Mark Thia. The liminal body. Dream: borderlands.
Pictured above: local artist Mark T.’s Untitled (2011), shown in July last year at the Dream: borderlands and other territories exhibition at the Goodman Arts Center.
At first glance, it resembles nothing so much as a film of gluey black ashes littering the floor … which I blithely assumed it was. A brief chat with the artist – and a second look – informed me otherwise.
That’s actually (a representation of) the human body.
Along with the opening-day performances (which made my top ten list of the year), it turned out to be my favourite piece in an otherwise fairly humdrum show. Or at least the one that made the longest-lasting impression. It came to mind again the other day, as I was describing it to someone who was curious about T.’s practice. There wasn’t much I could tell him. He doesn’t exactly maintain a high profile: there’s no personal website, he almost never makes an appearance at openings or other events where local arty-farty types gather to fraternize, and, aside from a residency and a show or two at the Post-Museum last year, this one piece of his is pretty much the extent of my knowledge of what he does as an artist.
Yes, you can say Mark’s a little on the reclusive side.
And, judging from this work, it would seem to be a pity that he doesn’t show more.
Materialized from a mash of paper, dye and glue, and coated over a wire armature, Untitled is apparently a reference to the “nebulous interstices of hypnagogia”, to quote the show’s self-characterization. It reifies, in other words, the sensations of the artist’s body suspended at the threshold between sleep and wakefulness, that liminal moment of blissful quasi-corporeality when the soma begins the surrender of its embodied sentience to the blandishments of Hypnos.
I don’t get why the figure looks the way it does – though, once Mark pointed it out to me, I could vaguely make out a snout-like visage (or is that a drooping head?), and two lower appendages. Beyond issues of mimesis and representionalism however, what’s particularly fascinating here is the way in which the human body, in a particular state of consciousness, has been rendered – or how the anatomical entity has been inflected to indicate a psychosomatic phenomenology. Elsewhere, art historian and critic Rosalind Krauss, discussing Constantin Brancusi’s Beginning of the World (below), a tapered bronze teardrop reminiscent of a somnolent head, remarks of the play of light and shadow on the upper- and undersides of the work’s highly polished surface: “It is this differential … that recalls the feeling of the back of one’s head, resting heavily on a pillow, while the face floats, weightless and unencumbered, toward sleep.” (See her Passages in Modern Sculpture [Viking Press, 1977].) Thia’s piece, in similar fashion, transposes the otherwise individuated, inarticulated sensations of the state of half-sleep into the visual register, inscribing the impulses of our embodied awareness onto a modulated representation of the soma: the seeming openness of the peripheries, mimicking the raw edges of torn material and evoking the drifting feeling of falling into sleep, rehearses the instability, the blurred perceptual boundaries, of the liminal quality of the latter condition; the “thickness” of the lived body is here reduced to an attenuated ‘skin’ of little more than sensorimotor sensitivity (the first characterization is Jonathan Crary’s; see his Techniques of the Observer), the negation of the physicality of the flesh gesturing at the predominance of the role of the derma in exteroception as mental consciousness begins to dissipate …
Its that second association which strikes a chord: the work as skin, rather than body. The rough, textured, tactile look of the the piece, put together from a pulp of paper and adhesive and wire, performs a dual function: it simultaneously embodies a particular perceptual state, and serves as an index of Mark’s hand (below) – i.e. it both materializes the artist’s body as he imagines it in half-sleep (as representation), and bears the material traces of its creator’s originary body (as tangible mark-marking). To borrow a phrase from film scholar Vivian Sobchak on what she characterizes as the amorphous “cinesthetic subject”: “… being both “here” and “there” … being able both to sense and be sensible, to be both the subject and the object of tactile desire …… Furthermore, these bodies [onscreen and offscreen] also subvert their own fixity from within, commingling flesh and consciousness … so that meaning, and where it is made, does not have a discrete origin in either spectators’ bodies or cinematic representation but emerges in their conjunction.” (See “What My Fingers Knew” in Sobchak’s Carnal Thoughts.)
So does signification in T.’s Untitled reside in a heterogeneous space between the spectatorial subject, and the object incarnate.
Some other images from the Dream: borderlands show below. Better late than never.