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Michael Curran - Profile

By Louisa Minkin


'Live in fragments no longer. Only connect...'
E.M. Forster

'He wanted to put the pieces of ice together so that they formed a word but he could not remember what the word was.'
Hans Christian Andersen

Okay, get up and turn out the lights. Just you and your soft screen in a darkened room. Are you are looking through into another space? In the half-light, as the video streams, you imagine that Orpheus is about to lead you into the grotto. Don't look back! At the threshold you hesitate, feeling two contrary emotions: 'Fear of the threatening dark grotto, desire to see whether there were any marvellous thing in it.' If you were in a Cocteau film you would fall through the mirror right now, breaking the surface like Narcissus. In this realm of broken mirrors, kaleidoscopic reflections, shifting images you can make your own maps and connections. The thin film of the screen is the surface of representation. You can see yourself in it. In Michael Curran's work you may find representations of your mythic psyche, the dramatis personae of your subconscious, hauntings. Remember: 'All the characters and incidents portrayed here are purely fictional'.


'Predicting the future... predicting the future...'
Love in a Cold Climate

The film has begun. You are being led by torchlight through an empty mansion, choosing your way as if by accident among the labyrinths of similar itineraries. The adventure is narrated by fragmented voices. The beam of the torch searches here and there. At last it falls on the cast of a face, a death mask, made stone by the gaze of Medusa. I Can See my Way Home. You may only look at Medusa in a mirror or you risk petrifaction. No small hazard. Freezing and turning to stone are the autonomic fear responses of the embodied viewer. You simply can't help yourself. You must use reflection here. Have you seen Louise Bourgeois use the mirror as a weapon? See the silvered glass as the axis of Michael's work. Fall through the mirror of self-identification. Think with Kristeva of Narcissus, the youth who thrusts his image into the spring. But rather than drown in self-absorption, imagine that the love object of Narcissus is psychic space; representation itself: fantasy. The 'film' of water: its infra-thin meniscus, poises the image between coming into existence and passing out. Now watch All My Little Ducks. Michael is crouched like Narcissus before a bowl of water. He ducks his head repeatedly, self-absorbed, drowning in the act despite the echoing taunts of passers-by.


The dancer goes in and out, yet never quits the ring. He deliberately advances into Evil. He plunges into it headlong and with a sort of hideous courage, in a rhythm which transcends Dance but seems graphic of Disease. And we imagine we see him emerging and vanishing by turn. He goes in and out.'
Antonin Artaud

Here you can see him skipping. He is upside down, because you are looking into another room through a lens set into a wall, the cornea of the camera obscura. Think about the sealing and unsealing of the spy hole in Duchamp's Etant Donnés: closing and opening makes fluid the distinction between inner and outer space. Putting your eye to the lens you can see him skipping naked, to exhaustion. As the rope rhythmically falls, listen to him: 'When you fall like a stone one must not think, if one thinks then one must not fall.'
The incantation generates both hypnosis and gnosis; invokes the desire for transcendence and a pathological urge to fall. Is he Icarus, Sisyphus, Tantalus? Myth is born in ritual acts. Repetition engenders excitation and exhaustion; nauseating iteration, over and over again. You may get a glimpse of Hermann Nitsch, and the work of the Viennese Aktionsgruppe.


The address to the screen is direct here. It is like a painting; a flagellation.

Or like the hologram of a man being brutally beaten which is conjured in your living room in Lucas' THX 1138. The repetition is so compulsive that you remember it as a still image, a tableau. If you think about it, this deferral has a masochistic relation to time. See Desire as a tableau - always involving suspension, freezing the moment. Watch Portfolio, little birth, little death of the onanist, to the rhythm of masturbation. The mantra you hear is the catalogue from Derrida's exhibition "Memoirs for the Blind". He comes just as we hear 'the Head of Medusa.. ; red chalk'. We turn to stone. What is the image? Already-no-more. Still here. What comes after the staging of repetition? A beginning again. Dead Wall Reverie presents you with a white screen, another blinding, as a voice divines for you a series of images. If you shut your eyes and press gently you will see phosphene images, radiant snowflakes. The word also generates images by the impression of sound on your eardrum.


'It is you who have wakened my love, so troubling when conveyed by such a shady flower...It is evident that if one expresses love with the aid of a flower, it is the corolla rather than the useful organs that becomes the sign of desire...It seems in fact that desire has nothing to do with ideal beauty, or, more precisely that it only arises in order to stain and wither that beauty…The most admirable flower for that reason would not be represented as the faded expression of an angelic ideal, but, on the contrary, as a filthy and glaring sacrilege.'

Amami se Vuoi - Love me if you want. You can't help but think of flowers, of the act of pollination. This seems strange when you also feel confounded by the act staged here while a sweet chanson plays. He is stretched naked across a table. He puts out a cigarette and addresses the camera, 'okay, can you put it on', a second man approaches, leans over him and spits into his mouth, over and over again. You keep watching. Eye to the keyhole, eye to the lens, spit in your eye.
In the Miracle of the Rose, Genet imagines spit replaced by rose petals; so Bataille invokes the disconcerting gesture of the Marquis de Sade, who had the most beautiful roses brought to him only to pluck off their petals and toss them into a ditch filled with liquid manure. Mouth to mouth then. The gobs of spit are a gift. Pleasure is inflicted. We are frozen before the image.


'Hush! Caution! Echoland!'

Michael's works exist in different forms, as live performance, as performance to camera; as installation and as screen works. They move from action to fiction, from black box to white cube and back again. In a hall of mirrors each action is multiplied so that production and reception inflect and reflect each other. Together they become the event of narration. Bakhtin describes this event as the chronotope, time-space: the place where the knots of narrative tie and untie. In Closing, close by… the secret green theatre of Antonioni's Blow-Up is inflected by new stories as the artists read alternately from possible scenarios. The pages are illuminated by matches. Each phrase lasts as long as the yellow match light. Occasionally they burn their fingers. The narration is punctuated by darkness. The threads of stories lead you through the labyrinth and into the breathing daylight of Marion Wilson Park. The catalogue of Botticelli's drawings for Dante is on Michael's desk. You are reminded to seek wisdom in the darkness, not just in the light.


'Instructions for the meeting in the forest'.

In the installation, the monitors are on high lighting tripods, like bird-cages. Here he is, running out of the forest towards the camera with a horn taped to his head. He does it again and again, butting the camera like a unicorn. At this point the eye of the camera is going to be obliterated, blind-spotted. He digs into your blind spot. [Later on in Natalya he buries the camera. You can hear it. The eye of the camera is dead, but the ear persists.] In moving through the gallery space, you have a series of encounters, thwarted seductions, collapsed fantasies. On a second monitor is a winged figure confined in an attic. A flapping Eros. On a third, he reads the story of the Chinese boxes to you. It is the incantation of a sorcerer from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. There are a series of elliptical shots of a figure rolling in the darkness, another meowing like a cat. The heavy cabling around the floor cannot help but remind you of Medusa's snakes. Lying on the floor he mutters 'you are the author, you are the author'. He makes you the author, turning your eyes inside on yourself, like the mirrored contact lenses of Giovanni Penone.


Images and stories reposition each other.

One form of connection is a fistula. This is a passage or canal, either artificial or of morbid origin, which connects one thing to the other. It is bodily, underground, rhizomatic in structure. Fistula, scripted by Osnat Haber, is narrated by the voice of a machine. A love story; a desire story; a story waiting for another story; a limbo populated by spectres of femininity.

All of these pieces are Visits of Love. In these encounters do you notice how your gender and sexuality shift: man to man, woman to woman, woman to man? Identity is applied, a tilt to the eyebrow. You are making yourself up. The depth is already on the surface. If you watch Les Souffrances Du Dubbing you will find that there is a waterfall, a gorgeous transvestite mouthing the voices of several women. It is all artifice, the waterfall disappears and we see the blue screen of our keyed-in imaginary.
In L'heure autosexuelle there is no relation between man and woman. They are in the same room but his absurd eroticism exists in a different space to her ennui. They never make contact, no matter how he disports himself, pea-cocking in leather gloves. His gyrations are futile. She yawns.

'They can very well try to find each other; they will never find anything but parodic images, and they will fall asleep as empty as mirrors'.


Venus must hide herself in a vast fur lest she catch cold in our abstract northern climate.

Let us make a pilgrimage to visit Rubens' painting of his wife Helene in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna: a beautiful woman naked beneath her dark furs.
Imagine yourself caught on surveillance camera in the guise of Sacher-Masoch's Severin, her bare foot resting nonchalantly on your back. Think about how the painting is frozen in time as an artefact of the museum process. The incursion presented in Das Pelzchen fractures time for a second, puts a stop on your heart. It reminds us of the activity and agency of a still image. It gives it life. A strange shattering of time occurs, a point of overlap between the words of Sacher-Masoch, the love of Rubens, and a point in the now. In Love in a Cold Climate a museologist, speaking of Inuit artefacts, declares:

'To give them life you have to give them movement. Movement, like light, we need to control, to make sure that the objects stay with us.' So the invasion into the museum enacted in Das Pelzchen, parodies the conundrum of care, the death riddle of love. You can only preserve the object by freezing it, by stopping the second hand of time. In seeking to possess the love object you risk its loss.


'The image of the loved one appears, first of all with a precarious brilliance. It illuminates and at the same time frightens the one who follows it with his eyes.'

You can see Michael's search for the Snow Queen as a reflection in time of Sacher-Masoch's pursuit of Venus in Furs. Twin drives are embodied here: Thanatos and Eros. The epistemology of Love in a Cold Climate is imprinted like a series of psychic birthmarks throughout the earlier work. The shards of Hans Christian Andersen's broken mirror reflect and deflect the thematics to produce fractured narratives, false starts and indeed, 'the opposite of a cliff-hanger'. Storytelling, like the camera obscura allows a play of moving images onto the surface of your psyche. There is a structural complicity with dreaming, with its incubation in dark places. As you light the lamp or switch on the projector, you will find a crystalline construction that refracts and diffracts rainbows of narrative, fistulae and paths between here and there, now and then.

'And are these paths only detours, detours from you to you? But they are among how many others, the paths on which language becomes voice. They are encounters, paths from a voice to a listening You, natural paths, outlines for existence perhaps, for projecting ourselves into the search for ourselves…A kind of homecoming.'

Do not be deceived, this last lamp does not give more light - the dark has only become more absorbed in itself.'

Louisa Minkin is an artist and currently Head of Painting at Camberwell College of Art.

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