by Gil Leung
Something that resembles a head, half a mask eroded at the lower end. It looks as if it might have been dipped in corrosive liquid, something has eaten away at this half head. What makes it all the worse is the expression in the eyes which sit above the erosion, empathetic eyebrows raised in disbelief. The eyes themselves are hollow, eyes which you would stab into clay to give sight to an inanimate form. Building an eye out of clay with lids and pupils never really seemed to give any life, the eyes always ended up looking like little piles of overworked matter, not like any sighted feeling living thing. So these eyes are the opposite of that, deep round pitiful holes. Other than this there is a nose which is at a bare minimum to orchestrate the eyes, though it is large and flat ended. And then, underneath there is the cracked, broken, crumbling face, which would look painless enough were it not for the fact that the holey eyes are so full of life. And next, a thing that looks like a child, a baby even, with an alien head, of the sort that the most basic of aliens have, large and domed, pointy chinned, black bug eyes, tiny mouths maladjusted to our language. This small alien thing is suspended in liquid, in a glass or transparent box, to follow logic, a sort of cryogenic suspension chamber, or an incubator, or a formaldehyde tank, just this box alone and unmonitored, abandoned.
These two things, this half head and this alien child, there is a certain quality about them, a sort of half life, something about them that seems to be life-like and animated and something else which seems dead and decaying and absent. They are like the undead, the living dead, abject things with just enough life left in them to all the more horrifically signal their death. What is horrific, is in fact not death, but the absence of life this negatively determines, death being not just cessation but the start of an unknown and unknowable. Death is still a part of life, the departure, what is more frightening is what deadness signifies. Peculiarly there are certain things that have become part of a language of horror, these creatures are are less gruesome not because they are dead but because they embody and manifest the relation between known lived experience and unknown non living alterity. They move between two things which appear to be opposed. In one of Samuel Coleridge's letters there is an essay entitled On the Philosophic import of the Words OBJECT and SUBJECT in which he recounts a story told to him about a woman who sees the ghostly apparition of the husband she imagines dead appear at the bottom of her bed every night. The husband, who in fact is alive, upon returning to the hysteric wife is told to smooth his arrival by taking the place of his apparition; to ?care away the counterfeit; or, to speak more seriously, in the expectation that the impression on her senses from without would meet halfway, as it were, and repel, or take the place of, the image from the brain.As the story continues, having taken up his assigned place the woman awakes shrieking ?y God there are two! And This doubling of identity or rather existence of one thing, the husband, in two places, living and dead, poses a suspension of judgement; things, that fall under the same definition, belong to the same class; and visible, yet not tangible, is the generic character of reflections, shadows, and ghosts; and apparitions, their common, and most certainly their proper, Christian name.”1
In this sense, the horror is of something that spans more than one definition, and this horror is not just based upon the thing-in-itself but in how this thing exists in relation to ourselves as a Not-I; in that “outness is but the feeling of otherness, (alterity) rendered intuitive, or alterity visually represented.”2 The ghostly apparition manifests itself like a phantom limb, it is the memory of something that was in existence and exists no longer, like the husband apparition. When the husband returns there is the feeling that something present should not be present, a negative phantom limbor "Body integrity identity disorder(BIID), understood as "incarnation without animation" rather than animation without incarnation”3. Similarly the Cotard Delusion, Cotard's Syndrome, or Walking Corpse Syndrome is typified by the ?elirdes negations nihilistic delusions where the subject abnegates self, believing that limbs and organs and possibly even the self no longer exist; ? am sick because they haunted me, my heart stopped working, and I feel that my liver and my stomach are getting sick, they stopped working; I do not feel my body from the inside. I have no heart.Or in another example the subject understood themself as already dead. ? am no longer myself, I feel like an automaton, like if the world did not exist; I am completely eliminated.”4 This self-imposed or self-conceptualised destruction of self, rather than projecting life into the inanimate, rejects the animate as living. The horror here is no longer that the subject recognises the autonomy of the Out or Not-I, the phantom leg or arm with a mind of its own, but that the I is no longer, I has become the Not-I, a phantom self with no mind of its own.
Building on Eyres' previous works, The Hand In The Plastic Bag (UK, Video, 9 min. 36, 2012), posits a tension between context and judgement, laterally offsetting the familiar into lumpen representation, a wonderful and vulnerable travesty. Using fragmented, mute sections of documentary video and low budget television drama, overlaid with text The Hand In The Plastic Bag builds an ambiguous narrative falling between humour and revulsion. The textual subtitling tells of a high school boy who rots his own hand off by keeping it in an elastic banded plastic bag. Familiarly generic, over confident male experts, bearded, moustachioed and suited, patronising liberal women teachers, matriarchs and therapists work through this abject story in claustrophobic close up. In each section of text, and between sections of text, the narrative is cut by the introduction of a new singular figure to mouth the story while falling continually in and out of synch. A deafeningly low white noise covers their spoken words with a sort of ominous hum, loud blankness sitting uncomfortably between each subtitled sentence. As if for all their expertise, this rotten handed creature was beyond them, strange and grotesque.
Erica Eyres (born in Winnipeg, Canada 1980) lives and works in Glasgow. Eyres graduated with a MFA from Glasgow School of Art in 2004. She has had solo exhibitions at The Centre for Contemporary Art, Glasgow and the Kunsthaus, Erfurt, with selected group exhibitions including PS1 New York, Plug In ICA Winnipeg, The Akureyri Art Museum, The Collective, Edinburgh, and her work is in international collections including The Rubell Family Collection, Miami and The David Roberts Collection, London.
Gil Leung is a writer and curator based in London. She is Distribution Manager at LUX and editor of Versuch journal. She writes for Afterall and other independent publications.
1Coleridge , Samuel Taylor, Aids to Reflection, ed. James Marsh, C. Goodrich, 1829, original from Harvard University, p.355. ?o strangely are the healthiest judgments suspended by any out of the way combinations, connected with obscure feelings and inferences, when they happen to have occurred within the narrator's own knowledge! - The pith of this argument in support of ghost objects stands thus: B=D: C=D: ergo, B=C. The D, in this instance, being the equal visibility of the figure, and of its real duplicate, a logic that would entitle the logician to dine off a neck of mutton in a looking glass, and to set his little ones in downright earnest to hunt the rabbits on the wall by candle light.
2Ibid., p. 353.
3Hilti, L; Brugger, P. 'Incarnation and animation: physical versus representational deficits of body integrity.' Experimental Brain Research, 204(3), 2010, pp. 315-326.
4Jesus Ramirez-Bermudez, M.D., M.Sc. Luis C. Aguilar-Venegas, M.D.
Daniel Crail-Melendez, M.D., M.Sc. Mariana Espinola-Nadurille, M.D.
Francisco Nente, M.D. Mario F. Mendez, M.D., Ph.D. 'Cotard Syndrome in
Neurological and Psychiatric Patients', The Journal of Neuropsychiatry & Clinical Neurosciences 22:4, Fall 2010. p. 411. http://neuro.psychiatryonline.org/data/Journals/NP/3988/10jnp409.PDF