PRINT May 1992

Anya Gallaccio

ARE WE REALLY TO BELIEVE that simply by letting things be as they are, Anya Gallaccio creates evocative works of transience? It could be argued that Gallaccio’s “scatter” piece of one ton of Jaffa oranges is indebted to the art of the ’70s; or that her covering of the entire floor of a London art gallery with lead, melted down at different temperatures in order to achieve a variegated color, owes its origins to Richard Serra; or, finally, that her installations of flowers under glass, as they undergo the various stages of decomposition, are ultimately beholden to a Beuysian approach to natural systems. And yet none of that is really true for some critics: to them it is just as plausible to suggest that Gallaccio is lost in a Turneresque dream. Photography abets and betrays Gallaccio. In the first instance, what we can never see in reproductions of her work is its particular presence, its ushering in of “aura” through the back door: the pungency of rotting vegetation, the delicate coloration of intricate fungal networks, the all-encompassing perfume of morbidity. The existence of such a profoundly ephemeral body of work is certainly not new to contemporary art; neither is the implied theme of mortality, decay, and loss one that has not been dealt with before and, perhaps, with more grandeur. But something more than the flowers might be said to be disintegrating here. Consider a publicity photograph of the artist taken while she was completing the task of covering the main floors of the gallery with molten lead. Alongside the disdain for monumentality, the need to invoke fundamental and irreversible processes of change upon the chosen gallery site, one can discern a pose of defiance: the artist’s (feminine) body is cloaked by a variety of protective coverings and gear, her gender rendered invisible, in stark contrast to the machismo of the famous photographs of Serra flinging molten lead that invariably overlie our cultural imagination. But that gear does not simply mask Gallaccio’s femininity; it also shields her self from both recognizability and the outside world. Granted, the macho uniform allows for the enactment of the (male) pose. But at what cost? While it is depressing to imagine life wholly through the metaphor of organic decay, is it any less pessimistic to take the paving of the gallery with lead as a herald for a new regime? Both the decaying flowers and the gently poured skein of molten material are somehow reciprocal figures in a deeply conflicted toxic emplotment of being, and strike this writer as leaving the whole question of empowerment in a state of melancholic suspension and ill health.