Review: There are more things

Tony Lloyd: There are more things.

Nellie Castan Gallery, 14 August to 6 September.

 
"The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age." Lovecraft.
 
  The title of Lloyd's show is taken from Shakespeare via a Borges story. The Borges story is an homage to Lovecraft in which the narrator makes a journey to the house of his late uncle to find it inhabited by a monstrous creature - never directly observed.  Barton Levi St Armand in "Borges and Lovecraft: says "Horror in Borges is an intensified reality, while horror in Lovecraft is an alternative reality. Words fail Borges because langauge is too limited to express this reality, while words fail Lovecraft because language is alien to the reality being expressed." In Lloyd's paintings language becomes irrelevant. Reality is represented directly. We can choose to see as much as we like, limited perhaps by our understanding or perhaps experiencing the limit of our understanding as imposed by the universe.
 
Flying Saucers hover above Egyptian ruins, evoking the seductive lunacy of von Daniken. Elsewhere the UFOs can be seen spooking the livestock, confusing farmers and traversing mountains. Scenes from the While these sci-fi moments are excellent fun, the paintings also bring up some interesting ideas. As with the Borges story, time is a major theme in these works "over and over I told myself that time - that infinite web of yester, today, the fuure, forever, never-is the only true enigma." I should be more precise and refer to space/time since that is what Lloyd's works really deal with.  A jet's vapour trail over a mountain is a sublime exercise in scale - firstly in space with the miniscule, nearly invisible dot that represents a jet carrying perhaps hundreds of people compared to the vastness of the mountains it overflies, and secondly in time, with the existence of the vapour trail measured in seconds against the mountain's eons.
 
However, when we see a flying saucer above the mountains there is another scale shift. Suddenly the mountains and their timescales are dwarfed by the cosmic scales of presumed intergalactic travel. Our sense of the sublime has shifted with our understanding of the universe. The shock of the scale of nature to an individual is replaced by the shock of the scale of the planet to the galaxy. I am just going to glibly say this without going into details - but this is a sort of reconciliation between the romantic and the enlightenment, and it reflects the way that Lovecraft and Borges both tap into irrational and emotional realms from a basis of (something based on) scientific objectivity. Those themes are touched on again by Lloyd with a series of paintings drawn from the film noir classic Kiss Me Deadly in which a myteriously powerful box of some radioactive material immolates a woman and destroys a beach house.
 
This show has a highlight. In a separate, darkened room a single large painting is picked out by a carefully framed light. The reference to cinema is clear. In fact it is uncannily like sitting in a small theatre watching a scene from a film. Lloyd's immaculate surface emits no trace of sheen to diminish the illusion. This work, "traveller the road is your footsteps, nothing more" reminds brings back the centrality of the individual (admittedly the individual in this painting might be a yeti). All we know of the universe is ultimately determined by what we see and how we understand it. And as Borges points out in There are more things: "In order to truly see a thing, one must first understand it. An arm-chair implies th human body, its jounts and members; scissors, the act of cutting....If we truly saw the universe, perhaps we would understand it."

By Sam Leach

Sam Leach

Leach is an artist living and working in Melbourne. He was born in Adelaide in 1973 and moved to Melbourne in the early 90s. Leach completed his honours degree in painting at RMIT in 2004 and is currently doing his masters. In 2006 Leach won the Metro5 prize and the Geelong contemporary art prize. This year he was a finalist in the Archibald. Leach shows at Nellie Castan gallery in Melbourne (show coming up in June) and Sullivan and Strumpf gallery in Sydney