Thursday, March 5, 2009
David Ross Harper: Watching, by Nature
David Ross Harper continues his interest in the metonymy of the interior in his new work, Watching, by Nature, which explores the inclusion of animal ornaments in domestic spaces using portraiture, taxidermy and embroidery. Substitution of domestic objects with animal parts and vice versa is an ongoing concern in Harper’s practice, and here considers the merging of absence and presence.
In Watching, a digital reproduction of an antique sepia portrait photograph has been printed onto canvas, which is layered further with an embroidery of a mirrored-owl onto the anonymous portrait-sitter’s face. Tucked behind its frame is another antique relic: a small taxidermy owl peers out, openly gazing at its viewers, while abruptly interrupting the frame’s mount on the wall.
Portraits are visual records of lives lived, but fail as simulacra for their subjects. Similarly, the inclusion of animal ornaments in domestic spheres describe an attempt to replace a missed connection to nature with objects. In defining our own lives, such objects serve as reminders of an identity we envision. Representations of lives passed and our desire for a connection to the outside world mirror one another in physicalizing that which is absent.
This mirror’s tenuous reflection of the crafted other in ourselves is underscored by its representation in embroidery for Watching. In his use of needlework, Harper conflates the practice of pinning specimens for preservation with the stitches’ delicate use in decoration and embellishment. To witness the presence of another in our homes hinges on a ritualized process of bringing them forth that combines permanence with the ephemeral. The act of embroidering, an incredibly repetitive and refined exercise, brings history to the present, while also representing the performative, physical process that must occur in the absent other’s place.
Filling a void, the space between ourselves and the reflected image we desire, at times takes shape as the glass of a mirror, a seam that links disparate realms and contains the merger of absence and presence. Here, the puncture of the canvas by the needle creates a surface analogous to the glass, formed through permeation and now impregnated by thread. Writing on the subject of friendship, Michel de Montaigne declared that though he and his friend remained separate individuals, they were also invisibly linked as “souls [...] mingled and confounded in so universal a blending that they efface the seam which joins them together so that it cannot be found.” In attempts to link to realms beyond our own, and depict companionship between ourselves and animals, we still leave a physical trace, a scar of sorts, that attests to the imperfection of metonymy and the clogging that occurs, rather than altruistic osmosis. Watching, by Nature suggests our desire to join with nature, as if to replace something we lack as humans, is hanging together by mere thread.
David Ross Harper: Watching, by Nature, was on view at the Window Box Gallery, 1313 Queen Street West, from 7 January - 1 March, 2009.