David Ryan











Hybrids continued from page 1


Within the paintings of Fiona Rae, a similar proposition might be found. In the past, Rae’s images have often been discussed in the light of a kind of ‘pick-and-mix’ aesthetic – or taken as a patchwork of quotes. While the marks or passages in the paintings have brought to mind art historical or popular references, they rarely enter simply a system of quotation per se, and often morph one allusion into another. She has always stressed her sense of making these her own, of ‘speaking through’ such allusions, rather than a passive practice of appropriation. Her development of specific series of works over the last few years, display her virtuosity as regards framing various tensions and contradictions that creatively feed the work. The series of elongated paintings using circular target motifs are a case in point, or another, more recent, set on black grounds with a choreographed interplay between gestures and formal rectangular floating frames. Highly wrought paintings, the latter set display Rae’s increasing sense of discipline without jettisoning play or improvisation.
Rae’s gestures remain eloquently displaced, rather like a conscious ruffling of abstract expressionist ‘grammar’. Painting acts as a magnetic field here, suggesting a delicate and precarious balance between what is generated as figure or ground together with almost scatological references to popular culture. It remains, however, the urge to create a new sense of totality and unity from these disparate events which continue to compel, further distancing Rae’s activity from the simplicity of a cut-and-paste, pick-and-mix collage approach.
In Inka Essenhigh’s paintings, her persistent use of a kind of literalised figure/ground relationship (humanoid form/landscape setting) develop a drama between spatial context and their ambiguous protagonists. It is a ‘camp’ drama, one which is played out within the space of the computer game or the individual comic book frame. Informed by a glaring enamel based sheen which entraps both the colour and drawing into a skin-like surface, Essenhigh’s paintings suggest a relentless connectivity between inanimate things, artificial intelligence and composite humanoid shapes. Headless figures – deprived of the existential and expressive communicator of the face – become entwined in a narrative over which they seemingly have no control. Electronic flex binds divergent organisms and devices, while the ‘landscape’ of the ground itself might appear as a cosmic splurge, or, at times taking on the identity of a psycho-sexual plasmatic terrain complete with orifices and protrusions. Invariably these works have invoked the world of the cyborg – the merging of the human and the technological. The cyborg is the ultimate site of a loss of identity through technological enhancement – whether this relates to the organism’s gender or distinguishable ‘human’ traits. Cyber-sublime, the space of these paintings suggests a new arena for staging the body, a space where binary oppositions have melted or merged. Essenhigh depicts this as a tragicomic virtual world whose actualisation is, in fact, anybody’s guess.
Essenhigh’s depiction of mutant figures in wondrous landscapes brings to my mind certain passages in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, where the Monster haunts the frozen vast landscapes of Switzerland, a merging in itself of very different aspects of the sublime or the uncanny. Essenhigh’s paintings give these issues a techno or cyber-twist, but remain not unrelated to the radical collage of the 19th century Gothic. Shelley’s Frankenstein, that proto-hybrid, remains almost trans-historical in its significance. It’s relevance goes way beyond – and despite - its iconic status within popular culture. It might well now be invoked to describe our anxiety over genetically modified food, or any other ‘inhuman’ issue, but Shelley’s original text does more than this; it remains a complex narrative reflecting on issues which were soon to be grounded within modernism itself. It has been suggested that on one level the creation of this monstrous invention was born of a desire to escape the oppressive weight of her illustrious parent’s literary achievements which accentuated her own creative impasse or block. Shelley’s monster - which was suggested to its author by a dream – has of course no such parental lineage, and is an autonomous creature constructed from spare, anonymous parts. As a nightmare of ‘pure autonomy’ the creature is thrust into the world skipping the formative years of childhood, an ‘other’ who can observe the ways of the human world afresh. It remains a parable of scientific progress, autonomy, the modernist ‘blank slate’, and inter-textuality, and serves as a reminder that the hybrid is often clearly associated with the disconcerting, the uncanny, or the monstrous.