Have you ever sat in a cafe or maybe on a bus, some ordinary place, and caught the glance of someone to see their reaction? Usually the other person looks away, perhaps a little uneasy, feeling a little awkward. But what happens when the other stares back? What connections take place, what secret games played out? Art is the same of course. We stand and stare at the work, the work stares back at us. The philosopher Nietzsche noted something similar; “if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” And in between all sorts of things can happen; connections, conjectures, games in the mind as we try to feel what is going on. This occurs when we encounter the enigmatic or the uncanny, at once kind of familiar but distantly strange, and mostly always beyond determination. Staring at someone staring at us, or simply at a work of art, may prove unresolvable or incomprehensible but something takes place, some kind of affect.
This latest series by Elizabeth Wojciak presents us with such a mystery. Following on from previous work, Elizabeth continues to investigate this something that takes place between people, and in doing so enters the more peculiar world of the uncanny. This set of works, this theatre of the almost burlesque, presents us – we gazers – with a strange array of... what? Games? Jokes? Red herrings? Well, at the very least, encounters, which place us somewhere in the picture. But where are we? Are we the starers – the gazers with strange hats – or those being gazed at... or somewhere in between? Some of us may take a too simple route of reason: “Ah, it's the male gaze in action”, an overly feminist reading that diminishes a deeper secret. Life is never so simple. There is a dissemblance happening here! A beautiful kind of uneasiness. Yet we can't be sure whether it is the art itself or the artist that is dissembling, the verb of which means to “conceal (one's real motives, emotions, etc.) by pretence” and “to give a false or misleading appearance to; conceal the truth or real nature of”. Gazing is just one expression of propagating this uncertainty. Try staring in a mirror for longer than usual; you'll see what I mean.
From gazing at this Enigma arrives these words and questions as an act of staring at you also, enticing you to stare back. Not to reach a conclusion or an agreement of some sort, but just to reside in an uncanny space, an uncertain place. And what is left if we stay in that space? Let's allow that one thing that seems to be missing so much in these days of knowledge and information overload. Let's forget about answers for once. Let's allow in life a mystery.
written by Mark Galliford