University of Melbourne, AU
Life Must First Imitate Matter
Day 2, 10 November, Orpheus Penthouse, 9:30-10:00 and on view
This is a small exhibition of sculptural experiments-in-progress in mixed media, including phosphorescent honey, paper, and plaster. The works touch on the themes of double affirmation and “couples and coupling” in the thought of Deleuze by focusing on two of his “cold creatures of resentment,” Ariadne and Venus.
Both Venus and Ariadne are identified with astrological phenomena. Transits of Venus are among the rarest of predictable astronomical phenomena, the last one occurred on 5 June 2012. In mythological accounts, Ariadne’s crown is set as the small constellation of stars, Corona Borealis, visible in the Northern Celestial Hemisphere. My small experiments trace the intricate pattern of Venus transiting the sun, as well as Ariadne’s metamorphosis into a constellation of stars—her luminous rebirth of “perpetual virginity.”
Deleuze describes how Masoch’s Venus initiates a flow of desire, characterised by waiting and suspense becoming a plenitude of “physical and spiritual intensity.” Images thicken and slow. They gather as frozen reflections in the tain of a mirror or lens. In the frozen silence of the steppe and other geographic and celestial cartographies, “woman and animal become indiscernible.” Bringing these two ideas together one might think of Mallarmé, who describes “a quarrelsome and agonising frame, of a mirror hung up in the back (of a room), with its reflection, stellar and incomprehensible, of the Ursa Major,” a constellation depicted as a bear in celestial cartographies. The mirror forms the zone of indiscernibility between human, animal, and stellar anatomies as reflected in the linguistic structure of the sonnet itself. Matter reflects life as life reflects art.
In another night sky, Ariadne’s lament of abandonment dissolves into lightness as she draws closer to Dionysus. The architectural burden, of carrying and bearing the weight of Theseus’s labyrinth, gives way to the radiant and sonorous labyrinth of Dionysus. Ariadne acquires “small ears: the round ear, propitious to the eternal return.” The labyrinth becomes the ear, the circle, a ritornello, or a ring of shimmering stars. Venus and Ariadne offer a techne that functions as a practice for living. While a wound or misfortune embodied is not always visible, the opposite is true for the “splendour and brightness which dry up misfortune.” If we understand the “splendour and magnificence” of the event as the luminous yet mysterious moment of “the immaculate conception,” as Deleuze writes in The Logic of Sense, then we see that life is not something that happens accidentally to us. When purely expressed, the event “signals and awaits us” as one might imagine a pregnancy to come, the unborn, as it were. Untangled from their own suffering and resentment, Ariadne and Venus become regenerating organisms, perpetually affirming the potentiality of life. This is their luminous style, their “great and rare art.”
By mapping Ariadne and Venus through the thought of Deleuze, I experiment through art, exploring how following a thread of light, a flow or movement of matter, a vibration or trembling, one may discover patterns, rhythms, and velocities for living.
Elizabeth Presa is a Melbourne-based visual artist whose work often engages with philosophy and traverses a wide range of references from animals to philosophy, literature to feminism. She is the Head of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Ideas, in the Faculty of the VCA+MCM, The University of Melbourne.