‘I gotta use words when I talk to you’—TS Eliot’s plaint is echoed by the writer charged with describing the effect of Katy Dove’s animations and drawings. Oh, one can itemise their activity: in this show’s trio of brief, consecutively projected films, all made this year, a cornucopia of anamorphic forms in pastel colours is in constant play.
The minute-and-a-half epic that is ‘The Sway’ finds wing, petal and kidney-like shapes—apparently worked up in automatic drawings, painted, then scanned into a computer and manipulated—blooming into variously coloured and overlapping multiples of themselves. Their shimmering movement, pulsing then dwindling into nothingness, is dictated by a soundtrack which overlays multiple recordings of birdsong. Recalling those weird cartoons from eastern Europe that filled up awkward little time-slots on BBC2 in the 1980s, ‘Amanda’ features drifting tentacles and fronds intersecting an aquatic realm, developing on and across the accents of a childlike melody by Glasgow band Hassle Hound. Yet this restless, seemingly pointless motion hits pleasure receptors that stimulate a markedlpre-linguistic response. Descriptions, lacking most of the requisite nouns, fall comically short.
Dove does not appear to want to treat language as a perpetual opposing force, however, but rather to consider how its scope might be broadened through a hybridising of expressive modes: painting, film, sound and (in a work wherein light is projected to create a delicate magic-lantern show) sculpture. Such works teach, pretty quickly, things about the operations of the mind—particularly how it sparks discomfortingly when seduced by things it doesn’t have names for.
Perhaps sustained exposure to such phenomena puts us on a plane where we don’t ‘gotta use words’, taking us back to early childhood and sending us in a different direction. While Dove is evidently interested in analogies between sound and vision, her project creates immediate problems rather than solutions, developing away from the synaesthetic fantasies envisioned by some early modern painters and by filmmakers such as Len Lye (alongside whom Dove has previously shown) and Harry Smith.
Dove studied psychology and art therapy before making art herself and, unusually, this exhibition features an education component, inspired by her work. Drawings of Dove-like forms on graph paper—by a group called Life Skills—and a video of someone making decoupages are intermingled with it. Unfortunately, this visually uninteresting material sits with a large number of her drawings which, with a couple of exceptions, seem inert when detached from the balletic motion of her films.
The pedagogical air of the former distances Dove from current fetishists of modernist aesthetics and also from music-video directors such as Alex Rutterford, who created imagery for the electronica act Autechre. However dangerous a little education might be, I would happily have risked seeing several more of her nuance-rich and strangely provocative films.
Martin Herbert is a Kent-based writer and critic