Catalogue essay for From The Scrapheap of False Metaphors and Other Draft Deceits at Gallery 9

Eccentric, as ex-centric or exceeding the centre, is a useful position from which to locate the work
of Matthew Hopkins and Clare Milledge. The substance of excess as an idea along with its sister
expressions, the grotesque and exaggerated, is often forgotten, negated and dismissed as
‘sinister.’ It is a challenging task to contemplate that which is in excess of representation,
meaning, perfection, and language itself and what can we hope to find beyond those limits?
These works present traces of the psyche both collective and individual through a series of
gestures which exaggerate certain tendencies and moods.

Excess was central to the politics of sixteenth and seventeenth century Mannerism. Although it
might initially sound strange to look so far back in contextualising contemporary practices,
Mannerism is often credited as the first Modern art movement and as such has exerted a
powerful, if often underrated, influence on the trajectory of artistic thought leading to the present.
Mannerism framed itself as a reaction to the excessive perfection sought during the Renaissance.
It pursued in contrast grotesque, exaggerated qualities that ultimately made Mannerism
unattractive to the eyes of Art History, once removed from its initial historical context.
Mannerism was eventually resurrected by the avant-gardes who were interested in its expressive,
experimental qualities as well as the way that it signified individuality through severe stylisation.
Georges Bataille was a Modern writer who especially cultivated the notion of excess. He became
one of the foremost theorists of transgression and his writing helped shape notions of abjection
that were highly influential. These were later appropriated by many artists particularly throughout
the 1990s when they were broadly stylised as ‘grunge’. The practice of young artists such as
Hopkins and Milledge is differentiated from such practices and has, in a sense, elaborated a
Mannerist tradition of excess, giving it a strangely renewed contemporary significance.

The Renaissance aspiration towards seamless artifice was exemplified by the courtier Baldassare
Castiglione’s idea of sprezzatura, or the skill of making artful proficiency look naturalistic and
effortless. Mannerism extended this idea into sprezzatura artificiosa1, whose goal was to
emphasise pleasure in the act of presenting the artifice of expression, just as in the work of
Hopkins and Milledge there is a great interest in staging and imitation. In their work there is no
desire for naturalistic representation instead it revels in the revelation of artificiality. The artists’
interdisciplinary approaches lead to the creation of theatres of the grotesque, embellished
mutated realities.

In both practices there is a field of confusion between bodies and objects, creating impossible
scenarios. Hopkin’s photographs, which are composed of multiple exposures of images, objects
and drawings, leave the viewer searching for traces of logic. His works confuse still life with
portraiture much like the famed Mannerist Guiseppe Arcimboldo’s portraits that are composed of
collages of assorted organic matter. However, in Hopkins’ work there is a more confused system
of representation in which objects are given facial features while his drawings and representations
of faces become objects in still life compositions. Although the technique used to create many of
the images in the exhibition recalls Surrealist photography I would hesitate to refer to them as
surreal or dreamlike because they are thoughtfully constructed. They create an illogical narrative
from a series of mutations, contradictions and dissolutions of familiar references. It seems that
something is being communicated but it is impossible to clarify what that may be.

Similarly, Milledge uses complexity and oversaturation as strategies to draw viewers into the work
but simultaneously denies the satisfaction of empathy audiences may feel by understanding what
is being communicated. Her body of drawings in the exhibition were not originally intended to be
exhibited as finished artworks but were conceived as a collection of sketches, executed while in
Berlin, imagining scenes for future performances or sculptures. They were not treated as ‘art’ and
so fell victim to ‘stains of drunken tears, wine, beer, chamomile tea, creased, torn, oil etc.’2 The
onslaught of the moment and the pressure of individuality - as signified by the accidental damage
done to the artwork - has conflated ‘reality’ with its constructed fiction. Thus the artist’s state of
mind was being expressed here through images as much as through this additional layer of
unintended expressionism.

Subversion of communication is achieved by Hopkins and Milledge through the complexified
symbolism of the images as well as the deliberately perplexing use of titles. It becomes difficult to
say if what we are seeing is code for an idea or if what is being signified is excess itself. As a
retort to Milledge’s statement that ‘magic is often in the mud,’3 Hopkins questioned if ‘perhaps the
'mud' is the message?’4 This so called ‘aesthetic mud’ effectively signifies the lack of certainty and
fixity in the world and is paralleled in equally fluid and unsettled representations. Excess and
exaggeration in Mannerism appeared at the moment when the earth was revealed not to be the
centre of the universe. Along with this cherished sense of centrality, stability in general also
disappeared as did the underpinning logic of perspective and its spatial ordering of meaning.
Perhaps these images ultimately correspond to the contemporary loss of symbolic order that
results when the hyper logic of neo-liberalism is pushed to madness.

Global contemporary world is overwhelmed by information and images which dissect and collage
in our minds to create a fractured sense of reality. Australian writer Paul Carter has observed that
in the post-colonial context, collage is the ‘normal mode of constructing meaning.’5 Due to its
ubiquity collage has lost its power as a strategy of disruption, as once deployed by the
Modernists. Practices of Hopkins and Milledge reflect this state of being through the fragmented
images they produce. Hopkins has equated his recent work with the clash of images which occur
in areas of the mind flooded by a range of stimulus which need an expressive outlet. Similarly
Milledge’s images combine a broad range of cultural references together, not in an attempt to
equate or reconcile them but rather expose them as disparate fragments.

The practices of Hopkins and Milledge communicate a great deal, they do so strategically to
collapse meaning through an excess of signification. Indeed, what makes these practices excentric
is that they are not positioning themselves outside the systems of meanings and
metaphors but rather they tease and teeter on the edges of the centrality of meaning while
pushing these constructions beyond logic. Their images do not offer us solace but leave us
suspended in a world of uncertainty and contemplation of the manner of our being.

1 Gregorio Comanini, (Trans. Giancarlo Maiorino, Ed. Ann Boyce‐Anderson), The Figino, or, On the Purpose of Painting: Art Theory in the Late Renaissance, University of Toronto Press, 2001.

2 Clare Milledge, Email correspondence with the artist.

3 Clare Milledge, Press release for the exhibition on behalf of Gallery 9.

4 Matthew Hopkins, Email correspondence between the artists.

5 Paul Carter, ‘Post‐Colonial Collage: Aspects of a Migrant Aesthetic,’ Living in a New   Country: History, Travelling and language,