Text by Adam Fine 2010
“Artists don’t make objects. Artists make mythologies.” (Anish Kapoor)
The sagas of the Nords, the poems of the Celts, the mystery plays of the early Christians, and the fables of the Greeks, where anthropomorphic animals, earthly spirits and gods mingle, enlightening the reader or listener to a much greater truth: all of these follow a tradition where art, narrative and illumination converge. The passing of knowledge, of concepts, is performed by the bard and not the scholar.
“One lesson we can learn from pre-industrial peoples is the power of storytelling. I am struck by how important storytelling is among tribal peoples; it forms the basis of their educational systems. The Celtic peoples, for example, insisted that only the poets could be teachers. Why? I think it is because knowledge that is not passed through the heart is dangerous: it may lack wisdom; it may be a power trip; it may squelch life out of the learners. What if our educational systems were to insist that teachers be poets and storytellers and artists? What transformations would follow?” (Matthew Fox)
As Fox suggests, emotive response is key to understanding.
On another note, there exists within the arts certain perceived hierarchies between its forms, such as theatre, illustration, opera, photography, film, poetry, prose, and of course—upper case, mind you—Fine Art. When an illustration transforms the written word into a different and unique visual form, in many circles, that is somehow lower on the scale than Fine Art. And even within the fine arts, emotional response to a work often takes a backseat to the supposed intellectual response or clever piece, the one the viewer will get only if he or she makes the connection between the Calder reference and the b-side from a little known proto-punk band from the early 70’s. Those in the ‘in-crowd’ relish in the clever nods, deriding that which emotes to them and especially those beyond their circle. To further the musical metaphor, it’s somewhat like disliking your favourite band once they get signed to a major label, become available to a wider audience, and get played on the radio. Well, perhaps the radio bit is going too far.
So what happens when the illustrations do not come from a story, nor will a verbalised story ever follow?
Such is the work and practice of Rebecca Freeman. Her prints, drawings, sculptures, paintings, installations and animations utilize the language of illustration, whilst offering the viewer the opportunity to make sense of it all: a narrative suggested, but existing beyond firm reach in the aether. The work itself is difficult to define, as she fully intends it to be. What is the viewer’s moral of the story? Is this a metaphor for […]? It is the lasting power of the myth, the story, the fable, which drives her decisions and imagery. And, whether she wants it to or not, Freeman challenges the arbitrary hierarchies of the arts. Her work begs a greater interpretation like the Kuleshov Effect on paper, in a controlled and unapologetic manner. It has not only an emotive effect; it asks the viewer to recall the childhood truth of Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, the unsettling and uneasy logic of dreams, the moment when she or he questions if she did just see a light in the dark, wooded distance. It exists in the liminal space between countless variations of a single truth, where your mind has to fill in your own unique explanation.
Chances are you may not see Rebecca Freeman when you’re in the same room with her, whether a gallery, a pub, or café. Like so many artists (and spiders), she may be found in the corner, simply watching and weaving her never-to-be-put-to-writing tales. And sometimes when you approach, she’s looking far, far through you. Freeman’s also the only person I’ve ever known to be found asleep in a dark corner of a bass-throbbing nightclub at the Glasgow School of Art MFA Exhibition afterparty, following a thoroughly extensive manhunt. In this instance I could cite in faux-profound inflection:
“Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths.” (Joseph Campbell).
Although in her limitless and most endearing humility, her dry wit, and ageless charm, she would probably cite:
“Genuineness only thrives in the dark. Like celery.” (Aldous Huxley)