I was really touched to receive this in my inbox last week so I thought I would share it here. A client of mine who I worked with last Summer has put tougether a very thoughtful and considered analysis of the mural I completed for his sons nursery. Tragically his son's birth coincided with the death of the families cat, Marisol, for whom the mural is named.
He was a lovely cat, I was so saddened to hear about his accident and as Dr.Pushkar notes in his essay it seems quite eerie that the two events coincided with each other. Purely by chance the name of the mural is also a play on the Elysian Fields, the final resting place of the heroic and virtuous in classical Greek mythology. Very odd.
I think this essay really understands my artistic approach and influences, all my rambling about hauntology and Fredric Jameson translated into a coherent, cathartic statement. Thank you for sharing this with me Piyush.
In August of this year, artist Matthew Frame created a mural in our nursery. It was named after our cat, Marisol, a slight, grey moggy who was often mistaken for a British shorthair. It is her that sits in the bottom left corner of the wall, staring straight at the viewer. Other animals and flora float above her and to the right, seeming to inhabit her dreaming consciousness.
Frame chose what to depict by speaking to me and my wife about our memories and places of relevance to us. In the centre of the wall, a Manchester bee hovers above a rose from our Manchester garden. Perching on a branch above the bee is a hornbill from Bihar, where my parents grew up. Other creatures abound, creatures not normally seen together: a tiger, a ladybird, an otter. Interwoven in monochrome foliage, these animals appear all at once, with no perspectival depth. All of our memories, and all of our presents, together, now.
On 1 September our son, Frederick, for whom the mural had been drawn, was born.
On 2 September, Marisol died. She was run over by a passing car on a nearby street.
Our friends came to meet Freddie and congratulate us. They commented on the coincidence of these events, the death of our cat and the birth of our son. It was ‘weird’. One might find it mawkish to mourn the death of a cat. But at this time of emotional undulations, I hope the reader will find it unsurprising that we were sad that our cat had died. Along with our delight with each and every move our son made, our emotions were mixed with something else. Something more unsettling that the word, ‘weird’ can only begin to suggest. There was a vague sense that Marisol’s death was somehow strangely appropriate. The word that came to mind was ‘uncanny’.
This word captures something of what is strange within the familiar. For Freud, the uncanny relates to the repetition of repressed memories in your current consciousness. Emotionally, you recognise the outlines of something previously concealed, held back. You feel the dread of something terrible. But you can’t change it. You are left helpless in the face of this thing that you have not fully got your head round.
It is the intimate connection between something hidden and something revealed that pushes Marisolysian Fields further into the uncanny. All of Frame’s work relies on an incredibly precise, intricate draughtsmanship: the individual barbs on the feathers of an ibis, the sinews on the face of a frog, the fur sitting in the folds of muscle and fat around Marisol’s haunches. This level of detail takes your attention away from the lack of perspective. Everything is depicted on one plane, effacing any sense of movement, time or, indeed, progress.
Frame is fascinated by Fukuyama’s famous statement that the Berlin wall coming down marked the end of history, the end of progress. Since then we have had globalisation, economic crashes, waves of populism, terrorist attacks accompanied by a ‘war on terror’, and Nickelback. But have we had any new ideas for how to advance humanity, or are we stuck with (neo)liberal capitalism? Successive leaders have promised change: Blair, Cameron, and, yes, Corbyn. But have they delivered, or will they deliver it? Have we lost the sense of a path forwards, of a political imaginary that can genuinely transform and improve the lives of the global population? If so, what might this mean for art?
Capitalism demands growth. Entrepreneurs, startups, businesses search for the new, the next big thing, the next gap to fill. But in the absence of a political imaginary of the future, our search for the new leads us backwards, to relics, remnants and repetitions: Star Wars sequels, Downton Abbey, Bruno Mars, Harry Potter, the English National Opera, Stuckism. My recognition of this conservatism makes me no less a part of it. The gnawing horror of Strictly’s banality will not stop me from sitting down to enjoy its glitter and bawdy sparkle tonight. I can suppress the admonitory reaction of my superego for just long enough to appreciate Tess and Claudia’s nods and winks to ‘a simpler time’.
Frederic Jameson called this tendency to look backwards rather than forwards ‘postmodernism’, a word that has risen and fallen since he used it in 1992. In his view, this repetition of past motifs and themes had no political import, mimicry was ‘amputated of the satiric impulse’. Pastiche replaces parody, and art becomes not a progressive force, but a ‘statue with blind eyeballs’. So what is Marisolysian Fields: pastiche or parody?
The single plane exposes the timelessness, the political torpor of our time, and forces it all on you at once. The absence of movement and perspective encourages you to move, first drawn inwards to inspect the finer details inside the thickly wrought outlines of the otter, the ladybird, the mangoes. You see the strokes of Frame’s marker pens, and then feel yourself pushed backwards as far as possible to grapple with it all. The concentrated complexity can be overwhelming. Frame negates the ‘helplessness’ of the uncanny by engaging the viewer in action, but where that action takes you is not his responsibility. As the viewer, it is mine. I am no longer helpless, but nor am I reassured.
And what of the dead cat that now haunts our nursery? Frame could not have predicted that Marisol would die. But he did suggest time and progress in other ways. He drew a largely monochrome mural, with injections of block colour, for a little boy who can not yet see anything other than black and white. As Freddie grows, he will begin to see the orangeness of the tiger, the redness of the ladybird, the yellowness of the mangoes. And just like I have never seen hornbills in Bihar, Freddie never saw Marisol. Frame throws them all together, strange, familiar and strangely familiar. He unapologetically forces the viewer to make sense of it. Freddie will have a lifetime to do so.
Dr. Piyush Pushkar is an NHS psychiatry doctor, Wellcome Trust fellow, and co-chair of Manchester Medact. He is currently conducting research for a PhD at the University of Manchester.