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“Beneath the paving stones, the beach”: a collage for The World’s End

October 15, 2013

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The jumbled motifs in this collage were intended to emphasise the similarities between the triskele motif in Bronze Age Scandinavian rock art and the triple spiral motif engraved both inside the megalithic chambered tomb of Newgrange in Ireland and on the kerbstone at the entrance to the tomb. The collage was supposed to illustrate a thesis then called The World’s End: Cosmological Dimensions of Rock Art Around the North Atlantic Seaways, but the title and focus changed and it wasn’t used.

To further align the Irish chambered tomb with the ship carvings of Scandinavian rock art, I tried to emphasise the boat-like morphology of the ridge upon which Newgrange was built, by blacking out the lower contours. The use of non-local cobbles and beach sand from the mouth of the river Boyne to build the tomb prompted me to reproduce graffiti from les évènements of Paris, May 1968: Sous les pavés, la plage (Beneath the paving stones, the beach). By contriving such an association between ancient art and social contestation, I sought to awaken a utopian charge, resorting to the use of the Situationist maxim, ‘The supercession of art is the North-West Passage of the geography of everyday life’. The groove at the centre of the kerbstone, which marks the entrance of the tomb, also marks the Midwinter Solstice sunrise alignment, illuminating the length of the passage, which runs in a north-westerly direction on entry. This line is extended to pass through the ship (a carving from Götaland, Sweden) and a Scandinavian triskele pattern, placed by stone K52.

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With its combination of text and image, the collage navigated the tension between the anti-art perspective of the post-1962 Situationist International (expressed in the North-West Passage sentence) and the more heterodox ‘artistic attitudes’ of Situationists like Asger Jorn. In focusing on the trinary spiral motif in the collage, I suppose there was a conscious effort to engage with the concept of the triolectic elaborated by Jorn. This was his attempt to overcome the closure he perceived inherent to the Hegelian dialectic with its collapse into the formula thesis-antithesis-synthesis, by introducing a dynamic tension between three complementary elements in which no ultimate resolution or ‘end’ is possible. Jorn’s observation that ‘the basic motion of matter has the character of the spiral’* lends another dimension to this flux of ideas and images: ‘To no end gathered: vainly then released, forth flowing, wending back: loom of the moon’ (James Joyce, Ulysses).

* Peter Shield 1998 Comparative Vandalism: Asger Jorn and the artistic attitude to life. Aldershot: Borgen/Ashgate, p.43.

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