Emma Roche: Forward Slash
The LAB is pleased to present an exhibition of new work, Forward Slash, by Wexford-based artist, Emma Roche.
This series of paintings stem from ideas about the artist’s everyday working life, in-house rules, bosses, authoritative figures, colleagues, dream jobs and nightmare positions as well as imagined occupations and fabricated titles.
Her sometimes jarring use of colour and crude lines, often purposely gnarly, are an instinctual response to these memories and fictions. Quasi-human form, child-like note-taking and an innate handling of materials are central to the paintings and all that informs them.
Forward Slash refers to the contemporary phenomenon of economic and reputational pressure to hold multiple identities, an artist/office worker, an actor/website designer, an entrepreneur/barista etc. For artists, the supplementary labour that sustains an artist practice is often hidden or at the very least, not made visible. Here it is these side line occupations that are boldly announced as the subject matter of the works.
The exhibition is accompanied by a commissioned response by Phil King, co-editor Turps Banana, entitled Four Letter Word.
Sheena Barrett • Curator
Four Letter Word.
Emma Roche’s Work.
Artist’s work: They work, not simply on their own work but usually in other occupations as a means of survival. Many artists try and cloak this necessity in order to perpetuate a kind of pious romantic professionalism of unfettered plenty, a kind of already ready-made market primed self-sufficiency free of everyday grind, but Emma Roche foregrounds its necessary yet mundane working nature in her artistic work. While in her role as an artist she might seem to question work, she frames that role in terms of her other work; she remains a worker. The piety of a work ethic appears to be foregrounded as inescapable condition.
Often her titles reference some day job: Is There Anything Else That I Can Help You With, for example, refers to the 1 year and 13 days that the artist worked in a call centre and had to end every call with the phrase. The specific measurement of the exact time period speaks volumes.
And yet she also clearly equates her work in the studio to a form of work, she once told me that the title Stress Leave was not in relation to any day job breakdown, (she’s never had any such leave) , but referred instead to times that she’s had to take a break from painting. The resulting painting itself is a hilarious and poignant piece of work. A rich array of divergent approaches to mark making and in your face oil painting, it embodies a sort of dysfunctionally contained expressionism. A ‘sort of’ figure dominates it; is that hair? Is that a hand? We have to try and figure out what is going on, any guarantee of clear sense is taken leave of, and the result is powerful and enthralling all at once. Work and escape from its unifying ethic unite in a sort of diagrammatic nightmare that is actually a kind of relief.
It’s easy to take for granted something of Emma Roche’s achievement in these paintings, to simply understand them in terms of some superficially apparent expressionism, more of a same kind of painting, to mistake them as participation in some sort of particular painting genre. Huge mistake; there is a kind of scabrous objectivity at work in these oil paintings, in the kind of space that she has managed to create in them and that seems to occur in their event.
It’s hard to figure out how she has managed to create such an objective punch. For me, I think it is in the sense that she has invented them as a kind of self-contained body of work; that these are her ‘oil paintings’. And they sit alongside a number of other possible bodies as a part of her work as a disjunctive whole.
I first got to know her work in terms of her knitting pieces. By combining knitting and painting she’s created a sense of painting as a kind of habitual ordinary craft, and yet the creation of the long threads of acrylic paint to be knitted into her extraordinary hybrids turned her studio into a kind of light industrial production site. A whole manufacturing process becomes evident; work takes over the studio with its demands and logics. A rich quasi-parody activity develops in full absurdity. Her studio is dominated by a sense of profane labour in which production is at one with the product, it is her art. And it is there that, on the walls, we find the oil paintings and their sense of challenging and liberating disorganisation. They seem to embody this sense of production/product identity, part and not part of it, resistant to, and yet utterly part of her art, at one with it in a kind of aggressive and ambitious silence. They are kind of stupid, they dumbly resist their own condition; if they are so real it is because they resist the demands of the studio logic, they insist on their own somewhat marginal and indeterminate terms, unjustifiable afterthoughts that grow and create their own demands. These paintings, in spite of rather than because of any artistic guarantee, claim our attention. They are free painting; as a form of pressure apparently free of conscious will they undermine both work itself and the leaving of it. They are art.
The title Part Time Pro-Rata 2 gives us a matrix to cling onto after the string of debilitating realisations that these odd, eccentric, paintings carry forward. Work itself moulds and shapes us and contains the sweeping generalisations that this body of work provokes us into trying to organise in some way. But this is a part time job, jostling with all the other jobs that try and define our lives and dreams. If anything these paintings are there to insist on failure of any over-all identity and to embroil us in the hilarity of a kind of critical dissolution; the comic figures that inhabit them, personages that march uninvited into our world, wave the banners of an absolute partial power, and a partial power is really no power at all.
Another part of the interacting complexities/complexity that is Roche’s art is a sense of the radical integration of good and bad. This is something that relates to work, because generally work in itself is vaunted as an ultimate good, a kind of measure of goodness. I’ve wanted to avoid responding to the paintings by reaching for the poetry inherent in French philosophy resources, though Roche’s interest in and reference to figures such as Artaud and Derrida opens a double lane highway to drive that vehicle down. I will however summon George Bataille talking about his book Literature and Evil. He said, equating writing with bad and working with good, that: Writing is the opposite of working, this might not sound logical, but still, all the amusing books are efforts that went against work.
Emma Roche’s paintings as a whole create a place of awareness of such a sentiment: they both embody and question the nature of work; they are ‘good’ because they are a kind of work, they wear their labour on their (knitted) sleeve, and they are ‘bad’ because they simultaneously emerge regardless of such discipline, in a form of passive resistance to it. The oil paintings are the ones that seem to emerge free of the demands of the artists overall work; they are pieces of her work and yet individually seem to have a self-contained power to question its overall demands. These are, in their withdrawal from their own working condition, from the fact of the work that made them possible in the first place, situated as a kind of ‘anti-work’, like the illuminations generated by hard working monks of old, they flourish as distracting, yet ultimately vital, marginalia to the main knitted text.
Oddly – paradoxically – what these oil paintings show us is that it is in the work of painting that the work of art can most plainly embody its own anti-work, anti-art nature. They take a break from painting and yet are undisputedly just painting. Pure Love, a small painting full of a sense of invented childhood purity and play, acts through an uncontrived rapidity of execution in which a roller skate, Darth Vader mask wearing Nun is turned into an ultimate example of this paradoxical principle. It’s a work that lacks nothing, or rather doesn’t lack nothing, it’s an absurdist ‘power figure’ undermining the purity of its own power, a painting full of the good and bad nature of an after-thought that embroils us in an unlikely realism.
Whenever the nature of artistic work is currently mentioned there is a temptation to discuss it in Marxist terms, in terms of Labour’s subsumption to capital. While not dismissing the relevance of such analysis what I’m getting at is the sense that this work, these oil paintings, and the funny figures that they stage, appear to come from nowhere, that they appear, unasked, as a kind of surprise on the edge of such necessary materialist drama. This is the other space that they create, and it seems to be a space that is born in the midst of her work, on the margins of her theatre of artistic production, on the margins of a body of work that realises the question of labour most dramatically as a kind of make-believe knitting. It is a created creative space, a kind of wayward and involving appearance on the edge of things, an uninvited and unnecessary event on the edge of her own ‘work’ that puts me, at least, in mind of Franz Kafka generating devastating literary amusements in the margins of his responsible day job. Just like Kafka, Roche, at the end of the day, is minded to inclusively assemble the whole of her horizon, and all its working and non-working parts, into her work as a whole. And, again like the Czech writer, we inhabit the whole of it through an experience of each part.
Phil King, Co-Editor Turps Banana
Emma Roche is a graduate of the MA in Visual Arts Practices, IADT, 2010 and holds a BA in Fine Art Painting, NCAD, 2006. She has exhibited widely in Ireland and the UK most recently in group shows ‘Turps Cloud’ and ‘Women Can’t Paint’ (forthcoming) at Turps Gallery, London, 2018. She has received Arts Council Bursary award and an Arts Coucil Travel and Training award and has work in private and public collections including the OPW, Dublin and Wexford County Council.