Julianna Foster’s Kirkwood (2011) photographs set a derelict cottage in a dense, encroaching forest. Mud, ash and paper scatter within its ripped walls and in an eerie dislocation of scale, a single flame stretches to threaten a whole room. It takes a few minutes to register that the house is a modest plywood model, deliberately damaged by the artist.
Conceptual artist Cornelia Parker’s destructive attentiveness to the domestic parallels Foster’s, providing clues in interpreting Kirkwood’s brokenness. Parker dynamited a garden shed and its contents, reanimating the charred remains in Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991), a shadowy installation suspended around a single lightbulb. From the perspective of Melanie Klein’s psychoanalysis, its ‘tableau of wreckage’ records latent drives formed before the acquisition of language, as infants act out their ambivalent feelings of threat and security in the home in relation to objects close at hand. Foster’s ravaged dolls house bears the scars of similar impulses, its double status as child’s toy and artist’s set-piece materializing Klein’s belief that we inhabit these early ‘subject positions’ throughout our adult lives.
Glowing, Kirkwood’s burning building deliberately references the arson of a rural cottage in Andrei Tarkovsky’s last film, The Sacrifice (1986). Across his oeuvre this dacha conveys the safety and warmth of an ideal home. Foster’s earlier photographic series From Morning On (2009) paid homage to the director’s pictorial, linear evocation of narrative through almost imperceptibly slow-moving shots. In contrast, Kirkwood divorces the dacha from this context, repeatedly isolating, inspecting and spoiling its interior in ways symptomatic of the Kleinian, pre-linguistic state in which we orient ourselves around objects and parts of objects, never the bigger picture. In the process, these images hint at a pulling away from storytelling and a turn towards exploring objects, materials and spaces in, and for, themselves.
Written for Julianna Foster’s Wind Challenge Series exhibition catalogue, forthcoming April 2013.