Leith Elder

Experimental Art Foundation - Adelaide - 199

If you are taller than average, a strange thing happens when you meet some-one who looms above you, as you have not had the adult experience of most of finding this normal and commonplace. You are immediately returned, mentally and emotionally, to that time in life when the majority of people around you were indeed taller. It's like you are talking to an 'adult': these other people become immense, more puzzling, less comprehensible, and (again) outside the usual strategies of communication and reading that have been constructed in maturity. It's very strong, you can watch people loosing it. In many ways Leith Elders exhibition places us all in this disorientating and threatening world. And he's a tall artist.


With the shift in scale we are not only returned to a situation where our own sense of self is somehow questioned and compromised, but where the known world around us collapses. Objects become estranged from our normal understandings, and become significant with narratives, forces and fascinations that lie, somehow, just outside our grasp. Things become separate from their function, parts become isolated from their body, the world and its objects become animate and articulated, and we can feel the tug and frisson of a pre-genital sexuality, where all is electric and fearful with the forces of libido.


A wardrobe, made large again, not only brings to mind the Story Of The Eye, but another author less commonly noted for his relationship with Freud or surrealism, C.S. Lewis. In one, a girl hides in its warm fastnesses and masturbates, a pool of liquid gathering around the furniture's base, in the other (Narnia) shall children push their way through layers of dark and warm fur into a cold and magical land inhabited by a wicked witch. It also recalls the dark primal obelisk in 2001 Space Odyssey, a closed, threatening but fascinating object, hovering outside understanding that offers transformation and potential. It offers the possibility of surrounding us, swallowing us, and of gobbling us up, even when closed and impenetrable


Susan Stewart points out how the land of giants and giants themselves have always not only represented appetite, but frequently cannibalism (fe fi fo fum). 'When I saw them eating themselves I thought ooh that's not right' ambivalently hints at this. The text itself is drawn from a TV show about a parent of children with dysfunctional nervous systems. This was the act that signalled their translation to outside the normal. However, written in a large version of magnetic fridge writing, with the light flickering as if under a closed (bedroom) door, suggesting the occluded enactment of strange events and movements that we are not privy to, another level of anxiety and loss is engendered. The syntax is returned upon itself to implicate them, out there, with their strange activities, and the threat that they may pose to us, as well as ourselves (the viewer, the child) and the circular and terrifying loops of the idea of self-cannibalism.


The play and reversals of attraction and repulsion, between invite and threat, the actor and acted upon are constant in these works. The third piece presents us with a field of small charming plaster cats, beckoning us with a certain cutesy oriental elan. However looming above them is the large silhouette of a giant black cat. We do not know if it is retreating or approaching, whether it is presenting us with its arse or its face. The white cats are obviously welcoming, albeit with an ambivalence through their gesturing with either their right or left paw (is this a code known only to them? what does it mean?). The hovering cathonic 'ur' cat however promises differently, suggesting ancient embodiments of malevolence, mystery, even death. Under this ambivalent shadow the white cats can be felt to echo the ranks of Chinese buried terracotta soldiers: to become symbols of an exotic anxiety.