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London based artist Oliver Rafferty's Moonate on view at the Rod Barton Gallery
Installation view at Rod Barton. Photo: Courtesy Rod Barton.

LONDON.- The show seems to be about meaning as a thing-in-itself - how we read things and come to understand things. It is the broader conversation that keeps cropping up in my thoughts about the work included: How does meaning arrive? Why do we assign certain meanings to certain things? What constitutes a meaning? Does everything have meaning? Can anything be a meaning? Why are some meanings more valid than others?

Meanings seem to be thrust upon us. It feels like meanings are not allowed to be how they naturally are and instead are forced down particular avenues for no valid reason. Any reasoning that diverts from these avenues is considered absurd. To restrict and push things to a certain meaning seems to be starving things of their potential. It feels like we have become slightly deluded, become so casual in reading things in certain ways that we are missing the point, blind to most of the information that is available to us, relying on the fictional meanings created by us, with relentless bracketing, instead of the ones inherent in the objects themselves.

The works in the show were selected because they consider and celebrate this haziness of meaning. Each piece does so in a different tone, both conceptually (how they relate to the real world and adjust our understanding of it) and physically (how we look at them). Although sharing general themes, nothing is grounded to a singular concept but instead feeds off many avenues of thought and relates to a wider spectrum of ideas. The show does not pursue a gentle, easy reading with obvious formal and conceptual threads running through all the works. Instead, it aims to be a bit confusing, to create a slightly uncomfortable, jutting and raw viewing space with sliding themes – to instil the viewer with a fresher state somehow, one more sensitive to interpretation, freed from the anchors of normal thought.
The title is taken from Jorge Luis Borges’ short story, Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius. Written in 1940, the story centres around a conspiracy of intellectuals to imagine (and thereby create) a world they call Tlön. The discovery of an encyclopaedic article details the culture, history and language of this fictional world:

“There are no nouns in Tlön’s conjectural Urspache, from which the ‘present’ languages and dialects are derived: there are impersonal verbs, modified by monosyllabic suffixes with an adverbial value. For example: there is no word corresponding to the word ‘moon’, but there is a verb which in English would be ‘to moon’ or ‘to moonate’. ‘The moon rose above the river’ is hlör u fang axaxaxas mlö, or literally: ‘upward behind the onstreaming it mooned’.

With no nouns, there are no things. “The world [Tlön] is not a concourse of objects in space; it’s a heterogeneous series of independent acts”. Nothing is grounded, graspable, still. It is successive and temporal, not spatial. Things are formed from an accumulation of adjectives and enormous sentences - an accumulation of ideas, meanings, situations, becomings. These ideas and meanings are made and dissolved in an instant; no meaning remains steady, altering depending on the framework the thing finds itself housed in. Things are relative, things always have adjectives and adverbs stuck to them - autonomy is non-existent.

This accumulation of meaning is infinite. It matches the patterns of human thought: meanings, ideas and contexts constantly and very happily sliding and intermingling. The same can be said of people - the idea of the ‘self’ as a singular, separate, coherent entity is fictional. Instead, an individual comprises of tensions between constantly shifting and conflicting knowledge claims – gender, race, class, profession, what you had for breakfast etc. Similarly, the author’s intention as being stable, definable and singular is debatable. It’s as though there is no central point to anything, no heavy lump in the middle; no grounding or basis from which to read but instead, ongoing tensions and renewals, slipping around the thing-in-itself - sculptures with blunted curvy corners, pixelated photos, paintings with blurry edges, gradients continuing into space, gradually becoming more diluted.

Finding a meaning is difficult. In Tlön, Borges talks of the importance of the symbols < and > (nearly the title for this show). Estimates are regarded to be more accurate than counting and exact numbers. We can try to approach something solid and definite, but it maintains its slipperiness. The Castle in Kafka’s novel (The Castle) is, despite huge effort, unreachable. As K. (the protagonist) looks towards the castle, his “gaze finds no purchase and keeps sliding away”. K. cannot find the castle (and Kafka cannot finish the novel) because an end-point to the search would render its concept meaningless. Concluding the novel with a singular meaning and purpose would not satisfy the work. He stops mid-sentence, the last words being “...but what she said” (another near title). Zeno’s paradox against movement: a moving object at A cannot reach point B, because it must first cover half the distance between the two points, and before that, half of the half, and before that, half of the half of the half, and so on to infinity. Borges often talks of mirrors that reflect each other to infinity, roads that fork and corridors that lead to nowhere but to other corridors.

Although no fixed, stable end-point is reached, these journeys and situations do not suffer from any lack of meaning. On the contrary, this state of flux, where meaning is restless, where things are hazy and hard to define, where contrasting contexts are allowed to slide and swap, making things absurd or seem out-of-place: this seems like a more accurate illustration of how the world is and how we should let it be; an attitude where meaning can arrive as a slower, more confusing but ultimately more accurate and rewarding experience. Things can then fulfil their potential and be seen afresh in all their variety, out of their comfort zones, freed from the illusion of a singular meaning, not castrated by a need to label, define, categorise or give a structure.

Oliver Rafferty born 1985, lives and works in London. Rafferty completed his MA at Slade School of Fine Art in 2010 and his BA at Chelsea College of Art in 2008. Recent exhibitions include Off-Site, Curated by Rod Barton Gallery, London (2011); Octodog, Limazulu Project Space, London (2011); Creekside Open, Selected by Phyllida Barlow, APT Gallery, London (2011); Re-Read curated by Assembly Projects, The Electricians Basement, Trinity Buoy Wharf, London (2011); New Contemporary Art: Part 1; George and Jorgen Fine Art, London (2010); Project 1: Shows 1-10 (publication) curated by Leandakatelouise, London (2010); Slade MA Degree Show, Slade School of Fine Art, London (2010); Grammar See, Rod Barton Gallery (2010); Bricks, Area 10, London (2009); Artisit?, Mcdonagh Building, Galway (2009).

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