Allegories are, in the realm of thoughts, what ruins are in the realm of things.
In The Origin of German Tragic Drama (1924-25), Walter Benjamin develops his nuanced conception of allegory through the Baroque German ‘Mourning Plays’. Allegory for Benjamin is not like the symbol or like language, it does not deliver meaning in a flash of understanding. Allegory is more a relic or hieroglyph, a fragment of the past that haunts the present. “[In] allegory the observer is confronted with the facies hippocratica [deathly face] of history as a petrified primordial landscape.”
The work of the three British artists, Thomas Hutton, Clementine Keith-Roach and Christopher Page has something of this deathly face. The ancient history of form haunts their work, just as it haunts the present: in its contemporary collapse, its flattening, its arbitrariness. In Thomas Hutton’s work space, often in architectural form, reappears as frozen image, the hardness of stone becomes polymer skein, habitat collapses into theatre. Clementine Keith-Roach exhumes typologies of art long abandoned, here taking the Victorian mantel-sculpture and filling the place of its features (feet, pedestal and figure) with casts of contemporary plastic ephemera. These parts cohere into something like reliquaries. Christopher Page’s paintings withdraw into themselves - they are paintings of paintings, or frames at least, in which classical and modernist forms can be glimpsed as if from a distance.
The perpetual neoclassicisms of Western history are at times mournful and others melancholic. Freud’s essay “Mourning and Melancholia” (1917) describes mourning as the painful, though ultimately healthy, coming to terms with loss, while melancholia is a pathological state in which the lost object is internalised and punished for its abandonment. The three artists in this exhibition are all English and live and work in Athens, but are not neoclassicists. Their work does not privilege the ancient over the modern or contemporary - rather they amplify these superimpositions and contort the dialectics that inhere in visuality. Their mourning is playful.