I have a very old postcard of the gridwork of fourteenth-century floor tiles in the cloisters at Titchfield Abbey. They were polychrome and quite luxurious. The image tells me something about formal decoration, of pride in place, about the long-hidden being uncovered and about the material eroding, fading away. It tells of a pride of a past age eroded through time and wear and traffic and use and then dignified and made fascinating all over again. There is an emotional change to this brush against history and a distanced, analytic position which the grid its self seems to offer. It tells me about an economy of use and disuse and redundancy and reuse; the cycle of materials, and the inevitable move from function to spectacle.
It is this economy, and my pleasure in the formal, that was summoned by aspects of this exhibition.
In Victor Sloan’s Lambadachrome print Untitled i (Luxus), we are in an almost-derelict building. A banister in the foreground, the background, faded, out of focus. What strikes the eye first is the formal, rectilinear proportioning of the print, a foregrounding which throws narrative into the background. But there is, nevertheless, a mysterious quality. The eye moves to perhaps the most focussed element, the panel of tiled wall between the banister and the exit door.
Untitled ii (Luxus) offers the fantasy that we have zoomed in on the tiled panel and the luminous Perspex sheeting beside it. Again the eye is pulled between the strong rectilinear proportions and the fascinating, radiant loci of a knot of plastic ties and the vague smudges of objects behind the Perspex. Clarity and mystery together. Light and dark.
Untitled iii and iv (Luxus) are the key works for me. With an increasing sense of the forensic, Untitled iii (Luxus) gives us plastic sheeting flapped back, inviting entry, but with the threat and warning of the red-and-white tape at the flap’s edge. There is a multiplicity of function here: the light, surfaces, lines and texture of the plastic material; the formal division of the photo plane, and the documentary function, which is both obscured by and acts as pretence to the formal surface. There is something too of the incised body here, of the flesh sliced open and folded back. Of autopsy.
With a further zoom, Untitled iv (Luxus) offers a close-up of a blue tile, eroded at the top. There is a sense of its tactile texture, of its materiality, of its history, and its location within its grid. It arrests me for the same reason that my Titchfield Abbey postcard fascinates me. And it arrests also as it offers itself as a kind of drawing – scratches across its surface are elegant, eloquent and poignant markers of use and time.
Extract from Luxus by David Hughes, Circa, Dublin, No. 119, Spring, 2007.