snaking ’92 - VISUAL

VISUAL Centre for Contemporary Art &
The George Bernard Shaw Theatre

snaking ’92

Artist Richard Proffitt has written a response to Emma Martin’s exhibition KING | SHRINE, which runs concurrently with his own exhibition Shadow the Solar Trail as part of the Spring Programme at VISUAL. In a stream-of-consciousness style, Proffitt draws upon the rich themes and imagery of Martin’s work, including shrines, ritual, apocalypse, endings, and new beginnings.

snaking ’92

Richard Proffitt

The sirens swing by at nightfall and dusty feet clamp the pavement. Toenails curl the curb stones. Gaping mouths draw dry morning breath. The world keeps turning, turning away and back again this way. You follow a cat. See where it goes. Watch how it lives. Fresh ice melt outlines a dark, smoky avenue overspilling with shredded, ransacked garbage and chewed-up polystyrene. There is a vaulted path towards something in the distance, but it’s all so, so, so far away. Hands reach out towards a refracted shimmer, only to realise what you are seeing are stars.

Big heaps of junk hurl skywards. See what lands, see what sticks. The words on the makeshift placard when read aloud make little sense and when written down bit by bit, letter by letter, glyph by glyph make little more. Too many broken lines and dotted breaks. Still, they were clues to the existence of the mound. A giant, ever-growing mass shadowed by the overhanging trees, and illuminated at night by the headlights of passing cars. Little surface details made increasingly visible by the occasional shining of torches and the laser pens of small children confused by its amorphous nature and perhaps more so by its impromptu presence.

A mound, morphing, shaping itself in time, over time, rising, grotesque beauty of mycological intent. A pink glow of dripped dry wet-look wax in a spill. Great big, semi-transparent cloud with clawing hands reaches down and scoops us all up. Some of us fall and float through the see-thru smog. We left newspapers with greyed-out portraits, trinkets, functionless throwaway stuff bought without any immediate reason or intention. These shoddily made light-up ponies are flickering beacons of a presence long since left us. We stood in lonely unison to light candles, write notes on paper, scrawl brief cliches in fluorescent chalk on pavements, walls, railings, and cold metal doors. Concentric circles on lampposts, letterboxes, and wheelie bins. Propped up flowers now gone ghostly and pale, rained out scarves and woolly gloves, scratched motorcycle helmets on which the gouged-out esoteric markings emit iridescent colours, a deflated caseless football slumped, novelty keychains that once chimed, package holiday souvenirs bearing trite aphorisms and a pair of tiny unworn shoes loosely tied together in a pair.

We cradle the body of a dead fox killed by a speeding truck. Patch its leg back together with Sellotape and pages of magazines. The dried blood from its snout stains my new Adidas sweatshirt a deep red and its limp tail strokes the back of my hand. We thought about burying it and making a small crucifix from scrap wood but the summer had rendered the earth too hard and too dry. We thought about dumping it on the embankment beside the railway tracks. We thought about leaving it outside someone’s front door. A surprise, a thank you or a fuck you to someone we didn’t like. Instead, we take it here and pose it peacefully at the front of everything. By night, the creature’s burnt orange fur catches the dispersed shine of battery-powered LED totems and by day, its remaining eye glints a pastel blue in the sunshine, held open by an unused match split in two.

There is a sudden ultrasonic blast and hot lava runs from freshly opened crevices. A shocking display of white light, all aglow, escapes through the cracks. Down on our haunches, crouching to see the ground tremble, bouncing ripples of concrete head toward us only to cease at the tip of our shoes. And just like a flash of lightning, there is a moment that all before us is brightened. The rancid burn of electricity and the toxic vapours of molten plastic. My eyes are watery and pink, lashes singed and everything within eyesight and earshot goes gooey. Trees flop and sag like punctured mylar balloons, footpaths turn to concrete slime, cars collapse on punctured tyres, slumping like shot-through soldiers taking one last breath. And then it all goes greyed out, error-code blank. Stop. A floating circular disc comes forth, dilated, pupil-like, pulsing, it is a piercing yellow with a rotating ring of prismatic colours orbiting, slowly slotting into place. An array of neon flashes form pentangles that bleed in and out of the darkness.

The cloud-like cushioning of soft-as-down pillows and then the gentle bump of an elevator halting. An angel sighs and I’m in through the double doors, swinging. There’s a check-in desk of sorts and the non-smiling one that stands stationary asks “is that everything?” like the proprietor of a late-night convenience store. And like most places, you don’t get what you went in for. I receive a set of dull silver keys with an oversized keyring bearing the emblem of FC Barcelona. Past half-empty cardboard boxes, tracking the scuffed marks of rats and the slithering mucal trails of slugs and snails toward a cheap, windowless wooden door. The handle is brassy, recently cleaned with antibacterial wipes, which in the imitated daylight of the overhead fluorescent lamp produces an oily illusion of a rainbow.

I want to hear music but all I hear is the tireless humming of air conditioners. I’m looking at you. You are being sped motionless through hospital corridors, all of it is blurred, no fixed picture. I try to remember but my brain won’t fully recall. I wish it would because it not doing so is the most painful part. I need to go under and go back. Get in there with my feet scraping the squeaky floor, the collar and the label of my shirt, its incessant bothering, to live the unbearable numbness of the endless waiting all over again. The half-baked faces that encircle and stare in slow motion are speaking inaudible sentences. It’s one in one out. I can’t help but disengage.

In a plexiglass booth, I look at the cigarette trapped between two trembling fingers, see the ash burn and droop, drop to the flagstones and disperse. This side of heaven. No gated wait, no shining light, just the dizzying scent of disinfectant as it brushes and irritates, entering my nostrils, streaming upwards to settle on the inside corner of my eye. The sound of sirens whirr up down left right all around, and a thousand shrill screams fuse into one cacophonous drone. I’m on a merry-go-round. Kerosene ignites, and the flickering flame caresses the knuckle of my index finger, bubbling to a blister.

Back home, and in behind the settee I find my mother’s sewing box. Picking out the first needle I can locate beneath the sew-on SuperTed patches. Ghosts of childhood. I rush to the kitchen and the needle under the hot tap twinkles. I stare at the garden, the flowers in bloom, the birds on the shed roof and the washing line swaying, cotton school trousers dancing in the breeze. Stick it in. Burst. Pop. Plasma exits and pools on the ceramic tiles. I look for a towel. I see only the table and countless cups of rank, tepid, over-milked tea sitting on mismatched saucers. There’s a strange unfamiliar odour in the air, not perfume, not hairspray, not aftershave. It’s a toxin. A psychosomatic disruptor. An absence, an end.

Richard Proffitt is an artist whose exhibition Shadow the Solar Trail runs at VISUAL Carlow from 4 February – 14 May 2023.

Emma Martin’s exhibition KING | SHRINE, featuring performance and installation, also runs at VISUAL Carlow from 4 February – 14 May 2023.