Lineage: An exhibition of painted sculpture
7th to 20th September 2016
m2 Gallery, Surry Hills, Sydney, Australia
Video of exhibition:
Lineage Man has been selected as a finalist in the Contemporary Art Awards 2016. Click here
August 2018: Spazio Tadini Museum, Milan, Italy, have acquired the Lineage (2017) artworks, man and three babies, into their permanent collection.
We live in a culture where the perpetuation of family ancestral lineage and the family as a social institution are central. By making babies, we continue life's pageant. In children, we cheat death. Yet something seems fundamentally very wrong, or incomplete, with this idea as humans. To find meaning only in child production seems an affront to human dignity and potential, individual differences, and personal choice (Kingsford-Smith).
The exhibition consists of a male adult astride a chair with his three babies positioned at his feet. The adult male stares into the void, his distant gaze demonstrates his psychological detachment from his offspring. Kingsford-Smith has painted a complex range of narratives upon the figures, which represent life narratives, historic myths associated with procreation, the cycle of life, ancestor worship, archetypal experiences (love, despair, faith, etc) and more personal levels of experience. In this exhibition Kingsford-Smith explores the complex reasons why people choose to bear children and challenges the assumption that the perpetuation of genetic bloodlines is the most meaningful form of human connection and lineage possible.
The visual coherence of the narratives painted on the figures, within the exhibition, suggests that they share the same bloodlines and are bound to the legacy of a families’ history. Through the narratives Kingsford-Smith has painted on the figures he has signalled the role that children have within their parents’ attempts to reconcile themselves with their own failings, traumas, disappointments and their complex relationships with their own parents. The parents’ desire for their offspring to have a better life than they have had, or to be raised in a different way than they were, can be interpreted as morally ambiguous, as the parents are using their children to work through issues associated with their own childhood.
Kingsford-Smith doesn’t seek to critique those who choose to raise children; he aims to engage with wider models of human connection and alternate understandings of how lineage can be formed. To achieve this he undertakes a number of strategies. He locates the validation of procreation in historical context (myths and narratives associated with fertility and bloodlines), complicates the division of self and other (specifically the relationship between personal and collective memory) and offers an alternate understanding of lineage centered on the continuum of fundamental levels of human experience.
In keeping with the pictorial strategies adopted in his previous work, Kingsford-Smith has combined pictorial narratives associated with the perspective of the individual with those associated with collective understandings of the parent/child relationship. He weaves narratives that reference ancient myths that valorise fertility and virility as ways of valuing people with narratives that question the moral justifications of procreation. This strategy emphasises the role of historical narrative in determining our understanding of the family unit, lineage and which members of society we view as valuable. Hovering in the background of the work is the cultural spectre of the history of advocating or deterring procreation for the sake of the nation state.
Challenging the historic value awarded to fertility and procreation Kingsford-Smith suggests alternate ways of understanding both how we connect to others and human lineage. He does this by highlighting the unstable division between self and other.
This occurs on a range of levels; firstly the relationship between parent and child and secondly the relationship between individual and collective experience. The child is presented as both an extension of the self/parent (by the transmission of genes) and as a means to fulfill the goals the parent failed to achieve. By painting closely related narratives on the figures, Kingsford-Smith conveys the sense that the parents’ horizons and aspiration have been projected onto their children. The parent/child relationship is represented as co-dependent.
The division of self and other is complicated by Kingsford-Smith’s model of portraiture. His painted figures challenge conventional expectations of portraiture. The division between personal and collective memory and self and other are problematised by the work. The generic features of the figure do not represent a specific person. The life narratives painted on the figures do not relate to any particular individual; they are a composite of various peoples’ life narratives. In an oblique way Kingsford-Smith’s selection and combination of pre-existent narratives and archetypes constitutes an oblique form of self-portrait. His selections demonstrate his preoccupations.
On the broader level the division of self and other is blurred by the way that individual experiences are rendered intelligible by connecting them to the horizons of a culture, and to the history of representations of fundamental levels of human experience. The movement between individual and collective experiences emphasises continuums within human experience and the range of attempts to award meaning to them. Locating individual experience in context of collective memory makes us recognise that the depths of our personal experiences have been already been uttered within representations produced by those who have preceded us.
In context of this exhibition the term ‘lineage’ refers to both the genetic and paternal connection between father and his children and to the broader lineage of the history of representations of family connections and common life experiences.
The affective role of art is often dependent on the possibility recognizing the self through the mirror of the other. When Kingsford-Smith suggests that procreation is an inadequate answer to a meaningful life he suggests that there are alternate ways of understanding human connection and what it means to contribute to a lineage. Lineage in this exhibition is presented as our collective effort to make sense of our existence through narratives and art.
(Paul James, Victoria University of Wellington)