Damien Flood's 'Tilt'
The world outside my window looked as it always did on a Sunday afternoon. Birds sang, cars slowly drove down the country lane in front of the house and the odd passer-by walked on the path, only they now wore a protective mask. In the uncertainty of February 2020 as I sat to write this piece a different psyche was emerging. The passers-by, masked, gaze fixed, moved for purpose not pleasure. They sought to protect themselves from the encroaching threat of annihilation and the pandemic.
As this was happening I sat down to think upon my visit to Damien Flood’s studio only a few days beforehand. I mused on existential dread, the psychoanalytic interpretations in his artistic departures and felt unnerved by a general sense of fragility. I visited Flood’s studio just before the new normal. Neither of us wore masks and I even got to hold one of his sculptures.
Losing cohesion permeates Damien Flood’s work and concurrently the group-think of society in the face of a pandemic. There was a distance between me and others that didn’t exist before. Family members became risks. Danger developed a human form. Fear felt in a familiar face and consequent dread in a longed-for embrace.
What holds bodies together physically and what separates us pandemically were at odds. Isolation separated our selves, segregated from a familiar society, theories abounding about reality relying on perceived phenomena; I wondered, if no one gets to visit the gallery and see the paintings, do they even ever exist?
I began reflecting upon Flood’s new works and show then scheduled for September in the midst of the Corona Virus lockdown and I wondered when or would the work be shown. Amid the beginnings of social fragmentation, I sat in my home office, considering how the spaces of display and shapes of introjection will come to be after the pandemic. Would there be an ‘after’ we could recognise. Would we be able to stand in bodily conversation with the physically present paintings? Would we have the collective experience of visiting galleries in groups or will we be ushered in for an allotted time in groups of five or fewer? Flood updated me mid-pandemic that the show, though postponed until Summer 2021 would be largely unaffected.
I viewed works created in a post-theist society where the rational man is left dwindling in the realisation of his own finitude and religion and philosophy concern themselves with the end. Alongside the eschatologically frenzied reckonings in this world of pandemics and death of our ecosystem, Flood talked of the wearying demand of ‘what’s next’. He contemplated the anxieties of a world that forgets all that has already been, and is, in favour of what is to come. The end is to come, so why is it that we can’t all just linger here, in this moment, a moment longer?
There lies a beautiful and terrifying ambiguity between being and not; the becoming time. It’s that terrifying moment walking into a dark room and searching for the light switch with just a slightly trembling hand. It’s what lurks in the liminal spaces, pre-formation and pre-awareness. It’s that moment, waiting to discern the real from the surreal in those infinite milliseconds after waking. It is the unnamed phantasm that lurks in the darkest corner of the bedroom afterward and it lingers here too in Flood’s egg-shaped voids.
His paintings mask this terror well in incredibly pleasing arrangements of complimentary cool and warm pools, reassuring lines and eloquently phrased moments of surface solidity.
Optic (2019) offers an orbiting head spitting forth brown splodges toward a growing asteroid. A distant earth orbits an enormous moon and these two fleshy shapes give and receive the earth toned fragments as one entropies and another forms. An umbilical connection to the recessed moon rich with crimson pigment pushes the receiving asteroid in its course, gaining speed with each spat-out projectile from the larger and peripherally decaying shape.
Flood’s paintings have new companions as he moves to include sculpture. These are solid things, forms, humanoid phantasms ubiquitously recognisable. Unconstrained by the need to create literate forms, Flood has enjoyed a comfortable world of representational ambiguity. Now, with sculpture there is a danger. The forms from his psyche are splayed out in comical representations and literal expressions. He offers them on shelves and perched atop canvasses, interrupting the formal gallery space. They are vulnerable.
Flood’s sculptures have become. In a move from the ambiguous to the narrative, they navigate a new brave expression. They are representative, they are charming and comical and heroic. Overall, they are endearing. As I said above, I got to hold one of these fabulous embodiments. I struggled to grasp its form as I almost forgot how hands functioned. I feared my interference would signal its end, its breakage, its annihilation. I felt responsible for its vulnerability. A perverse, human vulnerability that relied on trust and social contract. I promised with a momentary nod and wary expression that I would hold it carefully and breathed a sigh of relief when I handed it back to its creator.
These sculptures are vulnerable and obvious. They call to be picked up and cradled in hands that realise how fragile they are. They’re up too high!
Like a baby’s fragile neck, these require support. They are not as robust as the paintings. They have come from the voids and are real and have no protective ambiguity as a defence. They are naïve and require minding but rather than being childlike, they show age. They are hunched over and mischievous, having discarded the fears and anxieties of a youth now spent and there is a silliness only permitted at this stage, where, in the breakdown of forms into their fragments, there is space to be silly.