Submission No. 26

Elizabeth Tremante, Captivity Narrative, 2012

Elizabeth Tremante, Captivity Narrative, 2012
Oil on canvas, ink on paper


Elizabeth Tremante, Astrolabe Drawing (from the Captivity Narrative), 2012
Ink on paper

Click here to see more views of Tremante’s Captivity Narrative.

This submission appears to consist of four paintings and a text.

The text is suggestive, describing as it does a woman lost in the wilderness at night, the wilderness and the night being metaphors for aspects of her experience of life. This text is well written in the sense that it conjures emotions which are familiar to all of us: sorrow, shame, regret, confusion.

The paintings are less suggestive to my eye. They are crudely painted, and the colors seem arbitrary instead of necessary.

But the power of this piece is in its plaintive quality. It tells a story. It is a similar story to that of the woman in the text. The identity of the woman lost in the wilderness, on a moonless night, looking to the stars for meaning and finding none, merges with the identity of the artist herself, whom we imagine working, seeking meaning and affirmation, receiving none or not enough, feeling similarly blown away like dust into the night.

This feeling is nightmarish, but also strangely exhilarating — because it presents the artist as someone on a heroic journey of self-negation leading to ultimate self-discovery. The end of the woman’s story, then, is hinted at, even though it is not made explicit: the “finished” art we are looking at it is its expression; the very fact of a showing in a gallery, a website, gives us the answer to this self-negation, fills in the gaps in the work.

We sense the repetitive copying, in different colors, with some letters faded and illegible, of this text. We sense the countless hours spent brooding over the arrangement of the visual art with the text and the optimal experience for the viewer. But really the most interesting thing about this work of art is the continuing attempt of the artist, like the woman in the wilderness in her text, to find meaning where there is none. It is sorrowful. It is familiar. It is agonizingly, obscenely, adorably human.

This art is not art, at least the way I see it, in the sense of being beautifully crafted; it is art in the sense of performance art, showing the courage of the artist making herself vulnerable.

Is it too cruel to point out that the Astrolabe Drawing seen above, the whole of this Captivity Narrative, and the show in a gallery do not really provide answers to the self-negation expressed in this art? That they never will nor can?

I would recommend to this artist, as I would hope that she would recommend to me if she confronted something I had done which hinted at a heroic narrative (and I have plenty that crop up myself, no doubt), that we must accept our self-negation entirely. That the delusion of looking for meaning — constellations in the sky — except for the sheer visual interest  — is only that, a delusion. That by letting go of meaning and no longer hoping for the heroic self-discovery at dawn we may be free to pursue more interesting questions, questions no one has thought of before but are worth trying to answer.

This submission is suggestive, but only of the failure of the artist truly to let go of fables and myths, self-directed and otherwise. Let go, I would urge Ms. Tremonte, as well as all of us. Let’s see what happens next!

About Tom Clyde

The best place to learn about me is to read my riffs. What could be more revealing? Cheeky, maybe, but true enough.

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