Clock Tower Studio, Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, Perth 21 September – 19 December 2010
For three months during his residency at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, Jacobus Capone created Nine Prayers for Palomar, a series of nine works based on the protagonist of Italo Calvino’s novel Mr Palomar. Calvino’s novel consists of twenty-seven independent microtexts detailing Palomar’s thoughts and reflections as he attempts to carefully examine, and make sense of, the principles at work in the mundane world around him. Capone’s body of work consisted of drawings, installations, paintings, videos and durational performances which both traced and extended Palomar’s re-navigation of the self and world in search of harmony and meaning.
Calvino’s penchant for rational-isation and scientific logic surfaces in Palomar’s objective hypotheses. During a visit to a French charcuterie, for instance, Palomar exercises a detached way of observing; he understands the food on hand as exhibits capable of representing the history of a civilisation. In Nine Prayers for Palomar, Capone recognised the false sense of security that this objective systemisation of the world affords Palomar. As such, rather than present a mere quotation of the novel, Capone’s works extended the consciousness of Palomar beyond its fictional world and delivered the character’s objective way of seeing back into subjectivity — from scientific inquiry to human investigation.
Nine Prayers for Palomar had its genesis in the day-to-day observations of Palomar. Capone’s installation On Shopping 2010 was based on Palomar’s shopping experiences, including his visit to the charcuterie, and responded to the classificatory systems present in everyday experiences. Three jars, each containing bread, squab and fat, and prepared according to a precise recipe, were placed on a high stand and displayed alongside four sets of flatly-painted red wine and resin paintings mounted on the floor. The installation encouraged recognition, contemplation and respect for the atavistic bond between our bodies and what nurtures us. Unlike Palomar’s detached and systematic manner of categorising food according to titles, histories and symbolic meanings, Capone’s work allowed viewers to examine the innate and unvoiced relationship between ourselves and food.
Meditations (Seven Puddles) 2010 was a week-long silent meditation undertaken by the artist using seven bodies of water collected around Albany. A printed sheet declared Capone’s intention to observe and worship each sample throughout the gallery’s opening hours for seven days without disruption. This act evoked Palomar’s attempt to disassociate his mind and ego from his body in order to become an instrument through which the world may look upon itself. However, Capone’s durational meditation hinted at something more personal. His commitment to a prolonged meditation that embraced a metaphysical and spiritual presence charged the work with sentiment. If Palomar’s philosophical explorations between self and the wider world are achieved by rationalising the universe into a mosaic of signs, codes and theorems, Capone instead anchored his own parallel enquiry in the human dimension.
At the crux of Capone’s body of work was the search for meaning of human existence. Palomar’s lack of feeling and pathos denies the reader an emotional connection. In a phenomenological sense, too, the reader is unable to adequately register the character’s observations and experiences. Alternatively, Capone’s works allowed Palomar’s experiences to enter our emotional range. Nowhere is the expression of human qualities more potent than in For Now Forever, For The Time Being Forever, While This Lasts Forever (Coeur) 2010 in which Capone and his father each took turns listening to one another’s heartbeat for a day. This intimate work addressed the distance between generations; the inherited historical legacy of being unable to save the young from the mistakes previous generations have made. For Capone and his father, however, in the long duration of listening to each other’s heartbeats, such differences instead became shared commonalities.
It is one thing to understand reality in the phenomenalogial world and still another to find meaning in a reality that exists in an author’s observations and imagination. Nine Prayers for Palomar removed both the fictional constructions and phenomenological estrangement of Calvino’s novel but did not resolutely abandon the protagonist’s ways of seeing. In its demands for subjectivity and integration into the personal, Nine Prayers for Palomar inhabited the grey area between fiction and reality and established the possibility for viewers to complete the work. Capone illuminated humanity’s struggle to connect with the natural world, as well as each other. At the same time, the artist provided a space for contemplation, compelling viewers to pause a moment longer and examine how we establish relationships with the external world.
Joleen Loh is an emerging arts writer and art history student at the University of Melbourne.