her bedroom; her current studio space.

This convergence of the peripheral, the space between concrete reality and what exists in our minds as reality, within Amy’s domestic living arrangements is an indication of the intimacy she has with her artistic output.

Trained in Textiles, a comprehension and respect for the materials she is using at any given time pervades throughout, whether that material is a rotting apple, pink bubblegum or peach silk. There is no adherence, however, to the traditions of an attractive aesthetic. The sensitivity she employs exists uncomfortably within her spatial interference, creating an aesthetic that “side-steps feelings of conventionality” and constructing an intermediate space that “doesn’t ever really make sense”.

Whilst the materials play such a key role in the manifestation of the actual art work it is the dialogue, which sits around the work, and between us, that really captivates Amy and brings both her and her work to life.

Amy describes her work to me as a triptych. Firstly there is the object, something which has already begun and is the residue of previous thoughts carried over and woven in to a new space. Secondly there are the connections drawn between these objects which will serve to entangle the audience, and thirdly there is the dialogue that exists between all these things.

“It would be easy to focus on the dialogue and forget the materials”; but she doesn’t want to make a statement that is prescriptive, instead she is trying to create a space which is about not knowing.

The language of space is incredibly powerful and one that Amy believes is neglected in a world where we can easily resort to the clearer mediums of video and photographic imagery. This feeling holds her back from refining her practice to being a conversation without physical form. Instead she believes in the traditions of the oral story teller and the unspoken narratives of placeless space. Whilst verbal language and realistic imagery offer us a set of powerful signifiers within a limited sphere, the language of space does a different thing – it creates a physical conversation between the viewer and the narrator and allows the imagination to wander free.

As narrator you may expect that Amy knows the story she is telling, but it is precisely that definition that she is avoiding. She doesn’t want to get a handle on what she is making, or to be able to navigate clearly from one chapter to the next, because the space and the conversation would become one sided.

In the end it is the declaration that she makes at the start of our conversation that “it will come out because I am thinking about it”, that begins to take over my thoughts. Perhaps the only clarity within our dialogue is that through the faith she has in what she is doing, the audience will start to see awry, because that is how she is thinking and how she has encompassed this space and, in turn, us within it.


This essay was commissioned by the artist to represent her work in the catalogue which accompanied 'They Had Four Years' at Generator Projects, Dundee. The exhibition is a significant step for the artists who are selected from their degree shows at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, offering them a major show one year on from graduation.


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