December 4, 2023

Andrew Kerr/Maya Deren ‘So Ensconced’ The Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh

That snake skeleton (as one small toddler called it) lies in the middle of the floor, barely existent and in my opinion, knowing it. Its knowledge of its delicate mortality makes it aware of how special it is. It is smug. It looks almost as though it is floating. Smugly. There it lies in the middle of the room with the knowledge of my worried gaze, relishing my role as carer, a sickly but mischievous child. it is difficult to see, easy to tread on, easy to break this sculpture. It lies at the centre of the 2nd floor of the current exhibition at Inverleith house in The Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh. The main task of any  invigilator on this floor is to babysit the delicate rascal. Please, if you visit, do  not tread on this sickly little, infuriating piece of art.

The paintings are nailed to the wall at each corner. Most are on paper with blank white rectangles still visible from the sellotape that held them still on each corner of the page. But oh. (with all sincerity) the lustrousness of the thick acrylic paint is something that I find almost arousing.

The artist did not seem to feel the pressure of conventional ‘finishing touches,’ whatever purpose they are meant to serve. These paintings in their finality (a state suggested by their being exhibited) are unlike the primped framing of art that indicates to us a final product, that bears all the marks, that thing that very wealthy people buy and put on their walls, in gilted frames, corners neatened, loose canvas ends trimmed, all eminently purchasable looking objects.

The Maya Derren videos that play on a continuous loop in the basement, particularly ‘Meshes of the afternoon’ inspect very closely and with great intensity the everyday to the point of complete delirium. ‘So Ensconced’ as an exhibition seems to be holding so much back in terms of how much more could have been done to the paintings that it is almost infuriating, as infuriating as examining in great detail the banal objects and routines of everyday would be, everyday life that we are ‘so ensconced’ in, imagine thinking about a spoon, considering its purpose, meaning, personality, design over and over and over. We are all standing in a building held up by a framework of weak, paper-mache snake spines creaking with smug superiority, they having gleaned the truth of existence in its minimum form.

A woman complained:

‘but they don’t look finished, you can still see the mark from the tape…they are just nailed in the wall.’

‘Is it not interesting to consider within the artistic process the point at which the artist decides to stop? What pressures exist in terms of  injecting (and how to separate this from the purity of the creative process) into a piece of art, commercial appeal? to adjust the piece to fit in to this acceptable frame. yes why not ask, why did he not keep going? polish it off, stick it in a frame so that we do not have to see the edges of those marked and unseemly corners? how would that have changed the painting and why do you desire these changes? But it is better I think to ask why did he stop when he did?’

The smug invigilator  sat back down and nodded sagely and while the dozen or so gallery attendees around the room by way of a response,  created an ambience of slight awkwardness, she continued to read her newspaper.

‘So Ensconced/Maya Deren’ runs from the 12th November to the 22nd January 2012′ I will be sitting in one of its corners every saturday, staring at the paper sculpture, murmuring under my breath.

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