Real Life – Medb Ruane

Time is one of those defining concepts that seems clear until you start to think about it. For O.J. Simpson, time relates to proof, to alibi, to innocence – or guilt. If you’re Julia Kristeva, time is defined by its cultural properties, about cycles and monumentality, about linear history and the push towards eternity. In Clea van der Grijn’s project, time touches all those characteristics and still leaves room for exploration: time is a force to be reasoned with and examined, all the more to confound you by its refusal to be pinned down.

Van der Grijn’s question seems simple enough: Is there a relationship between emotional time and measured time? Are human experience and pain so ordered as the rational divisions of a calender? Do mind and body proceed along parallel lines, or is REAL LIFE spiked with the tension caused because the two can seem so incompatible? From a visual perspective, the works choose a form that values order and arts traditional mind-set, but up close, the canvases and paper surfaces thrive on disorder, on cuts and scored markings, on emotional pleas at odds with the regularity and apparent coherence of their presentation.

Van der Grijn locates her inquiry over three constituent works. The large painting INCISION examines the expressiveness of traditional aesthetic dimensions: the 365 – part anti- sequence A TIME uses various paper fragments with their own innate symbolic sources to measure pain and exorcism; the mixed-media 65 part NEVER LOVED foregrounds text and language, communicating through sight and touch with the support of three- dimensional braille. Read as a whole, the three part project converts to a meditation on relationships, on the contradictions between loving ones self and loving another, on attempts to quantify experience from the perspectives of art and of hindsight.

the messages seem unequivocal; ” i never loved you i only needed you i needed you to love me so that i could leave you” says NEVER LOVED. “cut me with a blade all the hurt at once then go” says INCISION, its planes themselves cut up, wearing language like battle scars- “skin”, “tongue”, “saliva”- all made precise by dates. But language scrambled in NEVER LOVED, its planes emerging from a handwritten web of private letters, messages puckered by printed text and given a palpably physical presence by the sculptural qualities of the braille. Different word groupings leap out from the background, their sense signifying different interpretations and messages, fragmenting even further all attempts of understanding.

Scattered through the series A TIME are the remains of victorian engravings about head, heart and locations of bodily organs – reminders of an age which believes that science could explain everything and ended up being destroyed by the consequences. Their confident rationality seems undercut by the chinese tissue papers used to construct this calender, indicating that some truths at least may become more accessible through the use of symbols and through the straight jackets of western explanations. The papers refer to the Chinese funerary practice of burning to ashes as a way of exorcising evil and releasing good spirits heavenwards.

Yet all these narratives start with out beginning. Language revolves like a old style vinyl scratched with repetition and stuck in the same groove. NEVER LOVED repeats itself to the point of obsession. Becoming less coherent with each renewed statement. Braille text made as tactile pressure points restate language’s inadequacy where feelings are at stake, and underlies the hint that reason and feelings may well be blind to each other’s needs. The words become a mantra, their truth ever more questionable with each new repetition.