Ken Gonzales-Day: St. James Park (The Wonder Gaze), 2006-08, 305 x 711 cm; image held here

Under erasure, or ‘sous rature’ en français belongs to the world of literary theory as the “typographical expression of deconstruction.” [ 1] The term ‘erasure’ was coined by German philosopher Martin Heidegger and further elaborated by Jacques Derrida when analyzing the power and consequences of deletion. Fortunately, the exhibition does not delve too deeply into this.

John Duncan displays a large photograph of an over-painted regimental banner from a Northern Ireland street scene, still semi-visible beneath the white surface; we are led to suspect that the past is not so easily covered over and the accompanying sentiment not so easily forgotten. Candice Breitz also ‘whitens out’ with tipp-ex full sentences, paragraphs or just seemingly sporadic words from the text of a cheap romance novel in her Ghost write series. In doing so she invites the viewer into the game of attempting to reconstruct the narrative itself or accidentally creating their own. Similarly, Lidwien van de Ven encourages us to probe the reasoning behind her photographic choice and, again, derive our own personal meaning. She engages us on a deeper, more tentative, provocative level, willing us into investigating why we can only barely read the word ‘nation’ from beneath a blotted out wall in her work Jerusalem 24/04/2006 (Memorial Day). Duncan and van de Ven echo one another in terms of (literally) underlying political commentary, though to varying degree. Richard Galpin exploits his own photography of city drama by peeling away pieces of the surface, imbuing the original image with an alien calm. For me, however, it is the works of Ken Gonzales-Day and Idris Khan that have left their mark.

Lidwien van de Ven: Jerusalem 24/04/2006 (Memorial Day), 2007, digital print on paper 200 x 200 cm; image held here

Ken Gonzales-Day, in his Erased lynching series, contends with the hidden history of lynching and vigilantism in west America during the period 1850-1935 by selectively erasing the persecuted, hanging figure out of the image, leaving us with what we know should be there but purposefully is not. Erasure throws a flare to the horizon of historical denial. Gonzales-Day further breaks with the black/white polemic inextricably bound to lynching by introducing the substantiated fact, that out of 350 California lynching he found records for, most of the victims were Latin American.

The images that unite to form this emotive series are the edited reproductions of images and snippets of information garnered from myriad sources, such as current newspapers, souvenir postcards, and individual memoirs detailing lynchings. By subjecting these images to ‘erasure’, Gonzales-Day draws our attention away from where one would expect it to go. Your gaze falls haplessly onto the assembled mob suspended within the  morbid emptiness of each scene. The gatherings of nameless, essentially symbolic, people that permeate the majority of the works displayed enables the focus to shift to the acerbic and elementary power and capabilities of hate. Gonzales-Day lures us into recognising and acknowledging the chilling participatory nature of the audience. Death is made spectacle: a product of community-driven violence given a sense of perverse normality. Looking at these images, I can’t help but wonder if Gonzales-Day is raising the troublesome question of whether we have been immunized by what we expect and accept? “In the end,” Gonzales-Day asserts, “ the project documents something that really took place, but relocates that history in the present.” [2]

Idris Khan: Every…page of the Holy Quran,2004, edition of 5 with 2x APs, Lamda digital C print mounted on aluminium, 127 x 152 cm; image held here

In Idris Khan’s Every…page of the Holy Quran, the Quran is thrown at us in one immediate instant in a photograph. Individually photographed pages are superimposed layer after layer until the words ripple incoherently beneath one another. This obsessive, fixated layering cancels the book’s primary function – it emerges unreadable. Khan’s work is compelling not by virtue of its possible controversies of imbuing a sacred text with connotations of illegibility when viewed in this manner, but visually captivating as words seem to leak out of the blurred opaque centre – the book binding – and synthesize into one rhythmic, pulsating monochromatic whole.

Though viewing the work in isolation and within our western social context, one must remain aware that he has placed other literary texts and renown images under the same conditions, such as Every…page from Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida or Every…page of Vilem Flasser’s ‘Towards a Philosophy of Photography’, taking us away from potentially rocky ground. It is apparently the artistic process involved in creating an image in reference to erasure theory that is of importance, not any socially or politically contentious issues that may arise due to subject choice. Erasure in this case takes on the form of obscuring the original image within itself rather than deleting from it. An air of intense cerebral curiosity pervades Khan’s work, in contrast to the more emotional sentiments linked to Gonzales-Day’s work, and that is what lasts.

[1] Taylor, VE & Winquist, Encyclopedia of Post-modernism, Taylor & Francis, London, p113
[2] Interview with Ken Gonzales-Day – Jennifer Flores Sternad

Katarzyna Murphy is a graduate of History and History of Art and Architecture at Trinity College Dublin.