Exhibitions Archive

  • Display Cabinets:
    Sophie Sleigh-Johnson
    'Chthonic Index'
  • 21 July to 17 October 2015

Focal Point Gallery is pleased to present ‘Chthonic Index’, a two-part project between Focal Point Gallery and Southend’s Central Museum. For the work, Southend-based artist and writer Sophie Sleigh-Johnson investigates the idea of the ‘flicker’, a term used to describe a moment in flux, emphasising the oscillating space between light, inscription and objects.

For the project, Focal Point Gallery’s foyer cabinets are transformed into a closed or hermetic display space, which appear unfinished or in a state of shift.

A series of partly-obscured objects and artworks, placed within the cabinet, reveal shifting connections between temporalities. Fragments of Mesopotamian cuneiform (the earliest known written language) occupy the same space as a library photocopier, which has been used to produce a series of blown-up elements of the artist’s written text, tentatively proposing a hidden archaeology of the present. Reference to the flash of a photocopier simultaneously

instigates a further flickering instant within this moment of inscription, an alternation between appearance and essence; reality and representation.

Stoneage artefacts, which were discovered in the Thames Estuary and are on loan from Southend Central Museum, draw a parallel between the Mesolithic landscape of Doggerland (an area of land now buried under the North Sea), and Mesopotamia, a word derived from the Ancient Greek for ‘land between the rivers’.

A related hour-long audio work will play daily at 12:00 noon, in Southend Museum, while a replacement plinth, bearing some of the artist’s text, has been inserted into the museum space, where the Mesolithic artefacts typically stand; an inversion of sort.

Artist text:

Lights from speeding mirrors evince a ripple in space-time

These are messages from the flicker, a hierophantic ripple of the curtain, inchoate as the sound before waking, or the tremulous affect in dreaming. Container ships vibrate to a prehistoric rhythm as tides effervesce, dividing light in a mirror image. Something is perennially slipping away, collapsing, evading capture, in this space between fragments; a retreat from the exigency of totality, an ouroborus circling the absence of the centre.

Future and past intersect on the breeze in this inscription through clay and light, where marks on cuneiform tablets are read though the incisions’ shadows. This blown-up cuneiform enlarges quantum photons to the level of a flickering light. Perhaps this is an inversion of scale, an ineluctable expansion of letters so huge that one pixel covers the whole estuary. And this silent image of acceleration is the words’ distance.

Petroglyphs on stone are a series of magnetic impulses, hermetic proto-tablets thrown to air from earth, just under the tide; an inversion of the burying ritual. In these provisional remains, non-canonical words oscillate, become marsh indices, before dissolving. When I speak of incising, scorings, the fissured sediment rises up, falls again, veiling, revealing. Sometimes I think I’ll pass through the door, into two rooms at once, a levitation on the tideline, but the fine shadow of the toner broadcasts chthonic dust through the glass of the photocopier. Even now the cinders of these words are splintering apart, disappearing in the flicker, and reforming between object and ideality. An attempt to scatter languages, render them iridescent, becomes like scaling the vertiginous air.

I see the curtains as a doorway to this isle of flame. In the light of night, lecanomancy divinates shapes in oil, where interference scintillates the refineries’ red glow. This, and the

obelisk that surmounts the sea, are a dazzling coalescing of haze and colour before a mysterious text, like hieroglyphs of the present tense. Thoth, the ancient Egyptian God of writing, ties across skies the perennial stone inscription as a flash of burning light: a steganography of the air. And on the other side? The sound of movement, pages turning, caught on tape, an antediluvian sensation.

In these fragments, something is always hidden, a magic trick of appearance. The islands’ red flags crack and split the sky, folding hidden signals. At each moment and each silence, a decision, a throw of the dice is inscribed, residing as much in the invisible as the visible. A refraction by which different paths remain aleatory, a play of condensations that marks a meteorite’s falling place. Just for an instant, the curtain’s flutter concretises shadow.

'Chthonic Index' will launch with an event at Focal Point Gallery on Saturday 18 July, 6.00pm to 9.00pm