Ulysses V. Streisand. A combative exchange; a site of tension; a conflict between two opponents. To verse; to duel.
A verse is also a poetic device. It has rhythm, it has cadence. It is loaded with metaphoric or symbolic intent.
Nick Dorey’s work flirts with both definitions.
Do the protagonists in this collision matter? Ulysses & Streisand? Or is it simply the fact that the two sit on either side of that V. Staring across at one another over the impasse. Is the V. the salient character?
Dorey erects dichotomized structures. He deifies the rupture and the schism. His installations, sprawling but also tightly contained, are carefully engineered studies of the tension between opposing forces. In Ulysses V. Streisand the oppositional dynamic was played out across the fault line that separates the volatile and the inert. In the back corner of the gallery, a wooden chalice was perched in the centre of a ring of dried grass. It held a tampon steeped in amyl nitrate. Amyl nitrate is a vasodilator; it widens the blood vessels and eases blood flow. Often prescribed to treat various heart conditions, amyl is also used recreationally as an inhalant. It triggers a high that is intense yet short lived.
The amyl-soaked tampon in the corner of the installation took up the largest dimension of physical space. When I walked into the room I was hit with the subtle undertones of its acrid chemical smell. After a while a dull headache set in.
Positioned offside and in the corner, the amyl shattered the isomorphic spatial logic of the installation’s centerpiece — a triangular structure plotted along both a vertical and horizontal axis — yet it enveloped everything in the room. Aggressive, you could say.
Across the room a clay bowl cradled a mound of kitty litter. A bamboo torch was stuck in the middle of it. Kitty litter absorbs toxins and volatile compounds out of the air. It is meant to offset odor. An antidote to the amyl aggressor. The inverted pine tree hanging from the tip of the wooden triangular frame that sat in middle of the room also helped to neuter the smell.
The tree was suspended over a pool of methylene blue solution. An overdose of amyl nitrate can cause methaemoglobinaemia which is characterized by increased levels of methemoglobin in the blood (a form of haemoglobin that is not able to bind with oxygen). The condition is treated with intravenous methylene blue. The blue pool in the centre of the room was another antidote. Another counteragent in the conflict between the volatile and the inert.
Floating on top of the methylene blue, propped up on a rubber ring, was a book open to a page that quite graphically described the mechanics of heterosexual sex. This is another confrontation between opposing forces. Another V.
Dorey’s work is alchemical. That is not to say he is converting common metal into gold. The proposition is elemental (pun intended). Alchemical processes are modes of transmutation — they rupture and reconfigure states of being. Distillation is an alchemical procedure that fractures and divides. It is an act of purification, of separating out a compound into its constituent components. But alchemy is also about synthesis and the reconciliation of distinct and combative substances. It is about aggregates and assemblage.
The wall text that accompanied Dorey’s installation was a tangle of made-up chemical formulas and evasively metaphoric wordplay. Embedded in the text was a veiled reference to Dionysus and Apollo.
In Greek mythology, Apollo is the god of the sun while Dionysus is the god of ecstasy and intoxication. Enlightenment versus hedonism. Nietzsche peddled this pairing in The Birth of Tragedy, arguing that dramatic form depends on the delicate balance between the two. The tension must be upheld and teased out.
Amyl is a muscle relaxant and is often inhaled before anal sex. Nice arse indeed.
It activates a centrifugal force. It projects outwards and away from the centre. Loosen up baby. Dorey’s work is centrifugal. The installation sprawled out from its central point – each component orbited and fed off the nucleus of the pool. But this is not simply a physical thing. The allegories seeped into each attendant object like a virus.
Centrifugal but also centripetal. While the installation pushed outwards, preying on the outer edges of the room, it was also tightly contained. Triangles are enclosed. They hold fast. The vertical triangle made of interlocking wooden beams was superimposed on top of a triangle only visible from above. With the kitty littler at its apex, this floor-plan-triangle dominated the room’s geography. These two interlocked triangular forms gave the work an edge. A limit point.
So — pushing outwards but holding tight. Gestural antinomy.
Triangles are symbolically loaded shapes. They provide formal logic (or just plain form) to innumerable theoretical and theological schemes. From Christianity to shamanism, the triangle and the triad play reoccurring feature roles. Father, Son & Holy Spirit. The scuffed pink rubber pig sitting in the back right hand corner of the room paid oblique lip service to this triumvirate. Filled with a vat of lavender alcohol, the pig became a veritable Mother Mary with the Holy Spirit percolating inside her.
Like any object that is absorbed into Dorey’s installations, the pig has a backstory. Each component of his structural constellations is leaden with narrative and poetic baggage. They demand to be deciphered. The swimming cap that hung off the wooden teepee was filled with shredded bark. That particular type of bark is the raw material used to produce DMT (prior to the addition of any chemicals). It is another volatile substance. A compatriot of the amyl nitrate.
This network of strategically interlocked metaphors — the plot points in an elliptical study of cryptography — was provoked by a chance encounter. Just after an initial discussion with the gallery about his upcoming show, Dorey found a bottle of amyl in a park. Most of the other objects that featured in the installation were similarly stumbled upon. The allegories came second. Symbols solidified and the connective tissue between each cog soon surfaced. The TAB sign that hung off the installation’s central structure was less a narrative element than it was a self-referential acknowledgement of process and methodology. The installation was a product of a game of chance. A gamble. But how much power does coincidence really hold? How much sway does serendipity possess? The house always wins.
Dorey’s work leaves itself open to happy accidents and welcomes chance encounters but it is also rigorously researched and astutely conceptualized. Loose but also uncompromising. Volatile and inert. Combative and harmonic. v.
Isobel Parker Philip, 2014
ULYSSES V. STREISAND
14 – 30/3/14