Kate Davis' recent exhibition at Milch, now on tour, provided a welcome opportunity to see a body of the artist's work. Davis has often swum against the tide of contemporary art, sustaining a highly individual language which appears oblique but is driven by a desire for clarity and precision. The work refuses to be easily consumed (the viewer is made to bend, peep, and squint to capture the clues in the pieces) and persistently avoids a reductive meaning.
Davis' new work inhabited the three rooms at Milch with a quiet insistence, demanding time and a willingness to engage on the part of the viewer. "Drawing Towers while lying down" is a series of endlessly repeated Biro marks inscribed through carbon paper across a large sheet of leaning glass. Setting up a tension between drawing and sculpture which informed the whole of the exhibition, it's as if the artist was creating a challenge for herself in introducing a barrier between her hand and the medium.
The temporal quality of the mark-making process in"Drawing Towers while lying down" becomes a physical experience in "Négligé (Observations of Woman with her throat cut)" where the viewer is asked to move through the series of 36 drawings of Giacometti's sculpture, each one based on a photograph taken at 10 degree intervals. The subtlety of the drawings belies the violence with which they were made--repeated pin-pricks breaking through the paper's surface--perhaps Davis' attempt to get to the heart of the sculpture's horrifying subject. Her obvious fascination with the original work is objectified and distanced by the precision with which the drawings are executed. At the same time the pin-pricks are made directly onto the paper, ensuring that the images they form are, like the carbon drawings, dictated partly by chance and the impossibility of total control.
From a distance, "Négligé (Observations of a Woman with her throat cut)" is barely perceptible; the work it shares the gallery with, "Philosophical Object", is almost invisible in its purity and reductiveness. Poised as if free-floating on top of a perspex case, "Philosophical Object" is an aluminum-coated glass cylinder, reflecting only itself from inside and its surroundings from without. Simultaneously closed and infinite, hermetic and affected by the space it reflects, "Philosophical Object" essentialises the problem of producing an object that has no meaning except as a catalyst to the imagination.
The work which comes closest to having a narrative was kept for the final gallery at Milch, where the four elements of "Little Red" played off each other and an erotic push-pull unfolded as the viewer negotiated the space. Like the sideways glance out of the corner of the eye or the glimpse of forbidden fruit, the red square painted on the underside of a small table is reflected in the polished elliptical end of a long steel rod. The corner of the room was occupied by a sheet of glass bearing the image of a lemon or breast, inscribed by the metal filings that were thrown off during the process of cutting the pole. The fourth part of the work, a video of the artist's daughter massaging cream into her mother's thighs, most clearly articulated the intimacy which is alluded to in the other elements. The artist has no desire to lay bare her soul in this exhibition--although her work is highly personal--but seeks rather to provoke flashes of recognition, an intuition of that which remains hidden in human experience.