Freya Pinney

Reference Collection
Raw Space Galleries, Brisbane
7 – 23 October 2005

I have always thought that gallery walls seem strange without the inevitable history of their use ghosted on each surface. Empty, somehow. Recently opened in brand new premises, Raw Space Gallery is full of pristine white walls that positively cry out to be coloured, dented, imprinted and defiled. Gleeful I was, to see what Brisbane artist, Freya Pinney would do to this virgin space in her most recent work, Reference Collection. Pinney is perhaps best known for her ‘tongue writing’; a process through which she paints themed, stream of consciousness texts with her tongue over surfaces such as Perspex, glass and more frequently, the female body. Reference Collection revisits this process of physical inscription; L’ecriture feminine in its most literal form.

On entering the installation, the viewer is plunged into an immediate darkness. At the far end of the room, a floor to ceiling video surveillance of an empty library aisle sways imperceptibly. The movement evokes a familiar, mild nausea; a seasickness common to the world of virtual reality. The colours of the projection are so luminous, so liquid, that one feels as if it would be possible to step straight from the darkness into the library. Under the futile yellow glow of a low wattage bulb, sits a stack trolley loaded with books. Nestled among these books is a small monitor screening footage from a previous performance in the library. Dressed in white, hooded suits that cover all but their faces, the artist moves in and out of the frame to scrawl unintelligible words over her model, slowly covering her face in thick blue food colouring.

The occasional ‘snap’ of looped footage repeating on both the projection screen and monitor remind us that we were absorbed in the act of viewing and it is in these brief moments of respite that one is able to draw the separate components of the show together. One of the books, titled The Pursuit of Beauty, propped against the television screen, also features in the screened performance, simultaneously occupying both ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ spaces. It becomes clear that the trolley, monitor and projection occupy the same spatial relationships to the ‘real’ library aisle; books on the trolley indexed in the exact order and manner as the library shelves from which they were taken.

Reference Collection evokes a strong sense of modern-day Alice in Wonderland. The slippage of real and virtual spaces is so potent that one is almost overcome by them before absorbing the performance of tongue writing. Thinking in wider terms, one begins to question the tenuous relationships between object, subject and our perceptions of them. Pinney’s work brings us the familiar smells, order and silence of the library but subverts them into a subtle uncanniness that is decidedly Other: foreboding, alien and strange. This secret coding, the careful placement of books and their spatial ‘real world’ relationships to each other mirrors the coding inherent in Pinney’s tongue writing—those texts that we are denied from reading.

Pinney’s work is heavy with layered meanings. It teases and challenges us to decipher the relationships between various components that may or may not exist. Reference Collection draws us to question the role of the library as a repository for specific knowledges that are mediated through a process of interpretation and translation of both screen and text. Real and virtual worlds collapse in our own momentary, dual perception of them. What we are left with is a lingering sense of discomfort, unease. Like a horror movie that follows you home, I know I will never feel quite the same again about the silent, lonely corridors of the library.