mise en abyme

Mise en Abyme

Gilbee’s oeuvre entails a complex exploration of human existence that often borders on the ineffable. The ethereal and somewhat ephemeral nature of her materials complements this sensibility while enhancing an intrinsic poeticism in her work. While this exhibition continues her investigation of ‘interior’ worlds – on both physical and psychological levels – the work shifts towards an exploration of the relationship(s) that exist between consciousness and the creative impulse through emotions such as fear, anguish and desire.

Using photography (light) as her principal medium, Gilbee has constructed mysterious and elusive collages in both still and video formats. Comprised of abstract and fragmented human (mostly male) forms – including eyes – Gilbee transforms popular imagery found in magazines into a preferred aesthetic derived from her unconscious and/or the shifting, shadowy forms of dreams and imagination. Reminiscent of surrealist photography and cinema, these evocative forms also act as symbols of erotic desire which the surrealists saw as providing the stimulus for revelation and creativity.

What is interesting, however, is Gilbee’s further use of light to ‘ephemeralise’ the above formats and intensify the dreamlike quality of her chosen imagery. For example, a light placed underneath the stills – mounted on semi-opaque Perspex – casts residual phantom-like forms onto the walls. On the other hand, the video is projected into a three-dimensional, translucent black Perspex structure that reflects, diffracts and diffuses the imagery through layered, angular surfaces so it forms a continuously changing shape that mutates and transforms in a rhythmic pattern determined by a breathy, whispering voice that repeatedly utters the words, “his eyes, his eyes, his eyes…”

As the allegory of Plato’s cave would have us believe, these shadow- or dream-like forms demonstrate that the foundation of reality can never be reached and we can only ever observe and/or know things in their ideal forms. Another protagonist of this idea was Lacan, who often stated that “the real is impossible”. But for both, this is because we are caught up in a symbolic order of language ie. reality cannot be expressed in language because the very entrance into language marks our irrevocable separation from the real…

By asserting that the unconscious is also structured like a language[1], Lacan suggests that our lack of any relation to reality is what gives rise to our fantasies and leaves us in a constant state of desire. If we return to Gilbee’s work and her exploration of consciousness, her use of the idealised man is as a symbol of fantasy and desire. But in recognising this and completely transforming the ideal into an abstracted, dream-like form it also becomes a symbol of her own creativity.

As the title Mise en Abyme suggests, the imagery in the primary photographic and video formats represent an emblematic structure that belongs to a larger narrative, which is represented in the projections. The ensuing phantom-like forms and infinitely transforming images within the black Perspex structure are like a dream-within-a-dream and symbolise our lack of reality through the intertextual nature of language. But it also symbolises the artists’ studio – an unending journey into the unconscious, releasing fantasy, desire and creativity.

© Kirsten Rann, Melbourne July 2007

[1] Lacan, Jacques, The Four Fundamentals of Psychoanalysis (The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book 11), 1998, p. 203.