I SHOULD COCO!
“Our imagination is bound by experience. We can’t think of anything that isn’t within our knowledge.” (Nicholas Roeg)
Fed up with artistic branding and insistent claims of logo-centricity, Coco sees Jane Topping filling her sourcebook with Babylonian follies and beatific brides. And though you should never give away a lady’s secrets, I have it on good authority that a lingering invocation of Bruegel pervades this comely back-room.
In Abigail’s Party divine hostess Beverly reflects philosophically on the beauty of a fibre-optic lamp; “D’you know Ange, I sometimes come in, put a record on, and sit and look at it for hours. It reminds me of New York, I don’t know why, but it does.” Bev’s meandering on that Proustian sensation of unexpected, bittersweet reminiscence, provoked by the banal or familiar, is revealing in the context of Topping’s work. Like any creative process, memory and nostalgia is sweetest, and most intense, when it reveals itself unbidden, or creeps up from behind.
“Voluntary memory, the memory of the intellect and the eyes (gives) us only imprecise facsimiles of the past which no more resemble it than pictures by bad painters resemble the spring… So we don’t believe that life is beautiful because we don’t recall it, but if we get a whiff of a long-forgotten smell we are suddenly intoxicated, and similarly we think we no longer love the dead, because we don’t remember them, but if by chance we come across an old glove we burst into tears.” (Marcel Proust)
This kind of poetry, where the personal, dreamed arena slips over into the public, visible realm is Topping’s currency. The sudden dawning of a small detail in a reproduced Breugel, so familiar as to be invisible, becomes significant again when it becomes an invocation of childhood, a motif of wonder. Topping, with Whistlerian fancy, selects and rejects at will, choosing only a suspended crown (which hangs above Breugel’s bride in the Wedding Banquet) to hang in the window of a long-forgotten shop. The crown, for Topping, is Proust’s madeleine dipped in lime-blossom tea, or Beverley’s glowing fibre-optic lamp.
Topping revels in, and plays upon, the tension and contrast between assumed, collective or ‘universal’ responses to familiar details, marks, or motifs, and her own responses to such signifiers. She seeks not to ‘subvert’ the familiar ‘for subversion’s sake’ but to indulge in a personal and individual play with these images – making them conform to her immediate, idiosyncratic responses rather than acting as a passive receptacle for meaning. After all, some people look at the landscape and never see Icarus’s foot, they hear ‘water pitcher’ and think of a jug. You can force letters into a grid and still make no sense of the words. You can bring a horticulture – but you can’t make her understand. And why else the Tower of Babel? We each come with our own complex languages, and meaning, like memory can never be static or fixed.
Susannah Thompson 2004