The title of Thea Djordjadze’s installation at dOCUMENTA(13) was As sagas sa (2012). The letters came from words that appear in the opening lines of two early T. S. Eliot poems, A Lyric (1905) and Song (1907), but they were abstracted and modified in such a way as to remove signification, and – importantly, I think – form a palindrome. There is something distinctly palindromic going on in Djordjadze’s work, wherein time moves at once forward and backward, and the beginnings of things are indistinguishable from their endings.
Djordjadze has reconfigured a number of sculptural components from As sagas sa for her solo project our full (2012–14), and some of them carry traces of their past. For instance, the work at dOCUMENTA(13) was in a glass greenhouse flooded with sunlight, and the silhouette of an obscuring object was left on some grey linen-lined paneling that faded over the summer months. The same panels have reappeared in our full, with this unplanned spectral image disclosed as part of the work’s ongoing durational existence.
Although she regularly reuses many of the same objects in different installations, our full is her first official touring show – having been to Malmö Konsthall in Sweden and Kunstverein Lingen Kunsthalle in Germany before being shown at Mudam in Luxembourg. It’s a single project, but she reconceived it every time – with different elements incorporated, removed and reconfigured in response to each context. And because none of the separate parts have their own titles, each version has been presented as some sort of whole – albeit a palpably temporary one that’s riddled with gaps.
Each iteration of the work, including the one currently on view at Mudam, has featured many tropes familiar from the Djordjadze’s work in recent years. Curtains, carpeting, not-quite beds and weirdly proportioned chair-like things are suggestive of interiors and furnishings. Various provisional clusters of found and assembled objects give form to a lot of negative space. Things that look like vitrines, racks and plinths nod to methods of display, but often only display themselves. There are no kinetic elements, and yet all seems to be in transition. Some arrangements look precarious, as if anticipating collapse. There are also many of the same basic, disparate materials that she uses recurrently – glass, wood, iron, fabric, foam and plaster.
Besides being white, cheap and generic, plaster appeals to Djordjadze because it forces her to work quickly. And even when its amorphous liquid state sets, it is brittle and unpredictable; her plaster works often feature inadvertent cracks and breakages. Our full includes several framed, wall-mounted, painting-like plaster works revealing messy traces of the artist’s hand. Plaster has also solidified while dripping over the edges of foam blocks, and is haphazardly smeared along chicken wire on one side of a human-length object that lies on the floor.
Plaster on wire is a standard beginning for sculptures. By disclosing the armature that is usually subsumed by the sculpture’s finished image, skeletal objects like this unnamed supine sculpture suggest, paradoxically, the decrepit remains of something not yet actualized. It looks partial, but was it ever whole? Something bigger is implied, but has the fragment broken away, or does the rest not yet exist? In its raw materiality, it points to both previous and forthcoming states, appearing to be simultaneously unfinished and coming undone.
The repeating forms, colours, materials and combinations in Djordjadze’s work do not indicate secondary versions of an ur-. Rather, they are part of a vocabulary in an open-ended reworking of personal and cultural memories and unforeseen happenstances. She usually finds her titles in existing literary texts, and fragments from T. S. Eliot’s poetry often appear. These recontextualized words don’t ascribe any fixed narrative or signification, but there seems to be an affinity between her work and the paradoxical temporalities that Eliot so often evoked – as with the title of her 2008 exhibition, Time future contained in time past, which came from one of the poet’s Four Quartets (1935–42).
Like Djordjadze’s other works, our full suggests emergent leftovers, where all is coming into being and going out of being, at the same time. Her objects, assemblages and environments are something like the insides of a palindrome, where every step forward counts as a step back and progressive temporality is negated because its own regressive inverse is contained within it. As Eliot wrote elsewhere in the Four Quartets – in one of many lines that can be related to the principal of the palindrome – ‘The end is where we start from.’
Published in Frieze #158 October 2013