‘I called “The Bride” a delay in glass (…) as if it were the projection of a four-dimensional object’ said Marcel Duchamp in a conversation about his vast multi-layered work The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) (1915–23).(1) He meant by this that the images of the Bride and her machineries of desire and thwarted consummation that hang suspended in the transparent plane of the free-standing glass were to be seen as a two dimensional registration – a trace or trapping – of time: the fourth dimension. A ‘delay’ is a slowing down, a pausing, a moment from the multitude moments that constitute the life of an act or event. The Large Glass offers us a singular image from a baroque, onanistic narrative that stretches forwards and backwards in time; it is as if it is a screen or slide cutting across, presenting us with a synchronic section that is frozen and held.
Anne Vibeke Mou’s work builds on the idea of the ‘delay’ and expands from this into a compelling exploration of how materials may effect a momentary suspension in the dialectics of change and entropy and fix, for a time, process and narrative. The word ‘delay’ also serves to remind us that the glass that used to contain Duchamp’s images was itself only seemingly static. Were we able to see the wider chronology of glass speeded up, we would realise that its hard reflective surface is itself a moment grabbed, retarded and delayed from the material’s essentially liquid state.
In Relic a pane of old window glass has been re-contexturalised: it has been removed from the building that framed it, extracted from the line that delineated the inside and outside (the line that it itself defined). Here, now, reframed, we have the screen itself, rather than the ‘projected shadows’ of narrative, but this focus only serves to draw the absent narratives inexorably to the minds eye. The framed glass conjures up the procession of events and actions that the glass framed in the past, the light that radiated from a universe of stories and images – that we can no longer know – has passed through it. Relic has community with other iconic transformations, other projections of ‘four dimensional event(s)’. Renaissance paintings of the Immaculate Conception often showed a beam of sunlight passing through a window pane to shine onto the Virgin inside a room. The light passing through the solid glass without breaking or piercing it was seen as analogous for the word of God entering the body of the Virgin.
The ghost story ‘A View from a Hill’ by M.R. James features a pair of binoculars that included in their making matter taken from a nearby ancient grave. When the local landscape is seen through the lens, it is seen as it was in the past (‘as if through a dead man’s eyes’). Relic suggests we extend such uncanny physics to consider that the past may be contained in glass: that the past events that travelled as electrons through the membrane in front of us (a membrane that not only separates the inside from the outside but the past from the present) may have left some trace, or been trapped in the medium, as if in a cloud-chamber. Has the glass been transmuted, changed, by the energy of past events?
The trapping of a moment of change and flux shape Anne Vibeke Mou’s series of untitled drawings. Here a inchoate cloud is both generated and defined: the pictures imply that what we see is about to shift, that we are seeing the image of a great transformation, a boiling and broiling of diffuse matter. At the same time the physical nature of the graphite used to make these images claims that it is fixed, slowed, in the same way that atomic and sub-atomic events only become determined and defined by the act of observation and recording.
In The Glass Wall, the sheets of glass have become so imprinted and effected by the past, by events, by the clouds of particles that have battered the surface, attempted to pass through, that the material is transmuting. It has started to reverse, to mirror its nature: rather than the glass sheets being transparent they are becoming misted, opaque. They are registrations which now stand, almost mutely, in the present. By refusing our gaze through them they seem to deny the future: we can no longer see what lies ahead. They become silent, their surface deadened and they hover between the syntax of light and the syntax of the lack of light. The large slumped depression in one of the sheets speaks both of impact and extraction. It too, flickers between the past and present. On one hand it is as if some large form or force in the past has tried to pass through but been refused, rejected. Conversely it seems to talk of some future change, a giving way, a slump only momentarily delayed; The Glass Wall rests in a suspension between these states. That the depression is a similar scale to the human body makes the relationship of the wall to us corporeal and it is transformed into something that perhaps has held the animate and which might again contain the animate: a barrier that we might press against and may close behind us as we pass through it. The shadowy volume recalls Le Corbusier’s modernist abstractions of Vetruvian man and the cool green surfaces are those of the glass panels that define the functional abstract spaces of the modern office, house or clinic. Mou’s wall, however, not only offers the possibility of containing and articulating an infinity of spaces, but of transporting us to unknowable places from where we may not return.