The loss of Virginity, a famous struggle and various things explained

Catalogue essay - Contemporary Art Centre - Adelaide

art is slow...

by Derek Kreckler 1998


Richard Grayson's work is formed from word obsessed images featuring histories, fiction, social behaviours and theatre. Visual forms which employ verity and fiction within a single note. Turbulence and cultural necessity position Grayson as a champion of ideas in a world gone grim on play.

In this artist's frame, the central nervous system, economists, religion and ex-girlfriends co-exist - as they do - but without an ordering hierarchy. Self interrogation? Social revelation? All is grist to his performative mill. Experiencing his ideas we are reminded that memory provides witness to both private and public events which echo through space and time. In the wash, significance and banality lobby for equal footing. We doubt history. History does not represent our experience.

The surface of Grayson's work crumbles, gives way, appearing deliberately fragile, revealing a patterned and persistent desire to bedevil. Devoid of sorcery - bedevilment becomes a fascination with the question. To question, to niggle, to prod is all important. Yet implicit in his prodding is the understanding that answers are not always reliable or indeed, possible.

Reminding us of what may be possible beyond the comforts of media imaged 'truths' requires humor and imagination, that in the current climate, might appear simply charming - albeit naively - optimistic. Yet Grayson's path, charming, witty and intelligent as it is, prefers to offers a complexity of ideas and their iterations, masked as they so often are in the social and the everyday - thus positing a broader range of options to consider.

Given history - history without imagination - often succeeds in it's reverse condition; that is, by telling us very little of what, why or how, events happen. Experience may be subjective but subjectivity operates on different registers - becomes more deeply subjectified through an imagined circumstance. Myth allows manipulation, the retelling of a moment never experienced. When it is important to maintain a belief, truth usually rests. Politics is given precedent over fact because facts (sic) are dangerous. This space between an imagined 'reality' and the 'real story' would seem to be the space his work inhabits. Yet all the while, we are made aware, that what is crucial cannot be resolved through the story and yet, paradoxically, we need the story in order to apprehend the experience.

Biting at our own tails.

In Grayson's work, "The Battle Of Hastings", what we don't get is the Bayeux Tapestry version of history, a beautiful woven image in memorial of a cataclysmic foray. Instead, we get endless words - words that resist meaning - facing off. The concept of conflict, becomes as important as our received and individual histories. The battle he didn't experience is juxtaposed against the perhaps personally more cataclysmic experience of "My First Fuck" - not as sexual metaphor - rather, how do I remember these two events? What kind of knowledge is it that plays with the ethics and morality of a virgin; the consternation of heading to your first battle? The persistent fact is that memory and history fail to fully define any moment, but then that's what this work is about. We can't 'know' the experience of The Battle Of Hastings although many 'know of' the story. We can only imagine, try to analyse, retrace a thousand versions of a story that could never have happened in the way we imagine it but which nonetheless, has effected our current lived experience. Likewise our first embrace and tentative touch. The imagined softness of skin, trepidation, tingling lips, ardor... caress and fall. Was it like that for you?

The difference between a given concept and the act of discovery is the essence here. In realising that history is made of many parts, the personal, the societal, the political, etc. multiple intersecting narratives that intersect, both enabling and obscuring the telling of a singular or set of singular 'truths'. Whilst we remember the experience of some of our past moments, we rediscover them, articulate them through language. As the felt experience sheds, disappears, our experience turns to language, creating staging points from where we further narrate our stories. This is the constant struggle between experience and language and begs the question: How do we represent ourselves?

In Graysons case, it is with breadsticks (crustini), olives and salted plums accompanied by an 'easy listening' off tempo sound track. Microcosms are revealed, images drawn onto table cloths in the style of a quaffing general in his cups, though played straight, descriptively by Grayson off camera. It is also interesting - to me at least - that no one appears to be listening.

Grayson's wit and his use of the recyclable is his métier. Scale and consciousness and the tumult of meanings defy the simple materials used. This is not an overt political comment but his use of simple things, pertinent objects, expand his narrative threads. These are objects within the artist's means, drawn and stretched beyond their original purpose. At his dinner table, who is eating with him?, Grayson magnifies by association; clarifes without resolution.

Who cares about the events that led to heartbreak when no moral imperative was ever applied to the circumstance. Is this a case of experience and growth? Should I find pain, blame others or move on - progress? The 'regular' hierarchies do not come into play. Responsibility is established through association, through cause and effect. There is no outside deity, no transcendence, no teleology. "In the beginning was the word", however, there must have also been action and ferment and what of ethics and responsibility?

The histories of performance art and installation - arguably both forms that seek to create - rather than describe - an experience for the viewer, are relevant in Grayson's work. His use of everyday materials and behaviours seems to suggest that this work is not made for anyone in particular - it lacks didacticism - but rather, for that absent dinner guest who might be any one of us - or anyone else for that matter.

What does it takes to think, to produce - to make art. Art is slow. The arrival, the manipulation and mostly the reception of ideas within art is slow. As a consequence, art can be bound and gagged by political considerations and perceptions that end up as little more than stylistic adjustments. In Grayson's case, and leaving aside for the moment, the subtle layers of meaning, he seems also to be saying: I am an artist. I use materials appropriate to my experience. I am working now. This is what I do. Stylists and polemicists are irrelevant in the long haul and Grayson is in for the long haul. These risky revelations, his persistence with the performative and temporal serve him well.