David Clarkson (1985)

“David Clarkson,” Vanguard, 12:10 (December 1983 – January 1984), pp. 34-35.

David Clarkson
YYZ, Toronto
September 26 to October 15

David Clarkson’s sculptural exhibition “Wild Ideal” is an allegory of unity within the senses and destruction in the intellect. Unity of the senses is desired within the surrogate of the gallery as an expression of a lack and fragmentation in the world—attributable to logical reduction of abstract ideals to a technological order, and a destructive one at that. Unity is sought through the senses even though the work itself may be fragmented. Thus the internal composition of each piece is of a part with the exhibition as a whole.

This is sculpture with a message. That is to say it is figurative sculpture, but not singular statuary, and it admits other forms of representation, such as drawing and maps, within its ensemble. Its image is more than a message; it is an expression. Within sculpture itself, this work decomposes heroism, with its statuary references, through an allegorical process that itself has no unity. Allegory is fragmentary and conducive to the ruin—here, both sculpture and heroism. A heroism that ends in ruin, and an allegorical process that is fragmentary are the subject and form of the work, and its two problems at the same time. The work is anti-heroic without escaping the binds of heroism. It is allegorical without escaping the problems of gen-eral expression, which can be a formal idealism in itself.

This tendentious sculpture is also sensual. Sculptural sensuality is the means to bring about its message and to oppose it at the same time. The sensual, tactile and manual are opposed to the technological ideal. The work consistently pursues this opposition. So senses and emotions the fragmented body, are opposed to the idealism of heroism and technological destruction. The fragmented body is opposed to the ruined statue, the senses to the mute material.

All the works contribute an opposition or symbol-cluster to the allegory as a whole. In this sense, the work seems programmatically set up as an installation. At the entrance, the least sculptural work, A Cruel Joke (History and Affection), a somewhat timid drawing with an adornment of gold-winged plaster heart, superimposes the statue of a Greek philosopher and a VW Rabbit, identifying Greek logos with Western technical rationality: the cruel joke of the title. Across the room. “The Funny Hat” with its rolled up world map dunce cap mocks the philosopher. Here the charcoal that loosely fills the head of the blindfolded torso is falsely sublimated into an ideal diamond, projected behind the head as a red wooden frame. Further along the gallery two flags and pedestals confront each other. On one side, a plaster-encased flag projects from the wall in front of which half a torso serves as pedestal to bricks and broken jaw bone, described in inscription as “The only statue of a man that first became a building, then a flag—and finally the wind.” On the other side, “Trophy” indicates both an abstract, neo-classical monument (with a gold-painted ear attached to its plasters sphere) as well as a gold banner on the wall ironically “held” by a fragmented striding and screaming body.

All these themes introduce us to “The Wild Ideal” directly in front of the entrance. Here head, heart and hand in their various combinations of manual and technical, and ideals of love or destruction, compose the ambiguous wild ideal of its gold emblazoned caption: “The wild ideal is the brave belief arising from our ruin’’.

Through all the works are redundant elements that become symbolic. On the one hand there are things that are ideal: flags, maps, diamond, robot, weapons, trophies—all trophies and objects of conquest: intellectual and imperial. On the other hand there are the parts of the fragmented body, the internal and external organs of both sense and “emotion’’: ears, screaming mouth, hands and heart, but blindfolded eyes. Those things that are ideal do not compose a natural whole as do those parts of the body, although consciousness or subjecthood need not be unitary. Together, organs and ideal objects compose an allegory. We are not really dealing with the body but with emotions and senses. The artist chose to reunite the senses in a sculptural work, that is something that confronts the body but can be read as well. The forms, differences of material, colour—what we sense with our eyes—contribute to this. But we also have what the work proposes as having broken that sensual unity, that is, an abstracted technological order, that must be represented here. The two must be brought together allegorically—as a construction of meaning.

This work is tendentious, but in an abstract and problematic way. Its reasoning is reductive, but its allegorical associations are expansive. The allegory is a form that allows one to include much, and to leave the responsibility to the viewer, by setting up oppositions and associations that do not have to he specific. It does not describe a real situation or propose an actual method. Allegory allows one ambitious reference, sometimes derivative, but it does not escape its own fragmentation, helplessness or despair. These fragments then are not only objects for senses but symbols of emotion as well. Here is a cry of helplessness: see what we men have done; here is the ruin of our ideals the result of our ideals. And yet this cry does not escape heroism in opposing it, but hopelessly maintains it, trapped in an idealism. It chooses something ideal— the work is ideal in form, surface, colour and association—to oppose an ideal. That anti-heroic opposition itself is idealistic. And the emotional lament of fragmentation is an other romantic and individualistic “heroism”.

 Photo: Peter MacCallum

Photo: Peter MacCallum