13 March - 9 April 2009
Suspended Sentence is a new work in an ongoing body of work examining liminal space and text as abstract object.
A barbwire capital “I” hangs, suspended from the Kiosk ceiling, centred and fronting the windows north and south. Appearing first like a line drawing, the ‘I’ acquires depth on closer view through its failure to have a ‘back’ or ‘front’, and by virtue of being see-through, and ‘read through’ as letter, word, and number. In this way, the text / form operates simultaneously as content and context, object and frame.
Hooked to an 8500 volt electric current, the text is live. The repeating pulse of the current, witnessed by the red pulsating light on the energizer, turns the text on and off, at one second intervals, like a heartbeat, constantly remaking ‘I’.
Multiple “I’s” are found also in the possible alternative readings of ‘I’. Usually first read as the present tense first person pronoun, ‘I’ also indicates the Roman numeral ‘I’ - meaning first; an abbreviation for Island (I.); and in spiritual and religious contexts is associated with an omnipresent ‘I / God’. Suspended Sentence makes reference to New Zealand art history, the McCahon oeuvre, and themes of faith / doubt, identity and authenticity. The familiarity of the form means each viewer inevitably makes the work their own, completing the sentence beginning: “I … .”
Suspension and delay are in the formal properties of the work: a hung ‘I’, a sentence held in abeyance, the constant pause in the pulse of the electric current. In this expanded or stilled time, the form / text is ‘read’, ‘said’ or ‘seen’ as a space in a sentence allowing reflection, action or inaction; or simply silence. These split seconds of potential stillness contrast and conflict with a noisy daytime High Street square and intersection, and expand at night with the darker quiet.
A hot crown of thorns in a glazed sentry-box, Suspended Sentence parries with rules about electricity and public safety. Like a suspended sentence in criminal law, where imprisonment is delayed on the promise of compliant behaviour, the veracity of the installation is under scrutiny. As a closed, contained, earthed system - in view but out of reach - the work passes the test while not resolving anxiety. Barb wire and electric currents are harsh materials with close associations to suffering, war, exclusion, and containment. As common around prisons as they are around palaces, the materials hold their own memory of pulsing, twisted coils of wire: tempting the inquisitive and trapping the unwary.