Emma McLay is a reclaimant exhibiting a phantasmagorical world of female body effectuation during and through to the other side of pregnancy, its landscape of intervention and isolating trials and tribulations, reclaiming autonomy. Visceral, Reclaimant is the evidence of revelation, the conversion of severe reality into sculpture, extracting firsthand knowledge, expounding on the enormity of experiences as a multiplex portrait through exceptional contexts.
It’s wonderful what a different life one leads inside, to outside – at least how unknown the inside one is. (Ida John to her aunt, Margaret Hinton.) ~ Augustus John: The New Biography, Michael Holroyd, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1996, pg. 168
Walking into Reclaimant, detonated amenable furore erupts from the gallery as confrontation, as requisite introspection to enable unrestricted scope of consideration through the facets of an excised being. Shells of memory, recursive truth presses to and bursts off walls, carcasses of attachment, insight distended to elucidate the magnitude of female power through abstracted corporeal dissemination, throughout maternity. McLay segregates critical bearing and grieving focal points, her insight converges as refractions of her original experiences, using materials appropriate to this process.
Primordium, histologically, the first differentiated stage in biological development occurs in Reclaimant as material gesticulation, emphasising core valuation. Varied, loss investigations through pregnancy and resulting events, McLay’s work is elaborate opulence, bold, disparate parts charged with material exploration, ontological. She wrestles with and subjugates personal tragedy, expounding tenderness through tough realization. Her work is not sentimental. Complexity is not ornamental, but she embellishes pride and discriminate perceptions. McLay redresses Baroque curvilinear sweeps as forms of anguish with exquisite elegance, floral filagre, consuming time. Dwelling on lithe strength, her work employs opaque substantiation. Quintessence transforms as painted lace impregnated with sand and supple swags of fabric. Drawing connections with pigment laden acrylic tethers, wood or metal cut-outs design mental conduits. McLay’s illustrates with consequential flourishes. Grief arches and bows; lives as compelling exposition.
Louise Bourgeois, about her work, Avenza :
They are anthropomorphic and they are landscapes also. Our own body could be considered, from a topographical point-of-view, a land with mounds and valleys and caves and holes. So it seems rather evident to me that our own body is a figuration that appears in mother earth. This is where these landscapes come from. Technically they are two kinds: there is the poured [latex] landscape that you actually cannot control, since it is poured; and there is a certain kind of sculptured and cut landscape... (Bourgeois, p.126.) Louise Bourgeois, exhibition catalogue, joint production of The Tate Modern and the Musée national d’art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, French Edition, 2008
McLay’s constructs employ a lot of poured acrylic paint, difficult to control, decanted metallic colour as copper viscera, pigment amalgams oozing in long and meandering interconnected strips, widened meshing cascades of inner landscapes. Carved wood laminate sheets, shadowy, delicately pattern. Swaths, as restitution, constitution wilting arc and hold inexact sensations. Irascible sensations are obfuscated by the discriminating combinations of slick paint traces and flourishing exploits.
Costae Fluitantes – Emma McLay. 2011
Photo courtesy Emma McLay.
Acrylic, powder pigment, rosewood, copper nails, wire
54 x 133 x 7”
Costae Fluitantes – Emma McLay. 2011 DETAIL
Photo courtesy Emma McLay.
Floating ribs outstretch to encompass an entire long wall. A deficient embrace suspends belief in a bodily scourge, tangled anatomy. Thick copper nails crucify the strain. Captivating, the reddish brown strips intimates as dried bled blood, infuses the pigment. Sustained aching, time hanging, carved rosewood leaves pleach poured acrylic, harnessed courses form caged entreats. Softly draped, confluence is intricate and prickly.
First published in Artforum, critic Cindy Nemser interviewed Eva Hesse in 1970.
I am interested in solving an unknown factor of life.
It’s not the artisan quality of the work, but the integrity of the piece... I’m not conscious of materials as a beautiful essence... I am interested in finding out through working on the piece some of the potential and not the preconceived.
Hysterosalpingogram – Emma McLay. 2011
(Record of a Uterine/ Fallopian tube x-ray)
Acrylic, powder pigment, walnut and cherry wood, copper, lead pewter, wire, glass, fabric
70 x 122 x 13”
Named Hysterosalpingogram, McLay depicts the physical sensibility involved while experiencing the X ray (s) of the uterus and fallopian tubes; usually done in diagnosing fertility, to investigate blockages, and especially, the outcome of the exam results. This gigantic sculpture occupies an entire wall. The feelings are huge, multifarious. Central, a cut body from wood laminate formed to the curvature of a woman’s body holds two fallopian tube extensions contorting with different manifestations. One, loaded with glass nuggets, sheltered with thin wood, as a cutaway from the bounds of physicality has a single delicate tendril of wrought metal connecting it to the core, the other begins at the central body form, with lead and treated copper adornment tangled in difficult churning reaching the ovary realized with vascular branches, stormy bearing. Although tresses of fabric adorn, wire punctuates. The whole work is heavy with heartache.
The attribution of significance doesn’t depend on pure intellect which, in examining things analytically, attributes meaning and objective values which morals have incessantly imposed upon us. The attribution of significance depends on the body which, coming into the world and growing up under given circumstances, is provided with a certain meaning and a certain value and so feels things differently. The body does not receive the action of things; the action is only the significance that the body attributes to things.
~ Umberto Galimberti, Il Corpo (The Body), Milan, 1987, p 114.
Lex Caesarea – Emma McLay. 2010 – 2011
(Blind Covenant/Imperial Law)
2010 – 2011
Acrylic, mica, walnut wood, lead pewter, imitation silver leaf, sand, fabric, wire
66 x 55 x 17”
Caesarean delivery of a fetus by surgical incision through the mother’s abdominal wall and uterus erroneously refers to the story that Julius Caesar was born that way. For centuries this procedure was performed after the mother had died, to save the child. Lex Caesarea translates from Latin as ‘blind covenant’ or ‘imperial law’, is the blind trust, without question in the medical profession, contemporary imperialists, and grand imposition that a Caesarean entails, the aftermath of the invasive surgery on a woman’s body, even when both mother and baby live. The work is a visage of emptiness and grace, fabric flounce with an upper bonnet of walnut wood cut as lacey, sand encrusted acrylic painted ephemera, the delicate but gritty pattern of reminiscence. Motherhood and babyhood surround the vacancy of hanging flesh.
From: Of Woman Born by Adrienne Rich, 1976. p. 98, ‘Bearing in mind, then, that we are talking not about “inner space” as some determinant of woman’s proper social function, but about primordial clusters of association, we can see the extension of the woman/vessel association (It must be also borne in mind that in primordial terms the vessel is anything but a “passive” receptacle: it is transformative – active, powerful.)
Venerande Ciborium – Emma McLay. 2012 – 2013
Acrylic, walnut wood, feathers, glass, imitation gold and silver leaf, wool, wire
51 x 44 x 7”
Venerande Ciborium – Emma McLay. 2012 – 2013 DETAIL
Photo courtesy Emma McLay.
From Looking at Giacometti By David Sylvester. Photographs by Patricia Matisse. 160 pp. New York: A John Macrae Book/ Henry Holt & Company:
‘It might be supposed that realism consists in copying a glass as it is on the table,' Giacometti said. 'In fact, one never copies anything but the vision that remains of it at each moment, the image that becomes conscious. You never copy the glass on the table; you copy the residue of a vision... Each time I look at the glass, it seems to be remaking itself, that is to say its reality becomes uncertain, because its projection in my head is uncertain, or partial. You see it as if it were disappearing, coming into view again, disappearing, coming into view again - that's to say, it really always is between being and not being. And that is what one wants to copy. ‘
Venerande Ciborium translates from the Latin as revered drinking cup, or revered food and came to be known as an architectural feature in a church, a vaulted canopy permanently placed over an altar, as well as the covered receptacle for holding the consecrated wafers of the Eucharist. Medically, the ciborium refers to a vesicle, a fluid filled cavity, and a cyst.
There are many kinds of cysts, and reproductively, dermoid cysts that contain humanoid material and teratomas cause the most reproductive complications. Within the body, the sizes of these formations are usually relatively small, but no matter the type or size, these formations can cause significant havoc influencing reproductive efficacy. They can be a massive impediment.
McLay venerates a formidable adversary. She constructed a receptacle that confiscates, altering the membranous swollen entity for intellectual consumption. Wall hung, an enlargement of sophisticated phenomena is heart shaped to emulate her grief and invested desire. An appliqué of carved walnut sheathing, filamentous, intertwined with fibrous wool, wire and acrylic webbing form a shroud. Centrally, the sculpture is laid bare, with a refined treatment, sheer and nakedly exposing the skin. Marking the opening, feathers, although appearing to dangle are secured randomly. Flanges, the dark plumes are highly contrasting to the form and lacy layering. Feather knives distinguish the skin toned work. Incising and edgy, McLay referencing aviary languish seems a tease, regarding ovary anguish, the ambiguity of the draught of what must be left behind.
Myometrial Vascularity – Emma McLay. 2010 – 2011
(Devastation, ravaging/veins of uterine muscles)
Acrylic, powder pigment, micro beads, cherry wood, imitation gold leaf, fabric, wire
65 x 30 x 14”
There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. ― Maya Angelou
Tissue blood system within and over the muscular wall of the uterus weeps from this ovoid sculpture. Enveloped in stream and cascade, coursing wispy vein filaments, McLay’s Myometrial Vascularity is an empty baby shaped cocoon, vacuousness. The work is vulviform, the shape of a ravaged womb covering. Imitation gold leaf accentuates the costly, intangible commodity of a missed opportunity. Shadows’ depths cut: devastation. Apparitions of withheld realization sheathes, fracturing dismay prettily.
From: Kiki Smith A Diary of Fluids and Fears (Interview by Francsco Bonami (1993) Flash Art International, Milan, Italy, January/February 1993.
FB: So you think the more we know about our body parts the more we are in power of ourselves?
KS: Well, you have more control of whoever is dumping their beliefs on your head. At least you know who owns you at a given moment. But to me it’s more interesting to know the different meanings of what skin means to you, your liver...
KS: It’s more a way of describing our relationship of being physical and our relationship with other people’s physicality.
FB: You are dealing then with the process of being, and the body is the result of this process.
KS: It’s a form of being here, it’s a vehicle. You write a diary with your body.
KS: You can look at anything and see how life relates to it.
FB: A kind of palm reading.
KS: What is inside of you is about your history. Your body is like a mandala, you focus on a point and you see all the connections surrounding it.
FB: In the end your works are like body fluids: you create an equivalence.
KS: They express what I am in the same way. They are not trying to prove anything except that I am here, and what I care about. They create a panorama where everything is connected to yourself.
Recro Cunabula – Emma McLay. 2013
(Reviving the Cradle)
Acrylic, powder pigment, walnut wood, glass, sand, wool, yarn, wire and wire mesh
57 x 47 x 12”
Recro Cunabula – Emma McLay. 2013 DETAIL
Photo courtesy Emma McLay.
Mother Reader: Essential Literature on Motherhood. p. 81, “To understand is always an ascending movement; that is why comprehension ought always to be concrete. (one is never got out of the cave, one comes out of it.) ~ Simone Weil, First and Last Notebooks’
“Omnia mutantur, nihil interit (everything changes, nothing perishes).”
― Ovid, Metamorphoses
With effusive facility, Recro Cunabula is a cradle and a shield. Knitting consternation to acrylic paint, dredging mystification, McLay contorts materials towards an assertive, reworking of interwoven feats. This staunch sculpture shows no frailty. Here, ribs are cut wide and strong, brighter, a little askew for wear, but gleam. Inside she has merged roving (wool), knitted yarn, swatches torn and reassembled, wire mesh cut, embedded with shiny crystalline glass, an anomalous entity tucked into the hold, piecemeal - all stuck together within, a collage of domestic familiarity and structural matter, a memory collage. But the breastplate armour is thick and reflective, a new fortitude.
The idea is that the object has a language unto itself. (Anish Kapoor)
Unrestrained, well earned spectacular assertions, McLay’s bold curvilinear works of stained forms declare elaborate suffering. Jewelled metal nets speak of alien formations. Eerie wood recapitulates body’s tumult between avoidance and fighting. Eddies of swirling lead, carving malleable patina caught in dredged acrylic strips, fabric festoons are all tides of feelings, as well as a release of her physical corrosion and memories of medical proceedings, surgery.
Guarded anatomical intercisions, survival made explicit are operatic in their culmination of earnest, vociferous projections, radiantly expounding sincerity. Alluring and gracefully intuitive vindications, Mclay’s poised sculpture articulates sagacity within the absurdities we encounter because of what we live through, what she has lived through. McLay’s disparate confluence of interior spaces opposing exterior perambulations entreat, assert a vulnerable potency.
1 -24 November 2013
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