Carriers: SEA Foundation, Tilburg 2023
Images: Rene van der Hulst
Text by Michael Davidova:
Scottish artist Jamie Kane describes his practice functioning as a landfill site where the material histories meet and slip through time. The fragile fragments of language, objects or places are lifted up from the compost heap and recreated through various making processes. Such can be, for example, visualising the words from a diary of a family ancestor from 1919 as seen in his work Plough (2021), or reviving the ceramic pieces that previously served as support structures and are now part of the exhibition at SEA Foundation. This digestion method allows him to make new associations that reflect on meanings and relationships accumulated through ongoing interaction.
“For me the landfill is a place where temporalities, hierarchies, values and knowledge are loosened, undone and attributable in new ways.”
Kane does not deliberately work with wasted materials. Reference to the landfill only makes a vital ground, a methodology of his practice. He is taking inspiration from the landscape of North Scotland which concentrates multiple debris sites called middens. Midden is an old expression for a domestic dump which reveals the habits of past societies occupying the place. Occasionally, air or water digs deep into the pile and excavates the depository which hands over valuable information for archeologists to further study the social or climate conditions of the areas.
In his artistic practice, Kane revisits the layers accumulated through time, however presents work in a way that allows viewers to bring their own understandings. Thus, when the artwork is perceived in the imaginary landfill, the role of archeologist can freely shift between artist and viewer as both are left to analyse the remains and question what is being uncovered.
In the essay The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction (1986), American writer Ursula K. Le Guin challenges the idea that human history should be written through the tools that signify man’s domination such as swords. Instead, she wants to narrate the story of bags, containers, baskets, carriers because they too contributed to the evolution of societies – ‘with or before the tool that forces energy outwards, we made the tool that brings energy home’ (Le Guin, 1986, p. 167). Perhaps, Kane’s Carriers do not carry things within them as the containers do, however, they once provided the support for the other to exist.
The ceramic pieces on display at SEA Foundation were initially supporting work made as a permanent public sculpture for the Ijsselland Ziekenhuis, Rotterdam. The air could circulate through the ribs-like openings and gaps in the clay, which then allowed the structures to shrink at the same rate with the pieces that laid over them. Although very heavy, they are now incredibly fragile and their appearance is reminiscent of fossilised skeletons. Their corporeal character is what Kane finds appealing. Since they lived with the artist in the studio for a while, they gained an agency which retains curiosity.
They functioned as air ventiles and contracted along the making process, which gave them a quality of a living thing. However, their agency goes beyond their mere functionality into a realm that allows us to imagine what they could have been and meant. Could they be bodies of an excavated creature that once lived on Earth; or are they scaled down models of futuristic cities; are the structures human-made at all? Do they remain to support or collapse in time? Similar to things that once provided for societies and now crumble into pieces, or decay into nutrients to further continue the process – in landfill or elsewhere. Carriers are the echoes of what they once had to carry.
Next to the Carriers, the short video is on a display in the exhibition space. It shows the temporary accommodation for seasonal farm workers in Scotland. Shipping containers that are colourfully painted become empty shells once the season is over. The video is accompanied by the speech of Mexican architect Luis Barragán who is criticising the modernist understanding of architecture as a “machine for living” (Le Corbusier, 1927). Instead, he intended to visualise architecture that holds emotion. The shipping containers changed their function and we could speculate that they became part of another power machine. They are now the carriers holding the circulation of energy which echoes the season as well as the migratory flux.
Lastly, the gestural works which Kane calls Energy paintingsmade on aluminium wrapping foil bring the exhibition at SEA Foundation into completion. The materiality of aluminium is very important as aluminium carries and transfers energy. It has a high electrical conductivity, reflects heat and light back into space. The circulation of energy that sparks curiosity bounces between the individual works combining them into a visual language. Each piece is a complex association that carries meanings buried deep in the ground. Delicate as an aluminium foil or brittle as a vitrified ceramic – the non-linear relations accumulate in time and wait to be unearthed.