Peter Jaques: Babble

The Corn Exchange Gallery, Edinburgh, Fri 27 Apr - Thu 14 Jun


Locking yourself in a pitch black basement with a dog and writing excerpts from ancient Greek texts such as Orpheus and Eurydice and The Twelve Labours of Hercules onto photographic paper with an old style quill pen dipped in chemicals may not seem much like photography. Yet London based artist Peter Jaques assures us it is, though he calls it ‘performed photography’. Created in a single session while listening in the dark to a recording of himself reciting the texts, Jaques performs alone, save for his trusty dog, who acts like a guardian to Jaques’ own little underworld. Scratching words across huge reams of paper maniacally and randomly, Jaques lets the chemicals run together and almost destroy the stream of written words along the way.

There is no relationship between hand and eye, so no opportunity to aestheticise the writing, making the end result unknowable and autonomous. The long reams of scrawled on paper are then chemically exposed as if ordinary photographs. Jaques’ huge, black and white finished photographs are surprisingly illegible, the written text barely detectable beneath the dominance of white drips pouring down the grey or black background. Yet, the traces of written words are hiding in there in little scribbles and scratches, reminding us that textual performance is - as Caroline Alexander, gallery director has said - the ‘primary but unseen element in his finished work’. Jaques’ interest in ancient tradition and the romance of storytelling is evident, and the quill pen he has created many of his works with, now almost completely corroded away by noxious chemicals, is seen by Jaques to signify the dying of the still ultimately appealing written word.

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