new work by Pippa Sanderson
@Idiom Studio, 15 April 7 May, 2005
Shadows of Lascaux
“You are my grief. Well then, grief, laugh.”
(p. 47, Natalya Gorbanevskaya “Poems, the trial, prison”, 1972, Compton Press)
Hazy shadows populate ‘Horse Drawn’, Pippa Sanderson’s latest exhibition in which she explores the mournful aspects of freedom. Sanderson reminds us that by its very nature drawing is nostalgia, an attempt to capture something which has passed, something no longer with us. Drawing is in essence melancholy made physical. Perhaps this is why drawing is associated with burial sites in most prehistoric cultures.
The origin myth of art was recorded by Pliny in his “Natural History” as beginning with “...tracing an outline round a man’s shadow...” Archaeological sites show that the ancient Roman scholar was almost right. However it was not a man’s shadow that the first artists traced.
The pioneer expert in prehistoric art, Abbe Breuil, theorised that representational drawing was arrived at through experimentation and play. “The meandering trails appear to have been made aimlessly at first, but later they were used to form rudimentary animal silhouettes.” (p. 43, “Lascaux”, Annette Laming, 1959, Penguin) These silhouettes were often life-size although by the time of later sites, such as Lascaux, a defined style of animal representation had been developed. This required that a horse’s “mane, hoofs, and fetlock joints are painted an intense black.” (Ibid. p 87) Meanwhile human forms were still at a comparatively primitive stage.
Horses, bison, cows and deer were for millennia drawn as bold shadows on the walls of burial caves in Europe. Only later as spiritual belief became more intellectual and institutionalised did stick figure humans appear alongside these animals.
From the outset, drawing was a method of expressing spiritual belief, and easing the transition to death. The form of the horse has always signified the relationship between spiritualism, the natural environment and the human condition.
Pippa Sanderson adds the personal to this rich vein of fundamental imagery through her continued exploration of the equinal. These are drawings of a horse’s shadow, rather than the horse itself. Like the drawings at Lascaux, the outline is recognisable as a horse, but Sanderson has highlighted the seeming artifice of the horse as silhouette. However her work is not Primitivism, despite its acknowledgement of the debt which all artists owe the unknowable religious rites of prehistory. Sanderson instead presents a complex modern view of our relationship with the ethereal.
By focusing on shadows Sanderson is strengthening many of the themes inherent in horse imagery. GM Frazer’s “The Golden Bough” devotes a chapter to “The Soul as Shadow and Reflection”. Horses also have been associated with the soul, although their spiritual impact has often been perceived as negative, wild and aggressive e.g. the word ‘nightmare’.
A closer inspection of Sanderson’s horse shadows reveals that they are in the same poses as the plastic horse toys which make up the sculptural pieces in the exhibition. Play and childhood are closely associated with these toy horses. However the arrangement of the horses on the blackened boxes brings an austere authority to the mundane childhood trinket. The tightly packed horses lose their individuality, their black surface reflecting light like the chitin of an insect’s exoskeleton.
Along with the caves at Lascaux, the terracotta army of Qin Shi Huang was one of the most spectacular archaeological finds of the twentieth century. Hundreds of life sized horses, along with thousands of warriors, have accompanied Emperor Qin in the afterlife for the last two thousand two hundred years. This army is tightly packed in a series of rectangular pits, spread over five acres. While there is an astounding amount of variety in the details of each individual piece, the army was mass produced using a limited number of moulds.
Pippa Sanderson’s army of horses has also been mass produced, however these were not meant to accompany a Chinese emperor through the trials of death. These small plastic objects were made to give shape to a child’s imagination, and perhaps this is the key to “Horse Drawn”. The sense of fun and play, which most childhoods are made of, is referenced throughout Sanderson’s work. Is Sanderson mourning the passing of her own childhood? Or the struggle it takes to develop an independent and distinct adult personality?
In drawings such as “U. I.” Sanderson has made her own text from the text she found, and more subtly, all the drawings are on old, often foxed, paper. Wether personality is a result of environment or genome, the individual is constructed by the past. In this way, all humanity can be perceived as found object art.
“A small snail, which frequents the neighbourhood of the limestone hills in Perak, is believed to suck the blood of cattle through their shadows.... Clearly in these cases the shadow, if not equivalent to the soul, is at least regarded as a living part of the man or the animal.” (p. 190, “The Golden Bough” by J.G. Frazer, 1987, Papermac).