Kernel Memory, Thames Art Gallery

Laura Moore USB

There are two related bodies of work in Kernel Memory, the show of Laura Moore’s work at the Thames Gallery; a series of carved stone forms scattered in clusters across the gallery floor and a set of square drawings arranged in a row on the gallery wall. Given that the relation between the series is conceptual and related to the process of making the works rather than visual, the relation between the two series is not immediately apparent; the polish of the sculptural forms and the seeming haphazardness of their display is in marked opposition to the roughness of the drawings and the order of their arrangement. However, taken together the works in the show reflect in interesting and powerful ways on the situation of memory and commemoration in contemporary culture as well as opening up questions about the understanding of nature in a technological society.

The sculptural body of work is made up of carved stones that seamlessly combine natural and technical forms. The objects arranged on the gallery floor are beautifully crafted and carved with exceptional skill. The polished stone sculptures present, in part, recognizable forms modeled from life: acorns and a pinecone. These natural forms have been up-scaled at a ratio of 1 inch to 1 foot. The resulting objects have been brought to scale of human body; they are the size of a torso and hence, appear embraceable, and unthreatening. The sculptures look poured, their forms are fluid, and their surfaces are slick, seductive, and erotic. They invite viewer’s engagement while the smooth polish of their finish erases any trace of the physical labor involved in their carving. They look almost found, or natural. This sense of being found is complemented by their arrangement on the gallery floor. The stone “nuts” are arranged on gallery floor as if they had fallen from a tree, and possibly been gathered by some giant squirrel. They are grouped in odd numbers to give the works a sense of openness. The odd number allows the viewer to approach and complete a group of sculptures creating possibilities of dialogue rather than closing the works off in a dialogue with themselves.

The white marble acorns (one just a cap with the nut missing) and the limestone pinecone have had their stems replaced with the ubiquitous and instantly recognizable rectangular form of the male USB plug. USB (Universal Serial Bus) is an international standard for electronic inter-operability and communication (along with providing a low voltage power supply). By replacing the stems with USB plugs, the sculptures have had their connection to the tree that nourished them (and which they, as seeds, potentially reproduce) replaced with a connection to the contemporary techno-cultural world. The addition of the USB plugs asks us to imagine what these forms might plug into; what new forms of connection the might require or enable. Taken metaphorically the plugs reference the idea of DNA as a universal code, offering a vision of the world as a computer in which everything is potentially connected and networked. Imagined at their original scale, the forms reference USB drives – common portable devices that many of us trust to store key parts of our lives. In doing so, the works raise the question of housing and retaining memory. Stone has traditionally been the material of monuments; it creates memorials and markers that persist through time and hold in place. The USB key represents the portability of data and the possibility of writing and rewriting events; it allows the rapid movement and transmission of an unprecedented volume of memory that can be endlessly overwritten. Stone is also a non-conductor and a natural ground. Presenting an electronic interface in stone raises questions about the ultimate impossibility of connection.

The polish of the work and its erasure of its making can be read as an extension of invisibility of changes to the digital archive. Yet, this reading of the sculptures needs to be balanced by an engagement with the drawings.
While the sculptures may be said to erase their making, the series of drawings emerge from the process of the sculptures’ making and reassert the materiality of that process. The sheets of paper were under the marble acorns while they were being carved and the surfaces of the drawings bear the traces of the work of carving. The size of paper was determined by the size of the artist’s carving table and the frames of the works are based on the scale and proportions of the table the sculptures were carved on. The first drawings in the series are simply the markings produced by the stone on the paper as the stone was shifted and turned across the page while it was being carved. The later drawings in the series combine these traces of the carving process with the artist’s tracings of the tools involved. The outlines mark the positions of tools as they moved around the stone during the process. The outlines document the movement of the artist’s air hammer, measuring tape, set square, chisel, grinder and pencil as she worked to refine the forms. The black circles that mark a number of the drawings represent the traces of the rubber bucket that was used to hold a rounded stone in place for carving. The tools largely move around the edges of the pages and the empty centres of the drawings mark the place that the stones occupied while being worked.

Why, we might ask, is the reasserting of the process in the drawings important to our understanding of the show? The drawings reveal, in part, the repetitiveness of the process of carving. The traces of the labour that make up the drawings reveal the physicality of the sculptures in a new way; the rips and tears in the surface of the paper emphasize the resistance of the stone to its reshaping. Thus, while the drawings document the making of the sculptures, they are not drawings of the scene of carving as a picture but rather the transformation of the process of carving into an image that continues to act as a support for the carved forms. By holding up the traces of the sculptures’ process to our understanding, the drawings help us realize that the carved forms are not simply finished objects but also invitations to engage with their ongoing process. In other words, what the drawings help us realize is that what the sculptures really plug into is their viewers.

Written by Matthew Brower