“If I Ventured in the Slipstream”: Tamara Henderson’s Nomadic Encampment at REDCAT

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If I ventured in the slipstream

Between the viaducts of your dream

Where immobile steel rims crack

And the ditch in the back roads stop

Could you find me?

– Van Morrison, “Astral Weeks”

A dusty caravan, rose damask and shimmery polyester, elusive perfumes and pockets full of flowers, scarecrows robed like priestesses. You are the panther in the temple interrupting the ritual that becomes the ritual.

Colored lights and crystal synths and rippling curtains with silver and seaspray blues, more atmosphere but it counts.

Each robe textures and hangs just so, you feel like they would be okay to touch, maybe even okay to strip naked and crawl into them and stand and breathe, let each tell you which actions your body might need to make while wearing it, what blessings and what curses, what incantations and what ablutions. The one with the iridescent eyes, the one corded in silver, the one with the magenta dress billowing out of its hanging geometry. The fabrics, thin and light, flowing easily with a furtive breath, feel like mysterious stories in their stripes and embroideries, their dangling tassels and strident stripes, that old faded T-shirt, cut and sewn into the quilt. Do you know all what they mean? Does any clergy or mendicants understand the freighted history of sacred garbs? If you say a spell in a language you do not know, does the spell still cast?

Some things you’re sure you can touch, the long bent and arcing cushioned contraption like a makeshift spaceship bar, the dune buggy’s hollow frame resting on wood, its handmade interiors draped and dangling with netting and fabric, rough weaves and softest wools, encrusted bottles and skeletal pine cones. Sit inside and watch through the windshield a road movie with sea creatures on beds, sad palm trees, a flickering journey.

That giant effigy reclining in the middle of it all looks too much to touch, though. A wicker man, the eternal mother, coiled with film and copper tubes, earthen in ways that are probably not actually earth, a figure like a god ready to be burned in the autumnal festival, the spring rites.

(You feel like if you can see each of its many elements by itself; put into a word, that you can contain its magic, but you know you can’t).

Maybe it’s all just elusive atmosphere.

Every fold of fabric breathes its travels, in steamer trunks and battered boxes held together with fraying tape, a little musty from gray Scottish storms, perfumed from a sunbent breeze off the Bosporus, off-gases soaked from cloths made in unknown factories in China or Bangladesh, by village artisans in British Columbia and Sweden, streaked with Moroccan road dust and Los Angeles smog, seashells drawn from vast oceans and wood gathered from forests on either side. Silk and leather, feathers and ribbons, glitter and glue, spandex and tulle and lace.

This is not a place but all the places you’ve been, the hikes and road trips, the flea markets and bazaars in a dozen cities, friendly apartments and rambling country houses, worn pensiones and grand hotels. It feels less like a room full of things and more a nomadic encampment, ancient and alive, the waves of heat and light that sear through your body making everything into a strange haze, a blinding softness to all the edges that’s like a strolling nap, loose and lithesome.

But it’s not just atmosphere, you’re sure of it. You see people (not literally, just in your mind’s eye). Grannies in speeding sports cars with silk scarves flapping wildly in the wind, forest children barefooting across pine needles holding burning sage in stone bowls, aged and ageless desert drop-outs in patchy jeans with off-gridded determination. You see all of them like different aspects of a multidimensional being, many-faced totem poles and Hindu deities. All-in-one just viewed from different angles of space-time. And maybe not even human, but the dream of a romantic magpie gathering from all corners bits of beauty into a most alluring nest.

There are paintings here, but they look more like the patterns that lichens make in ancient stones, or that’s what they’ve become after you’ve stared at them for much too long. They’re not landscapes but landscape. All of it, the robes and music, the lights and curtains, the effigies and vehicles, all of this the collective things that make a vision of place – not just a vision but really a place, woven from dreams and half-remembrances, weeping and play, the ancient and new. You are neither conscious nor unconscious, awake in a present laden with reveries and visions. Walking out of this place, this exhibition, Seasons End: Painting Healer, all of it made by Tamara Henderson, you feel the grit and fullness of a long journey from a faraway place. A feeling that’s hard to shake, not that you’d want to.

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