Entering Daiga Grantina’s solo exhibition ‘scity-ox-tails’ felt like walking into another world. Stepping through the door of the gallery, with its windows shut and covered, light turned into darkness, the clatter of the everyday into an eerie silence. It wasn’t a pleasant place, necessarily, or the kind of fantasy world we know from our childhood dreams. Rather, it reminded me of a murky cave of a frightening, mysterious creature who left some of his belongings behind: two silent videos projected onto scraped slices of painted aluminium, a sculptural ribbon tail drenched in ink, and an ink drawing on ozalid paper and Perspex.
Tiptoeing through the space, carefully approaching the beast’s remainders, it dawned on me that I had unwittingly entered the home of that most terrifying and elusive creature of all: human subjectivity. Murderous and empathetic, creative and destructive, isolated but longing for connection, immoral yet searching for the meaning of its existence. Fitting somewhere between Freud’s unconscious and Deleuze’s desire, David Lynch’s surrealism and Anselm Kiefer’s sublime, Grantina’s subjectivity moved back and forth between projections and reflections, glass and paper, subtlety and the grotesque.
Central to the artist’s study of subjectivity is the impressive silent video projection My-daisy-mine (all works 2013). Barely recognizable moving images, overlapping and superimposed, grainy and over lit, zooming in and pulling away, were screened onto a wall partly covered in serrated slices of aluminium. The effect was both overwhelming and introspective. The constant movement of the images created a sensation of searching, as if the camera were incessantly exploring its surroundings, scanning, scrutinizing. The elaborate superimposed shots obscured the details of the environment, however, turning roaming into restlessness, discovery into disorientation. The projection occasionally portrayed faintly recognizable features, such as a street of houses or a lone figure, but never long enough to establish a coherent narrative. It felt like wandering in a heavy mist through a place you’ve been before but cannot remember in detail. The aluminium surfaces – one to the left of centre, the other to the right – fulfilled two functions. On the one hand these thick, serrated fragments guided the projection as if through a gate into an intimated depth. On the other hand, they fragmented the picture, their jagged edges violently slicing into the images as they slid by. You are welcome to wander around here, in the mist, the work seemed to say, but be prepared to get cut.
Similar tensions were palpable in the other video projection, Einszweidreivier-la-brooch, the drawing Ox-tail-parallel-bars, and the sculpture Scity-ox-tail. The sculpture that lent the exhibition its name was a tail made from ribbons, beads, acrylic, ink, gloss and a range of paraphernalia. Spotlit from above, preserved with a shine and placed on a pedestal, it reminded me of the embalmed bodies of saints. This sacred strand literally presented the tail end of a story whose presumed plot was beyond reach. You may guess, from the tar-like ink coating, how it ends, just as you might see in the pearly beaded bracelets signs of a loving beginning. But the narrative itself, if there was one, like the beast the tail belonged to, is lost forever.
‘Scity-ox-tail’ was an ambitious exhibition. Through the four works, Grantina sought to address many of the important questions of our times: what is subjectivity (after post-structuralism)? Who is the Other? How can we connect? How are painting and cinema related? At stake here were not just the limits of this or that art form, or the nature of this or that representation, but human existence itself. As with all ambitious projects, this exhibition, too, occasionally felt overwrought, stuck in the quicksand of theories from which it sought to pull its inspiration. But the artist is young; the project is still in its early stages. Getting stuck is part of the adventure. What matters is to be brave enough to continue.
Timotheus Vermeulen is associate professor in Media, Culture and Society at the University of Oslo and a regular contributor to frieze. His latest book, Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect and Depth after Postmodernism, co-edited with Robin van den Akker and Alison Gibbons, is published with Rowman and Littlefield.
First published in Issue 159