Time, Space and the Body

Judy Millar: be do be do be do
Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane
8 June - 27 July 2013

Post-expressionist artist Judy Millar, who represented New Zealand in the 2009 Venice Biennale, has created site-specific painting installations for her show entitled Be Do Be Do Be Do, at the Institute of Modern Art. The entire exhibition began as one very small painting, which was then turned into a black and white halftone dot image. That halftone image has been adhered to the floor in the second room of the gallery. All corresponding works, which are hand-painted on bendy plywood, are magnified sections of the halftone image; it is a repetition of itself in space and time.

Space and time connect our external and internal universes, and the way we measure time and space depends upon our self, through the instrument of the body. Our visual perception of time and of space depends on the manner and magnitude of their change and their scale in relation to our beings. The external universe is in a constant state of flux along with the system of the human body. The body interacts with the vastness of nature and space, and this interaction is reflected through the mind, both consciously and subconsciously.

Intentionally or unintentionally we focus on particular parts of the images that make up our universe. For example, it is not possible for our eyes to relay the entirety of a landscape or painting to our brain instantaneously, so we focus on particular parts. This fact was exaggerated by Matisse, as demonstrated through his Harmony in Red (1908), in which he creates the impression of space within the flatness of the colour red. The exaggerated two-dimensionality of the work forces the eye to move laterally as opposed to inter-dimensionally.

Millar takes this one step further by entirely deconstructing her own original piece, and instead opts to use a magnification of a halftone copy rather than the painting itself. The original painting, which is not revealed at all in the exhibition, is, one assumes, a representation of something ‘real’; an ideal. Traditionally in modernist art, a painting is an attempt at recreating something ‘real’, so, as an attempt it is not ‘true’ and can thus be seen as flawed. The halftone version of the original painting is inherently even more flawed. Then, by magnifying sections and recreating them—not digitally—but through painting by hand, each new work is pushed further and further away from the ‘truth’. The resulting large-scale paintings consist of sporadic black dots on white plywood. They are a representation of the original, but they have been warped beyond comprehension.

Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote that a logical truth is ‘one which is true in all possible worlds’, but he also claimed that logical truths do not ‘say’ anything. It is because of the nature of absolute truth we deal in relatives rather than absolutes, so that we can comprehend meaning when viewing things. Logical truth is present at an atomistic level, and while Millar is forensically analysing her painting, her recreation of a forensic level of inspection is not an attempt to find truth; rather than zooming in on something for clarity, she is picking out parts at random and almost carelessly expanding them, as if to emphasise the irrelevance of truth.

Looking at the works closely, it is evident that there are visible brush strokes and even some accidental marks, which capture the raw energy of the work in its making; creating another dimension of time and movement. These marks have intentionally been left unconcealed. Millar is attempting to pollute painting rather than purify it; instead of creating a perfect representation of something real, she is enhancing and celebrating flaws.

By enhancing the flaws in her works Millar is making a literal connection between the body and form: our physical being and our perception of things. Another connection between the body and form is demonstrated by one particular work. While other pieces sit on the floor of the gallery or stand positioned against a wall, one particularly lengthy piece of bendy plywood is actually held up by a harness. This ribbon-like piece is not self-supporting, but almost pathetic and inherently flawed. Again, unlike the other works, this piece has a colour. On one side it is painted white with black dots (like the other works), but the other side, which is curling inwards, is painted a very pale pink. Despite being made out of the same material as the other works, this piece looks soft, delicate, fleshy and evidently human.

Through these works Millar provides us with the scope to understand the stratum of form, through repetition in the context of time and space. She explores how we humans can find a correlation between our perception of form within this context, and she attempts to reconcile our embodied existence with our cognition.

Judy Millar, Be Do Be Do Be Do, 2013. Photograph Richard Stringer.

Judy Millar, The Path of Luck, 2011. Courtesy Millar Studio.

Judy Millar, Be Do Be Do Be Do, 2013. Photograph Richard Stringer.