everything happens


How difficult it is not to represent a thing! Shapes, textures, colours on a surface reflect light in an infinity of nuances or minute differences and easily serve to perceive – and represent – the shades and borders defining an entity. Lines and colours are thus spontaneously perceived as thresholds and in their presence, the mind rushes towards objects, even when it has scant evidence of an identity, as so many optical illusions show, thereby revealing the workings of perception. Onto these objects, the principles of perspective, of relief and shadowing, project a further dimension, based on the relative sizes, colour and textures of shapes on the canvas. In doing so, they immediately inscribe these entities within a world, a whole, structured in relation to a single point of view which, though necessarily exterior to the representation as such, is nevertheless precisely determined by the structure on the surface and equally implied by each of its points. This is why when Cubism, at its most ‘analytical’, organised the surface of the canvas in relationship to a multiplicity of points of view, the object started to fuse with the background into a series of ‘abstract’ shapes (in fact concrete planes of paint). Objects and worlds of objects: an image (as image and not as symbol) is thus always an image of the finite.

Henri Michaux wrote extraordinary texts on his experience of a ‘turbulent infinity’ when experimenting with mescaline, an experience he tried to depict or rather reflect in a number of drawings and paintings. This infinity, he wrote, is an active one, not a ‘civilised’ or

stable incommensurability, an expanding infinity, forever charging ahead, the infinity of the abyss, constantly foiling the human project and idea of comprehension - of setting ends, of laying down limits and enclosures1, an infinity perceived as energy and not as being or object ‘in front of’ a separate subject. But how does one see or show energy, movement or life in themselves and not simply through the depiction of that which works, moves or grows, using conventions of representation (blurring, shadows, orientation etc., in painting) or appearances of movement (in film)? Even when one uses machines or objects in movement, what is effectively seen is objects, and the processes are only inferred, conceptually but not consciously, from these representations - unless the movement or the energy are perceived as independent in some way of the machine itself (which is what Duchamp, Calder or Tinguely, in different ways, succeeded in doing).

But does it even make sense to want to show energy without showing the entities which manifest it? Kate Palmer sets herself precisely the challenge of making energy and events directly visible and her original use of the most unlikely medium for this purpose, painting, or rather the exploration of a thin three-dimensional surface, is one of the keys

1 ‘Un infini toujours en charge, en expansion, en dépassement, infini de gouffre qui incessamment déjoue le projet et l’idée humaine de mettre, par la compréhension, fins, limites et fermetures.’ Henri Michaux, L’Infini turbulent, Paris, 1964, p. 18.to her success. This project has of course been a major theme in modern art. Zola, already, against all critics, praised Manet not for his realism but for the intensity, power and energy that he seemed to impart to the paint itself. Significantly, the title Palmer chose for this exhibition is a motto Manet used as his letterhead: tout arrive (equally translatable as ‘the most unlikely sometimes happen’ and as a more Heraclitean ‘all things just happen’). Later on, in his famous Nu descendant l’escalier (1912), Duchamp used cubist techniques as a tool to create not an evocation of movement, as in the traditional blurring or directional deformations, but movement itself in a powerful, self-mastered staggering or stuttering of the representation itself, as if the object was seen through a multifaceted temporal prism, or some optical device in the shape of stairs at their point of rotation. He soon went further and renounced altogether what he then called ‘retinal art’ – art representing a world of objects – in favour of an ‘optical art’, an art using direct effects of light on perception.

This tradition ran through futurism, abstract expressionism and then the kinetic art of the 60s and 70s and Palmer’s paintings continue it consciously, but in a very original way. She obstinately strives towards the production of a work which would not be a representation of objects and events or even, in itself, a single event, as in abstract expressionism, but the seat of a multiplicity of events, perceptible at several levels. In her previous series of works, she had effectively started where painters usually finished, slowly erasing a beautiful, violent image, for instance the dark mass of a submarine plunging in a stormy, crepuscular ocean, up to the point when she only kept the impression of a dark violence, while the object itself had disappeared

as her paradoxical un-painting progressed. In this series, even the ‘shadow of the object’, as one of her earlier paintings was called, has disappeared. She has developed her technique of working on mono- prints, painting the totality of large surfaces in tones that are mechanically applied and yet now differentiated, through the regular succession in waves or folds of vertical patterns of light, so striking in ORS5 potential space, or the dark ORS6 indeterminacy with no other setting than itself. She then works against these regular zones via diagonal lines of erasure and then through scratches and additions, incisions and excisions, eliciting the perception of an infinity of singularities, but in such a way that no element detaches itself by differentiation against another entity or a background, no vanishing line proposes any depth to the eye, for this swarming multiplicity of discrete events cannot be reconciled into any specific direction.

Through her attacks, with all manners of tools, against the surface worked on, scratched, erased, but often also lovingly detailed or teased, stimulated, as in the sculptures that Giacommetti kept on undoing, Kate Palmer seems to release an energy mysteriously contained in the very texture of the canvas. In some works it is permanently traversed by storms of energy, in others (for instance ORS3) the material seems to explode or to coalesce, depending on the distance from which it is considered, into pale, almost gelatinous geological events defined by ragged borders, like the traces or the recordings of some electrical processes. Elliptical but also epileptic surfaces, as Michaux would have said: it is obvious that the point here is not to insert a unified, finished ‘work’, on a surface it would ornate, as an object of perusal for the benevolent aesthetic gaze (save for

understanding ‘aesthetics’ in the original meaning of an exploration of pure, pre-conceptual sensation). These works give the feeling of continuing, of striving, and yet, paradoxically there has been a moment when these paintings, in their slow, conceited, painstaking and painful birth, have suddenly started to ‘work’. But in their rage and sometimes their joy they take over not simply the wall but the whole space where they stand, hypnotising the gaze that tries to master them. Silent explosion or dark concentration, the hypnotic presence of these works never fails to captivate those who have seen or experienced them in situ.

As often in Palmer’s work her drawings seem to open up new avenues. The foaming substance they often previously elicited is now replaced by a light nervous almost joyful calligraphy. Fine, elongated electric storms converge horizontally towards an enigmatic centre,

echoing in their texture the fibrous material at the margins of the paper and generating, as they go and muse, apparent geological layers, a whole proliferating ‘life in the folds’. Here the work does not so much challenge representation and perception as it plays with them, in order to manifest, like a Chinese landscape, the barely recognisable, the singular, the unnameable.

Kate Palmer’s work turns the visible inside out. Constantly running along crest lines, nervous thresholds, it is a poetic re-appropriation, a revelation of the singularities and intensities of sensation which constitute the stuff of vision, inscribe our existence within reality, and yet, paradoxically, remain silently invisible.

Jean Khalfa Fellow of Trinity College Cambridge