Scent of A Rose Chamber

Albury Regional Art Gallery, Albury, NSW

A glimpse of the ritual of the attainment of knowledge

The relationship between public ritual and private instincts has been a key area of investigation for many years. For seven of those years I have delved into writings and research on the connections between the ritualized acts of violence carried out against individuals on behalf of the church and the state in the past and the traces of these experiences-of-the-flesh which remain in the fabric of modern ceremonies.

Symbolization based on the body has a long tradition which can be traced through Western Culture. A trail from Platonic philosophy through Medieval thinking to contemporary representations can be easily tracked. However referencing actual corporeal inscribing remained repressed salvaged only by the symbolic.1. Deleuze and Guattari define all value as a function of the 'extraordinary composite of the speaking voice, the marked body, and the enjoying eye'.2.

The scar turns the body into an icon. The intensity of the knife's passage and the memory of the blood's flow are transformed into a symbol - the mark of passage into society and its regulated systems of value and exchange. These marks transform lived time into historical destiny, where the past (as memory and the unconscious) ordains the future.3.

Since 1981, the last year I lived in Papua New Guinea , I have been concerned with the materiality of the skin, and its power to arouse the sense of self as well as a subliminal memory of the scars of the culture's past initiatory ceremonies and punishments. The skin inscribed as memory. To use primary forms as a method of invocation rather than representational symbolism, to invoke the self as skin, as sensory surface, has remained central to my production.

The installations isolate and reconstruct the vestments, accoutrements, formations and gestures of high ceremony and invite scrutiny of our acceptance of culturally entrenched rituals. The elements are re-created with reference to possible underlying metaphors, to engender contemplation on the origins and dichotomous meanings which have been inscribed and woven into the layers of intricate iconography of such ceremonies.

References from religion and mystic experience can still be traced in the modern rituals and iconography of the contemporary "quest for knowledge". Rites of passage, the acceptance of the concept and actuality of sacrifice, the ultimate goal of knowing and transcendence, symbolic rebirth through death, the attainment of power through the authority of knowledge are acknowledged trials and rewards embedded in this paradigm.

The church and the esoteric mystic cults claim early close alliance with the notions of science and philosophy. Academia emerged from this source too and as the power of knowledge was so revered by Western Culture, it became the logical guardian.

Academia has ascended into its present important prominence still robed in the past's splendid insignias, inscriptions celebrating this ancient and enduring power of knowledge. Academia still cloaked in the mystery of dissimulation, still secreting within its historic folds, associations between sacrifice and power. The stitching and the cuts, the fastenings and the cordage, the hoods and the richness and colours of the inner cloths revealed in the movement of the procession, link academia inexorably to its roots in the idea that knowledge was attained through secret affiliations, through sacrifice and self discipline. The robe, a skin embellished, cloaks with dignity and authority and yet announces containment and the protection of secrets and mysteries. The culture's remembered experiences of the body/flesh during centuries of dissent and martyrdom against the church and the state have been inscribed in the skin's memory. The body/flesh's experiences become the memories, which are countlessly retold and inscribed ever deeper into the skin as the new cloaks to protect and celebrate the initiates are woven and decorated.

In the tradition of past installations, including Enshrined Spoils, Albury Regional Gallery, 1986, I leave the viewer to experience the installation as a player within the space, the sounds, the scents and textures. As a guide, a passage of words hanging, resonating. A device to echo the ambivalent, dichotomous and ethereal nature of the meanings embedded in the rituals, to which we cling. The symbolic referencing of the Rose, the Chamber, the Robe, the Throne, Moat and Ladder are significant in this space.

Lyn Plummer ©
Albury Regional Gallery
April 1999

1. Allen S Weiss Iconology and Perversion, Art & Text Publications, 1988, p13
2. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, tr. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane, NY, Viking, 1977, p190 quoted by Allen S Weiss Iconology and Perversion, Art & Text Publications, 1988, p14
3. Ibid., p 16