The Paper Canary: systems in a pending state of collapse
A heedless origami canary, litmus blue, trills mutely while cloud makers steam methane, carbon monoxide, brown gases and from the tarry depths luminous orisons, markers, breed and call clarion that coal gas threatens. These sunless places leave us no horizon or place to orient from, destabilizing vision and providing the sense of our world slowly fading away leaving a velvety flat void. This might be what is left if there is no environment in a planet depopulated by humanity with only slow odd machines left to toil in our stead; a newly quiet earth.
Commenting on the uneven argument between nature and culture which seems to be loaded towards ‘satanic mills’ gone mad; Dr. Keating explores subterranean mines and indecipherable climates, where the canary has been reduced to a cipher, a token. It’s a voiceless harbinger perched on the inexorable machinery of a shadowy corporate world. Blocked by reams of obfuscatory paperwork systems that teeter on the edge of collapse, whilst being carried along an endless conveyor belt towards untrammelled growth. The bubble stretches and threatens to spill paper columns shuffled along as an unstable deck of cards. It’s a dark vision couched in lustrous dark imagery that recalls Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland where “all sense of direction simply vanishe[s]” (Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, 2001).
These rich shadowy works bring to mind the biota of underground caverns, bioluminescence, the eyes of myriads of tiny creatures peering out of the fog or the component scaffolds of a mechano set. Formally constructed cut out figures; cogs light globes and origami birds, repeat throughout the suite, decorative references to the natural world somehow civilized and abstracted and overlaid or overrun by metal rods. Links within the system propagate ad infinitum, mechanized bodies striving, haphazardly branching out until they become unviable and topple. Across conveyor belts driven by toothy cogs the canary is settled precariously on the juddering wires or within brambly thickets seemingly on the verge of collapsing in a heap.
Throughout there is a sense of immanent breakdown or failure, where the unsteady elements of the machine become too heavy or too many and at last give way.The world tends towards maximum entropy and minimum energy, these toiling mechanicals seek their rest. Yet even though there is a call to take note of the endless cloudy machinations of bureaucracy which covers its tracks with reams of paperwork and interminable documentation there is still a sense of whimsy within these images. Peace cranes float in the steamy airs, hovering lightly as the thoughtful canary watches them. An accidental clip destabilizes the progress of an inexorable industrial process and the whole system falls into gentle disarray- a-tishoo, a-tishoo they all fall down.
These paintings are heartrendingly compelling, a blue that vibrates against the flat dark ground and the subtle cumulus clouds, a bright nodule of unexpected lyricism and light amid the sombre colour ranges underpinning the whole suite. It’s hard to walk away from these pictures, some small detail calls you back to just check what you are seeing- a balance between message and image.
– Annie Geard (PhD Candidate Tasmanian College of the Arts, University of Tasmania)