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The Badminton Game.                                                           



The ‘Art of the Garden’ exhibition held in Manchester in 2005 included a painting by David Inshaw, ‘The Badminton Game’ (2003, held by the Tate). Felt as ‘uncanny’, as possessing, as emitting, an ‘uncanny’ aura, this picture strikingly evokes this sensation, which in the past would normally have been explicable by reference to the Freudian model (connoting, both at home and not at home, and related immediately to the unconscious as the ‘other’ or ‘not at home’ reference point). This despite the straightforward explaining power of ‘formalist’ tools in examining genres such as surrealism, or modernism in its provocative destabilising aspect, from the point of view of the image and audience expectation. Should one require a ‘deeper’ explanation then perhaps a critical anthropological examination of the place of these in the host, or viewer’s, culture should suffice. For an augmentation of these perspectives by the temporal position of the viewer, one might even look to a temporal analysis of the implied viewer of the artwork and his and her options in reception and interpretation. (Such an analysis would examine the relations of ‘not our time/ in our time’, or, ‘window onto another time’, as aspects of our belief system, implied worldview or ideological identity propositions, and so of our dream worlds that line our actual world). There is also the question of what might constitute ‘the other gender’ in the context of the picture (and in the context of society). This would be the place of questions posed to the feminine as ‘the other continent’, of its identity propositions deemed to be a problem (for male artists, but not only… for a resisting female reader…). Of gendered identity and its desires as explored in art (art can work with sexual problems -and usually does- without having automatically to translate these into the discourse of psychoanalysis). Such an explication would go to the very heart of the effect, the affect, the conflicting and pleasurable sensation and thoughts, which we experience when before such works of art (as we can seen in temporal analyses of the works of Edward Hopper and even of such painters as Claude Monet).

The sense of the surreal and the uncanny may be read as evocations fuelled by temporal considerations. The image of place as non-place, therefore calls up a realm of myth and dream pertaining to the borders of our world; not quite eternal, but not actually present. Or it may be a representation of the present and so register the character of fantasy; the ceaseless work of the imagination in processing experience. Timeless in character, but explicable as timely, as created by the present. Felt in the present. The presence of feeling is what activates the image for us as a work of art, offers it this recognition; a recognition that entails (and which flows from) this amalgam of meanings for us, now. With the sense of play, threat, loss, ideal, (space, place, people, time) we enter the realm of the image as a partial return, both a selective return and a focus of yearning (desire still). Sexuality as re-located in a framed place, managed, secure (but not too secure) and therefore taking on a sacred character (made part of a world image with its polarities of holy and demonic, elevated and abject, the rules of the game). Or in place as partial, not (or no longer) unruly, but nevertheless present… as we would wish it to be…a presentation to which we are partial. But still brooding, watching over the landscape, watching for signs. Watching over a landscape that comes from within. Map and model of our anxious lives…at once an expression, a diagnosis and its deferral, a recognition and its refusal, a list of complaints and a lyric (the lyric genre historically has contained the sub-genre of the complaint).

            One easy explication proceeds via the phallic nature of the topiary (however some may be read as suggesting a mammary mimesis…). But where to stop this game? The same may be said of the white stuff splashed upon the sky above them…(sic). Is this not a preserve of psychoanalytical thought? There is no necessity for such a linkage or deferral. Freudianism adds the unconscious only (with the machinery of access, interpretation and ‘cure’, with the passage through Oedipus as source of causation). Sexed imagery is as old as the world of human culture, where our dominant obsession is coded into our cultures even if only in the negative (and we do not need reminding about Victorian hypocrisy in this respect, a obsessive hypocrisy that itself gave birth to psychoanalysis…). So horizontals and verticals may feel the semantic pull of a given gender/sex or portion thereof. Certainly anything shaped like the latter may fairly invite connection or analogy; for the larger things context must play a key role, and the intuition that comes from the reading of this context. Using the unconscious as a interpretative strategy means that all can be joined to all – regardless of immediate data and our sense of them. This illusory freedom however is immediately tied back, held on a restraining leash, by the reductionism of the psychoanalytical credo (be it Freudian, Lacanian, object-relations, etc). An anthropological or critical/cultural account would refer back to society’s actual problems, divisions, the acute fault-lines, the many agon, or conflicting interests, that make up the flavour of given social form, that run through and divide us as individuals, and see in these and their ‘imaginary’ solutions, the key to a artwork that exhibits gendered spaces and the aura of the uncanny. Art is the exposition of problems and their solutions presented with a commitment to ‘making entertainment’; that is, under the guise of pleasure (a game of making safe by making dangerous only in the world of representation, framed and contained, intensified and neutralised, in the recognised genres of such a ‘fictional’ re-telling – a re-telling which includes the genres of the image).

            Which path to take? What problems are there, are there… here? The anxieties of our identity (of our place in signs, in which communities of identity) of the desiring nature of recognition and sex, of the problems caused by division and hierarchy in these areas. Of the stress caused by structural misrecognition of the self/other relation and their implied positions in a world of hierarchy, and the fraught access to things and bodies that this position is supposed to entail… All fed by the play of peer group pressure and by the relay of advertising as the conscious and consummate exploitation of this situation… as by popular narrative, where expression of these problems and their ‘fictionalised’ solutions are also now commercialised, themselves hierarchical provocateurs of these very anxieties… Art must also therefore be the carrier of national identity, class divisions, gender/sexual divisions, religious/cultural divisions, generational divisions and other ‘internal’ divisions and so conflicts of loyalty (to the gods, the state, workplace, family, group identity/identity bearing groups). As of all of these as the division of, or in, our psyche (the torn self, the divided self, precisely as conscious -not unconscious- as awake through the operation that art foists upon it, the wound it reopens, again to heal and so to entertain). All of which not only fuels art in its controlled bonfire of the self, but demands art as such, powers tragedy and comedy alike, and ties together, in fecundity and infuriation, but in a manner indissoluble, the realms of problem-solving, acting out (rituality) and the game of entertainment (which also features the rituality of repetition and recognition).





                                                            Copyright 2005 Peter Nesteruk