Object to be awakened

Myth, ritual, magic… and salt. Jeremy Millar’s Amongst Others at Plymouth Arts Centre

Object to be awakened

Amongst Others by Jeremy Millar, currently showing at the Plymouth Arts Centre, is an investigation into how magic and ritual influence culture and art-making.

Salt, a substance often used in purification rituals features in the artwork on the ground floor of the Looe Street premises.

Detail from Mirror Cube

Untitled (Mirror Cubes) (above) is one of two Plymouth Arts Centre commissions and features four mirrored cubes surrounded by salt. The artwork is a constantly changing piece, alternative reflections revealing themselves as the installation is viewed from different angles. Sometimes the salt looks like petrified waves lapping at the base of the cubes.

At others the salt seems to be attempting to draw out the ‘impurity’ within each cube. There appears to be a multiplying of energy as rays of light bounce around the cubes producing reflections within reflections. Perhaps this power is further intensified by the unseen smaller cube with mirrored interior hidden within each larger one? The spell is only broken by the occasional alarming crunch of a stray salt crystal underfoot.

In the same room is Object to be awakened (top), a wooden ball into which rusty nails have been hammered. Based on a ritual used by the Kongo people to seal an agreement, it resembles a Frankenstein creation, waiting for the lightening bolt to bring it to life – the ultimate magic. The nearby sculpture Erased Ballard Interview, comprising of two C90 cassettes in a display case, highlights the presence of ‘magic’ in everyday items and its ability to destroy as well as create.

Cubes also feature in the second arts commission. Taking inspiration from Sol LeWitt, an artist who was inspired by the cube form, Open Cubes (Burnt) has been created on site via ‘procedures of magic’. The artwork appeals to all senses – the black, randomly sized pieces of charred wood a contrast to the smooth white incomplete cube structures, the smell of burnt wood an odd accompaniment to the smells emanating from the nearby art centre café.

The show’s title, Amongst Others, reflects Millar’s fascination with ideas and cultures considered different to the ‘norm’. This is most evident in the works in the Upper and Lower Galleries, which display the work produced following the artist’s research in Papua New Guinea.

Millar has imagined the trip and images that might have been captured by Stanislaw Witkiewicz, a photographer and draughtsman whose journey to the area with influential Polish anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski was cut short by the outbreak of the First World War. Some of Millar’s black and white photographs catch the inequality between photographer and subject characteristic of photographs of ‘the Other’ taken in the Witkiewicz’s time and still evident today in holiday brochures featuring long-haul destinations.

Adjacent to these photographs, Millar’s sculpture With the Left Hand mixes a Soulava – a ceremonial necklace from the island communities of the Massim region of Papua New Guinea made from shells – glass beads and banana seeds, with Polish coins featuring a portrait of Malinowski to create an ‘entangled object’. It is a piece that both reflects different value systems, (the Soulava does not belong to anyone and is passed between islanders to create new experiences), and acknowledges Malinowski’s significant field study.

Millar uses a wide range of media in his explorations. As well as sculpture, photography, and text, (in Sentences on Magic, a white-on-white piece, and The Illuminating Gas), video also features. Playing in the lower gallery Millar’s film Tokinana sola Bosubasoba and Tristan und Iseult, Chief John Kasaipwalova retells the story of Tristan and Isolade in his native Kiriwinan language. The story has been altered slightly to fit with local myths and the names changed to reflect indigenous names. The film features footage taken in a cave regarded by islanders as a sacred place, the low-level lighting giving the film a grainy, canvas-like appearance.

While watching the video, the viewer, unable to understand the words spoken, is forced to concentrate on the images presented: the changing light and shadow, the abstract shapes made by rocks and the penetrating song of a bird. The water in the cave appears to ripple in time with the narrator’s voice – his words, stripped of any meaning, possessing a musical quality. The stalactites seem to anthropomorphise into the faces of the two lovers. Magical and moving, the images and words work together to truly ‘enchanting’ effect

Jeremy Millar, Amongst Others is at Plymouth Arts Centre until Sunday, August 1

Heather Smith

After years in denial, Heather Smith has finally conceded that she is a writer, willing to exchange the products of many hours of blood, sweat and crossing-out for the chance of being published.In addition to PRSD and Art+Culture she has written for Art Cornwall, iwalkdevon and Behind the Spin. She also blogged about her life as a mature student on Later Study. In her spare time she enjoys watching her bantams think up new ways of destroying her veg patch, camera-less photography and making jewellery with found objects. Her ambition is to become a mad old woman and own an alpaca called Gerald.