In her fifth solo show at Maureen Paley’s gallery, the artist Kaye Donachie presents nine new paintings which thematise the space in between dreaming and being conscious. I would personally call that ‘Alpha State’ but Donachie’s images, allegedly, depict the experiences of one of the protagonist of an obscure novel by French writer, Marguerite Duras.
The novel referred to is ‘The Malady of Death’ which is about an unconventional sexual relationship between a man and a woman. The man hires the woman to stay with him in a hotel by the sea, hoping that by doing so, he will be able to experience love. The woman accepts the proposal even though she is not a prostitute (although in a way, she is). After some days, the woman tells him that he is incapable of love as he is afflicted with the “malady of death”. The book is written in the second-person narrative; and throughout the book, the man is referred to as “you”, and the woman as “she”.
The way, Donachie justifies these nine images through Duras’ text is, to say the least, a little bit far fetched unless she is trying to transform this exhibition into an installation of sorts for which we must get a second level of meaning that is being suggested but not openly said. Has Donachie painted these images while being under the effects of alcohol? Let me be more clear.
Her chromatic range is extremely narrow (greys, muted pink, greyish blue and white) and the figure of the woman (who is supposed to be the one staying with the protagonist of Duras’ novel in the hotel) is the subject of three paintings poetically called ‘The Day Returns Too Soon’, ‘Untitled 4’ and ‘Together Inseparable’. The others show the contour of what seems to be a wave (on the beach), a window with some indication of wind, etc. The three paintings look unfinished and the rest are, well…. mere sketches drawn on paper. This feeling of incompletion is intended to be the vehicle for some sort of allegory of in-betweenness that comes across as utter laziness and/or takes the viewer for granted. I am saying this because how I am supposed to know that The Day Returns Too Soon’, ‘Untitled 4’ and ‘Together Inseparable’ refer to Duras’ ‘The Malady of Death’ and in case I knew about that…how many of knew have actually read the novel? I did but by chance. Besides, the press release just refers to it in a very enigmatic way. So what is the viewer supposed to do in front of this puzzlingly incomplete images?
This show assumes too much and expects too much from the viewer who is supposed to have read Duras’ novel and let’s face it, we are not talking about Ovid or Dante here but of an obscure French novel that was written by an alcoholic and maybe the source of meaning lies in that obscure piece of information. As a matter of fact Duras began to write the book in Trouville, where she drank six to seven litres of wine each day. When the first ten pages were finished she moved to Neauphle. She stopped eating but continued drinking; she began each morning by drinking two glasses which she vomited up, and was then able to keep the third. Duras had become incapable to write herself, so she recited lines while her muse Yann Andréa wrote them down for her. The manuscript had the development title “A scent of heliotrope and citron”, but when it was 20 pages long Duras changed it to the final title. It was written before Duras checked into rehab.
From this point of view, these paintings, in their laziness (and snobbery?) might be the depiction the writer’s experience while writing the book, instead of a straightforward representation of what the book is about. If this is the case, it makes sense but, let me say this again, it comes across as deliberately obscure and demands far too much from the viewer who is immediately put en garde and whose experience ends up being rather violent. Let’s not forget that the gallery is situated in the heart of the London East End where Duras’ experience should not really come across as a shock. Just a thought.