Essay by Dr. Steve Leddin
If, as has been noted by many art theorists, all art by its nature struggles to legitimize itself, to strive to present itself as a “Thing” irreducible to commodity while simultaneously existing as pure materiality- pure commerce of space and intention- then it is in painting that at present this internal dialectic is best epitomized. Painting, in fact, can be considered unique within the multiplicity of the arts due to the transience of its role within human life. Important here is the use of the word “Life” as it seems that the elevation of human life- above mere species existence- has been co-efficient with the birth of painting. Messages scrawled on ancient walls as warnings or as primitive storytelling have grown symbiotically with the acculturation of society representing within its changing mores the hidden truth of its social situation. Within painting the trace of history is sedimented in the materiality of the work, within the singularity of each brush stroke which engages with the totality of societal culture through the historical horizon that has compelled the artist behind his or her back in the extent of their vision. It is with this in mind that we can understand the “self-consciousness” of painting through its maturation from representationalism.
Painting has sought to overcome what we may term the “mono-directionality of engagement”. That is, the monopolisation of input and understanding as originating from the audience which reduces the painting to a static image. It is in this manner that painting has rejuvenated itself through the incorporation of the process of understanding into the material of the painting itself, thus creating multitudinous layers of meaning through a hermeneutics of image and interlocutor, each informing the other in a continuous dialogue. It is in this process that Kate Molloy’s work excels and expresses itself. Her work situates itself within the dialectic of singularity and repetition. Her use of mono-printing undermines the uniformity of the process by emphasising the essentiality of the minutia within the creation of singularity. The artist professes to the exploration of themes of failure and attempting to “capture certain moments of fleeting memory and observation”. This is perhaps the ideal of all modern and progressive art and also the most difficult to achieve. It is what constitutes the “language of art”- its attempt to approach the ineffable.
It is this aporia that provokes the spectator, which demands interlocution and engagement- the attempt to depict transient singularity in an ontologically static medium. This is the genius of effective art, this apparent paradox demands engaged reflection from the viewer and transcends passive appropriation into active interpretation, and perhaps we could even say interrogation of the image. It transforms viewer into interlocutor. Kate Molloy’s work achieves this through an extreme awareness of the tactile within the painting. What she describes as the “visceral quality of the medium” evokes precisely this response in the viewer. It creates a rupture in the continuum of quotidian comprehension, forcing the viewer to confront concepts of somatic and visual understanding. In the Molloy’s work the tactile, pure materiality of the painting is highlighted through its polar sensation; pure visuality. This elevation of the tactile carries notions of singularity and transience. The tactile bears witness to a dichotomy between artefact and process in which trace is located. One is reminded of the spectoral presence of the negative which opposes signified meaning, but also of the historical sediment hidden within each artistic gesture. Each works attempt to overcome its heritage, to speak something new in a unique language. This is what Theodor Adorno describes as “the resistance of them, to otherness, on which they are nevertheless dependant”…which “compels them to articulate their own formal language”. What he terms this “forcefield of antagonisms” announces itself in Kate Molloy’s work in the “remnant of the tactile”. The irreducible tactile element of all painting (that which most works attempt to decry) becomes in Molloy’s work a remnant of process, what Jacques Derrida terms “trace”. In “trace” the incongruity between presence and absence is gestured toward (it can never be fully present or fully absent), and its resonation undermines the metaphysics of immediacy, which in the case of painting, is fully achieved in traditional representationism. The tactile in Kate Molloy’s work is the mimesis of this trace. In it is presented the play between singularity and repetition, between event and repeatability. The artist’s process is evident in each work and bears the historicity of its creation. Its subjection to the mono-printing technique gestures towards a process of reproduction. Neither element of the work can exist without the other. The irreducibility of singularity and repetition is legible in the singular brush marks and the negative trace of their printing. Accordingly, the artist turns mono-printing against its intention to gesture towards an absent singularity while the self-identity of the work as a whole the configuration of those basic principles of the first metaphysics- Form and Content) atomises the repeatable and speaks of its necessity to be experienced as a singularity
It is in this mute protest against the self-identity of the contained work that sadness pervades as an ineluctable atmosphere. The process itself becomes content and this, I believe, elevates the artist’s work beyond the immediacy of viewership. The full weight of the trace of painting as a whole is felt in an authentic engagement of the work. Each artefact is as of a dactyl which stutters towards the infinitude of the artistic process. As the artist herself asks, “what is the need to physically make unlimited prints and keep producing them? Is it to achieve something with the work or to satisfy a need within the artist?” At what point does the process take over, and is this that point at which the aesthetic announces itself? In order to lay claim to the aesthetic art cannot content itself with stasis. It must strive to mimic the fluidity of experience, its inner history and its continuous movement. That which has become suppressed in quotidian life; what has been termed “the impoverishment of experience”. Art must not become a refuge, but rather an interruption in rationality. It must seek to undermine the cognitive process, pull it up short and, thus, call it into question. This is most difficultly achieved in painting as it is bound to singular materiality. Kate Molloy’s work makes of this materiality a logic of disruption. In her work the tactile is transformed and transcends it’s somatic registration into what Kant called a “reflective judgement”; that is, a form of judgement that can conceptualise no possible object and thus calls its own process into question and in doing this again becomes vital and visceral.. Along with this process its attendant metaphysical binaries are interrogated and undermined. The painting bears witness to its historicity, it contemplates its demise and dependency and shows these as the shadow of the image. In authentic painting the guilt of viewership accompanies cognition. In Molloy’s work this becomes manifest as the history of the process of painting, each work bearing brushstrokes as scars in which the history of the painting is written as hieroglyph.