Gillian Lawler. This Entropic Order

by | 20 Dec, 2018

All around [St Ignatius Church in Centralia], smoke was hovering wispily off the ground, and just behind it, great volumes of smoke were billowing from the earth over a large area. I walked over and found myself on the lip of a vast cauldron, perhaps an acre in extent, which was emitting thick, cloud like, pure white smoke […]. The ground felt warm and was loosely covered in a fine ash.

Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods, Broadway Books, New York, 1998.

Gillian Lawler continues her spatial exploration with This Entropic Order, an exhibition of work which infuses the idea of place, organisation, relocation and transformation through different states of being.

Relocation, oil on canvas, 75 x 80 cm, 2018.

Relocation, oil on canvas, 75 x 80 cm, 2018.

Lawler has always claimed to be attracted to places abandoned causes and/or environmental disasters, as evident by her visit to the city of Centralia (Pennsylvania, USA), a place where a severe environmental disaster occurred in the early 1960s causing not only damage to the local flora and fauna but also to inhabitants who had been forced out of their homes since the 1980s. This tragedy is highlighted in the exhibition eminent domain (2014-2015) where the sense. of abstraction and metaphysics gives rise to reflection on uninhabited architecture and spaces. Lawler’s work encompasses the idea of suspended spaces where life is interrupted to relocate to other places that she represents through her figurative syntax via the use of lines and vector triangles. The paintings become “window onto the world” that testifies to human absence and suggests alternative survival possibilities. As in The ideal city of Urbino, Lawler establishes an aesthetic of the simulation through perspective and luminous manifestations of the sublime and the metaphysical.

The symbolic use of perspective is an intellectual operation that contrasts, with the use of diapositives, real and unreal. These two categories of thought coexist in the work, manipulating the images of devastation collected by Lawler in the streets of Centralia. The alteration and introduction of colours reiterate the artist’s desire to denounce a place with apocalyptic appearances and introduces us to the unreal dimensions of cyberspaces generated by computers. The visual deformation as a figurative effect is rendered moreover by the presence of smoke as a perturbing element that mediates the vision of the work and subjects represented by creating a visual filter between the observer and the painting.

The most unusual perspectives of her paintings bring forth from its frames suspended platforms, underground tumuli that emerge as presences-absences of a civilisation that has disappeared or is in the process of destruction. Solid but at the same time vulnerable forms emerge from the oblivion of desolate and barren backgrounds in which contemporary man often finds himself living because of his own actions.

Islands isolated by linguistic definition, abandoned or uninhabitable buildings are the object-worlds that appear as a warning in the paintings of Gillian Lawler. It is no coincidence that they serve as a warning to the assumption that the sculptural function of a monument, of moneo, from the Latin “ricordo”, is a memory of a past that reveals a solitary and precarious present.

Her tangible and protruding forms are wrecked within ethereal landscapes contrasting the inconsistency of the background from which sometimes lines of force emerge, almost as if to anchor the special universe to the sky before their sinking. In her recent exhibition Hiraeth, a Welch term used to refer to the pain of loving place, the artist refers to her remotest and recondite past, to the rural places of her home land, a place now which only exist in her childhood memories. The uncertain platforms or unusual reliefs that populate her paintings are to be considered in this case as connections between heaven and earth, between spirit and matter, an upward movement that pushes man towards elevation. This is a call to Tibetan asceticism that elevates the spirits of the deads through the jhatorrite.This celestial burial involves the exposition of the corpse on the peaks of the Himalayas to be eaten by the vultures following the cycle of life. This ascetic process is not the only ontological theme faced by the artist who also focuses her attention on the mystical and mysterious boundaries of space-time.

In This Entropic Orderthis type of physical suspension turns into a kind of spiritual, abstract and metaphysical suspension. In Lawler’s paintings everything is blocked, immobilised, as in the most perfect idea of still-life. And it is precisely on this temporal category placed on the threshold of life and death, in that instant of eternal present, in a place idealised by the mind of the artist on which the figuration dwells. The artist challenges the limits of perspective with a multiplicity of planes and with the articulation of shadows through an executive minutiae that introduces us to the many components of an abstract space geometrically constructed in which time is infinite.

The infinite thus becomes part of the indefinite overcoming the Cartesian limits to reach, by Lawler’s painting, a semantic equivalence between the two terms conforming to the Hegelian assertion, “the infinite belongs to the divine; the human can only come to the indefinite”. It is the discursive syntax that reveals the fundamental restlessness of the artist’s gaze, her melancholy tending to something, showing off a rich spatial and temporal articulation of the gaze that is continually renewed through the absence of the frame. The lack of this artifice allows a continuity between simulated space and real space, represented space and spectator’s space. The spatial continuity determines in this way an effect of reality and presence that is a constitutive of the idea of wonder in the Latin meaning of mirabiliaand, at the same time, producing a metaphor of temporality through the figurative re-elaboration of the present “existential” contained in the painting. It is the painter’s time, blocked in an immobile instant, that bears witness to the Dasein, the being-there, of every human existence.

Heidegger, Being and time, SCM Press, London, 1962.
Francastel, Lo spazio figurative dal Rinascimento al Cubismo, Einaudi, Torino, 1967.
G.W.F. Hegel, Aesthetics. Lectures on Fine Art, [tr. Of T.M.Knox], Clarendon University Press, Oxford, 1975.
L.B. Alberti, On Painting, [tr. Of R. Sinisgalli], Cambridge University Press, 2011.