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Kim Demuth's work has always had an eerie quality about it. Over the last eighteen months his installations have dealt with notions of presence and absence-an examination of what, if anything, is 'left behind' after someone or something. Like a sixth sense, these works leave the viewer with an intuitive feeling of an absent identity, recently departed.
A piece from 1999 consisted of a wooden chair in a darkened room. Above the chair hung a single light globe, which illuminated a small circumference around it. In this ellipse of light, a silhouette of a person sitting on the chair was apparent. lt was as if the person had only just left and their shadow had not had time to respond. Many animals rely on their sense of smell more than their sense of sight. As scent can linger longer than vision, their perception of presence and absence is vastly different to that of humans.1 As we rely predominantly on sight, Demuth has given us a visual clue to these once present beings.
After experiencing these works I found myself wondering what evidence I leave behind, what trace of my presence exists after I have departed. Demuth's new work presents us with tangible evidence. Returning to a smaller scale and to his fetishistic obsession with boxes, Demuth displays specimens that give proof to the existence of what is no longer there. There is a museum artefact quality to these works, which gives them a sense of 'authenticity' and 'validity'. The boxes contain objects juxtaposed in the same kind of surrealistic fashion as was explored by Joseph Cornell, but with a much more gruesome twist. The kind of grievous bodily harm Demuth is intimating is self-inflicted-the absence is that of the dearly departed.
Nullify is a small medicine cabinet sized box, mirrored and lit from the back. A clear glass shelf displays two rows of small glass bottles-harking back to a pharmacy of the 1950s. Each bottle is empty and alludes to drug abuse or an overdose. White-feathered wings on either side of the white cabinet reinforce this notion of death or drug induced heights of consciousness. The reflected light of the clear glass, combined with the white of the feathers and exterior of the box, gives this work an illusory perception of weightlessness.
On another wall a thin rectangular box displays a severed arm with the hand protruding from its scientific container. Veins in the arm are prominent and in certain areas exposed, suggesting self-mutilation or intravenous drug use. Paradoxically this piece elicits a sense of strength and dignity. Demuth has suggested the pose of the outstretched arm could relate to a crucified martyr figure or anatomical perfection as explored in the studies of Leonardo da Vinci. This work, titled Fixed, questions our initial assumptions and reactions to certain objects and the narratives we create to justify our response. Propositions of a human amputation gives way to concepts of biotechnological modification, when we real ise the veins are in fact electrical wire. The human frailty suggested by the track marks on a junkie's arm could also imply dependence not on drugs but on technological evolution.
The contents of Demuth's boxes lure us in. Upon closer inspection, premature impressions evolve into an appreciation of the complex relationship between the often disparate objects. Obvious readings of these sculptural specimens are developed through the intimate interaction the works demand of the viewer. During this involvement the viewer is enticed into establishing a plausible explanation or anecdote for each piece. Demuth's objects function, both individually and within the dichotomies set up in each of their scenarios, to conjure memories or emotional responses from the viewer. In this sense we can consider memory as an absence, the traces of which can be found in unique and unexpected allusions.