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Reflections on the Visual Matrix held in the Reading Room of the Arnolfini, 15.00 – 17.00, 29.11.15,
by Dr Julian Manley, Researcher Psychosocial Unit, Lancashire University. A part of our exhibition back to where we have not quite been.


The visual matrix provided another Winnicottian ‘potential space’ echoing or mirroring that of the Third Space gallery in the exhibition. The space of the visual matrix gathered together the untold affect of visitors to the exhibition and other experiences that formed part of the exhibition. These are the experiences that go beyond the ‘seeing’ of an object and towards participation in experience: with others, with space and time, with the artworks.. “Resilience’ therefore is not manifest in the works; it awaits its creation in the potential space through the transformative objects that are also the processes of the artworks and projects; resilience is neither signifier nor signified. Resilience, if it exists at all, if it was ever stimulated or invited to grow in the artistic experience of the visitors is something within: in the visitor, in the artwork. The ‘innermost’ nature of this resilience is not easily defined. It was the purpose of the visual matrix to seek out its traces where they might be lying low, from where they might be tempted to emerge, maybe from deep within a cave where image and language coexist in a hand imprint, where the hand is the creator of transformative objects.

Beyond language
The imprint of the hand in the cave speaks to this questioning of words, signifiers, where the making of things or the making of experiences are brought back to the hand, reminding us of the tactile nature of the artworks, of the passing of a cord, itself knitted by hand, through the hands of people thus joined by their hands and also able to let go of that joining and to feel both a sense of belonging and loss at the same time. This image was developed in that of the hand imprint in an ice cave where many visitors had placed their warm hands on the same spot, the same hand imprint of a predecessor, creating a deeper and deeper hand image boring through the ice. Creativity is connected here with intent to join with others and to understand this warmth as something similar to what is warm and alive and creative in human beings. 

Relationships: nature, artworks and people

There were further images of ice and snow: the biggest icicle you can find preserved in the freezer, the snowball also in the freezer ready to be taken out in the summer. The process of transformation from solid state to liquid form, reminding us of the wax in some of the artworks on display; echoes of Andy Goldsworthy’s ice sculptures being mentioned in the matrix, reminding us of the relationship between art and nature. Although the works by Fourthland are not about nature, they are intimately organic in nature. 

A reflection on what lives and is living
The matrix was preoccupied with a large number of different animals, providing a range of connections and recognition of the interconnectivity of living beings. Human beings, except through the presence of hands, were notably absent, but aspects of the human were emphasised through the interconnectivity of the matrix as a potential space. For example, mention was made of the emotional qualities of elephants who mourn for their dead; the many different aspects of goats were mentioned, ranging from connections to Pan, the devil and childhood memories of connecting with them in a childhood park. The multitude of meanings and perspectives provided the matrix with a sense of diversity, maybe also alluding to the loss of this bio-diversity in our world. The matrix emphasised the value of this animal kingdom (and therefore the danger of its loss) by making interesting allusions to the evolutionary process, by including images of fish developing feet for fins and transforming into land creatures through evolution. This brought to mind the depth of our connection with transformation, or the activity of creation that includes transformation in the potential or Third Space of the exhibition.

Dry land, soil and water

In connection to this image and with reference to the image of a ‘fish’ in the exhibition, it was noted that despite the ‘earthy’ colours of the artworks and the dryness implied in some of the striking materials, such as straw, evoked in the matrix, there was reference to water images and some other sense of colour, in particular blue. It may be that perception of absence of water in the exhibition, or liquid as represented in solid wax – another important material used in the artworks – made for an unconscious welling up of watery and water-colour images in the minds of the participants in the matrix. In the piece in the exhibition that alluded to a fish, the watery world had to be created by the visitors to the exhibition. This points to the transformative power of the objects to create images in the mind as necessary correlates to the artworks, thus emphasising the essential relationship and connectivity between the visitor to the exhibition and the artworks. Furthermore, the sense of a basic connectivity with our environment is reiterated in this way.

Farms, countryside, landscapes and lost utopias

The matrix made reference to a simple life past, some of which directly emerged from the exhibition, beginning with a reference to straw, images of making food products, with allusions to the ‘raisins’ in the exhibition and the explicitly hand-made nature of many of the artworks. This also led to further images of farms, fields, and images of a general and beneficent nature that felt at times idealised and at other times as belonging to a childhood past, combined with feelings of nostalgia. There were no mentions of urban life and none of technology, as if the exhibition had stimulated a movement to some simpler past or even some primal state where modern trappings of life were irrelevant. There were some mentions of churches and very ancient structures, such as the pyramids and neolithic constructions. These appeared to be in some way transcendental or at least ‘important’ places where some forms of transformation –spiritual in the church, from life to the after-life in the pyramid and through interaction with the movement of the sun in the ‘neolithic construction – might take place, indicating perhaps the role that the Fourthland exhibition might have had in the ‘white cube’ of the Arnolfini. As we have seen above, this sense was linked to animal life and some sort of recognition of essential aspects of life. It was suggested that this might have been somewhat romanticised, but nevertheless, the power and insistence of the images in the matrix was notable and untainted by ironies or sarcasms in relation to this matrix-created natural world. In the space of the matrix, at least, this ‘romanticised ‘ world was possible and therefore ‘real’.

The concept of resilience is nuanced as expressed in the visual matrix and through the artworks. It was suggested in the matrix that resilience could be linked to an inner strength gathered by experiencing a sense of primal connection and simple, essential connection with our creativity and a knowledge and acknowledgment of our inseparable interconnectivity with our environment: with the land and the sea and the living world of creatures. By giving this a value that goes beyond the ‘modern trappings of life’, we are able to bolster this inner strength – through knowledge gained through experience, and through ‘making’ with our hands – and be more resilient to the challenges that we face as a people and as members of a planetary eco-system.

The visual matrix spoke of
• A place we are going to, which in the uncertain ambivalence of the artwork and the matrix is also a call back from somewhere.
• There is a feeling of having lost touch with something essential
• Resilience equated with a ‘simple’ lifestyle and something deeper within
• The importance of sense is emphasised
• The importance of the action of making and creating, repeating and transforming
• Resilience is the capacity to be able to deal with uncertainty/ambiguity and change as in transformation
• We are reminded of the gifts of the earth, a recognition of precious things and an acknowledgment of care

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