It’s at the necropolis of vision, in the squashed-down time and space of the archive, that the standing relations between images really show themselves. The picture file of the Chicago Public Library stows its collection in a tight succession that substantiates sameness, relentless fungibility—a hand is a hand is a hand, Andy Warhol is a light bulb—and to peruse such a file is to stare at a multiple exposure. All things congeal into archetype while archetype renders all things instances of itself. Movement between images is quick, obvious, seamless. The inevitable efficiency of the archival arrangement, itself the urpflanze of mental order, points to the filmic subconscious of folders and file cabinets.
Pulling images out from under the archive’s weight, Thomas Roach submits instances without archetype, components without system. These are artifacts of a complex order, but lacking its self-evidence, they stop us in our tracks. Pedals and handlebars are not enough of a bicycle to ride anywhere but what else could you do with them? This show thus starts with dumbness in both its senses, the image gone mute as well as our stupefaction in the absence of the whole that ratifies the part.
New Drawings gives us withdrawing and unsociable objects, and not many of them—a sutured photocopy, several square inches of graphite, magazine clippings. The cognitive apparatus goes wanting. Important information has been redacted. But this retreat from the world entails a better vantage and it’s the incomplete sentence that indicates the real fragility of language. Darkness proves an opportunity to grope about that unfamiliar terrain which is such an opprobrium to systemization—an implausible space of other correspondences.
Roach has quipped that his drawings bear a formal resemblance to colonoscopy—that theirs is the intimate gaze of the gastroenterologist—but one could also mistake them for sketches of distant planets. Are we looking through an endoscope or a telescope? Are we now too close or too far from our object? This uncertainty is appropriate to the trouble the artist has got us into, a tight and uneasy spot between the particular and the universal.
Exhibition text by Cameron Hu.