Beyond the Pale

Catalogue essay by Kathy Kubicki

To accompany the two person exhibition Beyond The Pale (Lesley Halliwell & Susie MacMurray)

Gallery 103, Wrexham (2003)

In recent contemporary practice there has been an increase interest in drawing, a resurgence of a disappearing art form in a time of an ever-increasing volume of photography and digitalised work in galleries everywhere. Drawing is an instantaneous, physical and intimate method of working and involves intense concentration and solitude.
Lesley Halliwell and Susie MacMurray have produced work, which on many levels is a response to the reproduced artefact, in that it is obviously and skilfully crafted, and painstakingly put together by their own hands. Their practices are non-descriptive in position to the debates on the relationship between art and craft. Rather, they hold a dialogue involving questions in relation to the crossing of borders, masquerade, and of exploring the materials and methods of different practices, as well as the utilisation of some extraordinary and unique tools and materials. There is a performative aspect to the work, for Halliwell in her method of production using the Spirograph, and for MacMurray in the wearing of her strange items of clothing, dresses made from balloons, and in her direct wall drawings.

Lesley Halliwell is obsessed with pattern making and her use of the Spirograph, originally a children’s plaything, places her practice alongside Duchamp in her use of the ready-made in a work of art. The Spirograph has its origins in play, but Halliwell’s subversion of this particular toy turns it into an instrument of mental and physical torment for her. Using a biro, her paper is intensely marked and in places torn in the making of her spiral patterns. If her hand stops or slips the pattern is interrupted and possibly ruined. Both mathematical and decorative, Halliwell’s ‘drawings’ are obsessive and intense. This intensity is projected onto the viewer; the marked surface is scraped and scratched by the biro, and in places faded as the biro eventually runs dry of ink. Like the traces of a prehistoric wall painting, the areas of faded marks hold as much interest for the viewer as the filled up parts. The faintly marked and embossed paper evokes unconscious memories of past histories, whether personal or collective. Certain areas of Halliwell’s compositions bear a resemblance to torn or old wallpaper, such as the surfaces on the peripheries and in the central areas.

Within Halliwell’s work an exchange takes place between chance and prediction, chaos and systems. The fragile beauty, symmetry and seductive qualities of these subversive patterns are a powerful force. Visually complex, Halliwell’s practice comments on ideas in relation to the nature versus science debate. The work is many layered, and is similar to very fine lace making or knitting, female pastimes associated with domesticity, leisure and relaxation. Halliwell turns this scenario around, as her methods embrace performance with a mixture of manic drawing and rhythm, the end product having no use value at all, and the public space they inhabit is the gallery wall.

Susie MacMurray’s use of drawing is similarly intense. Her hair drawings originate from an installation of a 21-foot French plait that MacMurray hung from the ceiling. The virtual invisibility of this fetishistic piece gave it an uncanny feel. The viewers without warning could possibly interact with the fragile hair and destroy the work. MacMurray currently projects hair, and using continuous fine pen lines draws the results on paper or directly onto the wall in the gallery. The resulting images are sinuous and wild, unruly and extraordinary. Related to the body and abjection, hair is also a dead material, associated with the primitive, taboo and witchcraft. MacMurray’s end results are unpredictable and random, as in Halliwell’s Spirograph drawings the viewer is drawn in to the complex overlapping of lines and curves; we make comparisons and aim to distinguish one drawing from another through a series of minute and intricate signs.
MacMurray’s balloon dresses explore the parameters of the female body. The weight of such an enormous number of balloons means that her dresses weigh the same as an idealised body, a comment on the weight of guilt and external pressure put upon women to conform to the ideal shape and weight, communicated subliminally through advertising and the media. There is also the analogy of the internal made external, and of vulnerability and excess. Eventually, due to the fragility of the latex, MacMurray’s garments will perish.

MacMurray’s clothing is also a celebration of femininity and at the same time has a transgressive quality, as the wearing of her dresses would be to adopt a masquerade of what it is to be ‘female’. MacMurray’s dresses have a baroque quality and reflect the ideas of the French feminist philosophers Julia Kristeva and Helene Cixous who in their writings explore the idea of female as that which is outside of order, that represents chaos, escapes all boundaries and cannot be pinned down or conceptualised.
The special and memorable qualities of both artists work in ‘Beyond The Pale’ are connected to the concepts of loss and invisibility, obsession and neurosis, the mechanical and the hand made, authorship and mark making, pattern and decoration, chance and impermanence, and the often overlooked inherent and unique beauty of vulnerability and imperfection.

© Lesley Halliwell and Susie Macmurray 2003