Disturbances II: Excerpts from the Journals of Robert Dennis Holcombe (1944 – 2002)

29 Sep

Robert Holcombe: Biological Camouflage (Australia) [1976]

Robert Holcombe: Biological Camouflage (Australia) [1976]

On Thursday evening, two new exhibitions opened at QUAD Gallery in Derby, with Monocular4, Lindsay Seers’ intense filmed meditation on identity, separation, memory, genetics and recent history, occupying a corrugated tin construction in the main gallery, and Event Horizon, a group show on themes of black holes, portals and time-travel curated by Michael Sargeant and Kylie Benjamin, scattered around the rest of the building. Four of Robert Holcombe’s Biological Camouflage images are among the exhibits, and five short extracts from a series of Holcombe’s journals, spanning the years between 1944 and 2002, are presented alongside them both as wall texts, in places ranging from stairwells to the QUAD lift, and audio, available via QR code download or web link using mobile phone inside the QUAD building. Although framed by Holcombe’s account of an unexplained disturbance witnessed in Malaya in 1944, elsewhere the meaning of time travel itself is questioned, as in this brief reflection from one of Holcombe’s final notebooks, noted down in Exeter the year before his death in 2003.

IV: Exeter, January 2nd 2002. 11.15pm.

“When I consider the age where I grew up, walls were dark with soot, smoke filled the air, men hung aimlessly around the streets for lack of work, poverty flourished like buddleia in a broken wall and prospects reached a vanishing point as distance from some chance birth-right of wealth and opportunity increased. After the first disturbance, that charged space in the air I saw in Malaya as the war wound down, then glimpsed again from time to time later, in a market square or glass tower-block’s wall, on entering a sunlit garden which darkened as though in anticipation of a thunderstorm, or among the clouds as I looked out over a view of green hills and new housing estates, over hospitals and schools, playing fields and public parks… those disturbances like water swirling, where normal vision melted under some unseen intense white heat…I was assured that change was possible. Yet when I consider the present, those disturbances long ceased, litter piled in squares and behind the railings of flower beds in padlocked car parks, in front of the decayed sills and boarded windows of abandoned houses, men hanging aimlessly around or sleeping in bus shelters and doorways for lack of work, poverty once again flourishing like buddleia in a broken wall, prospects diminished to vanishing points as distance from chance birth-rights of wealth and opportunity increase… it is as though the direction of time has reversed, a black oil leaching into the tight weave of some white linen cloth, turning every thread unfathomably dark.”

The five sections run in a non-linear sequence and relate obliquely to the four collages, as well as being a kind of first sequel to the 2010 film Disturbances. Both the Lindsay Seers exhibition and Event Horizon (also featuring new work by Richard Birkin, Christopher Boote, Jesc Bunyard, Joseph Carr & Caroline McNally, Sonia D’Argenzio, Nick Hersey, Tim Shore and Darn Thorn) run until December 1st at QUAD Gallery, Derby.

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