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March 10, 2014 | by  | in Arts Visual Arts |
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Qualia 760-620λ – Review

Helen Calder: Qualia 760-620λ

Enjoy Gallery

Until 15 March

Sometimes it’s nice to be told where to look. You’re having an eye exam, for example, and you’re getting more intimate than you thought you ever would with the plastic machine pushed against your face. Someone is giving you instructions, and you’re weirdly comfortable because there’s little room for error. Later, you tell the optician that you’re colour-blind: you have trouble with greens and reds. You can tell the difference between the two, you can interpret tonal variation; you’re colour-blind because you’ve been told so, but you can’t explain how you see differently.

The word ‘qualia’ comes from the Latin ‘quale’ (meaning literally ‘what kind’), and is concerned with individual instances of subjective experience. It’s this space, where subjectivity reaches beyond elucidation, that concerns Helen Calder’s current exhibition at Enjoy.

The gallery is occupied by two metal racks. One, rectangular and wheeled, stands in the centre of the space; the other juts out from the left-hand wall. On each rack hang strips of commercial paint in tones of red, ranging from the highest to lowest frequency visible to the human eye.

The structures operate by implication. Reading a work of art is always contingent on each viewer’s individual inventory of experiences, and Calder’s work teases at this. Paint, in its release from pictorial space, is granted a physical presence. To be both what it is and isn’t. The metal bars strain under the weight of the forms and the room is, for a moment, an abattoir. The paint flesh. Rubbery, viscous and limp. In Calder’s work, bodily overtones are unrelenting. In the next moment, the forms adopt something comical about them: they become tongues, or giant fat fingers. The work inclines to both potential and deca, allowing for movement in its sparsity.

It’s difficult to tell where the work ends, whether the frames are mere accessory, whether the window and the wall-mounted frame are in conversation with each other. Calder’s work is playful and seductive; it subverts the masculinist tradition of the previous century’s abstraction; she allows you to enter the work at your own pace, and holds you once you’re in.

(PS for those of you who are interested, I’m down a further .5 in both eyes and my new glasses will make their campus debut this Friday.)

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