10 July 2008
Joe McConnell reviews Esther Appleyard and Craig Kerrecoe's exhibition A Series of Lines, Worcester, 2008
A Series of Lines cast a powerful spell on me. Even writing about it, for reasons I won't bore you with, several weeks after visiting the exhibition, the images, themes and questions raised in the work still haunt me.
"Is the rational conclusion of genetic engineering the end of individuality?" asks Appleyard and Kerrecoe's video installation which is part of their joint exhibition. This explicit question is echoed in the subtler streams of questions emanating from the paintings themselves.
This question echoes an earlier statement in Appleyard's contribution to Disability Arts Online's Disability Arts and Science blog:
"I wish to discuss broader issues of tolerance, difference and the implications genetic science may have on society in generations to come."
Having read this article before the exhibition, I was aware of the themes that were being explored and something of the approach that was being taken. But I wasn't prepared for the impact the work would have on me. I don't know whether the strength of the 'aftershock' is because both my sister and myself share the experience of being genetically excluded from what science would deem to be desirable; instead of the gloomy way the subject is often approached, here was something more like a riotous celebration of colour. Or maybe it relates to the urgency of the questions emanating from the work, as we stand on the cusp of what may well be known one day as the 'post-human era'. Maybe it's partly a combination, but it's also down to the sheer eloquence of the discourse that this work unleashes.
Other artists have explored the themes of eugenics and the growing power of science to eradicate the very differences that underpin identity and individuality. But often this work tends to be overtly didactic, angry and, at times, even shrill. Which is often an understandable reaction to the way disability is evoked in reports of scientific research, both in medical literature and the media. But the two interlocking bodies of work which constitute A Series of Lines raise questions in a subtle, highly crafted way, which probably makes them all the more powerful.
Appleyard's multi-layered compositions literally vibrate with colour, ranging from harmonic combinations to the wildly psychedelic. The interplay of organic chromosomal shapes with the blocks of related science-derived barcode draws you in towards the exploration of patterns and structural deviations. To this Kerrecoe's darker compositions strike an effective counterpoint. The coding motif is one of the echoing elements linking the work of both artists.
The beauty of the work lies in its power to make us aware of the awesome simplicity that all of this is nothing more than a series of lines - and yet those lines determine everything. And of course the additional question 'But do they - is that all there is?' lends a spiritual dimension to the work without it ever becoming earnest or sermonising.
I would love to see the video installation worked up into a more substantial film production that could be screened and distributed to reach wider audiences. I also hope that this touring exhibition will reappear elsewhere around the country and beyond as soon as possible. This is powerful material which urges reflection and an invaluable artistic contribution to the myriad of questions which orbit around eugenics and diversity.