My earliest experiences of art, like most, came from my parents. Our home was filled with artworks and pictures on the walls. Collectable objects cluttered the surfaces of the shelves, the piano, the tabletops and bookcases. Among these many objects, tastefully arranged, were Brett Murray’s cartoon wall lights. I was told by my Dad that he made these for years to pay the bills as a young struggling artist. For those who haven’t seen them, they are made of colour tinted perspex and metal frames, simple and rough like graffiti stencils. And they have the mischievousness of graffiti too: tongue-in-cheek, self-reflexive, indulging in ‘bad taste’. A penguin in a tuxedo serving a martini hung in my bedroom; a pink panther with an afro in the lounge; and in my parents’ room, above their bed, two hearts with the word liefie, ‘lovey’, written in calligraphy on a ribbon in the style of a second-rate tattoo parlour.

Our home was not the only one adorned with Murray’s lights. They have become something of a signifier of taste for a whole generation of the South African intelligentsia. For example, when I first arrived in London I stayed for a period with a friend of my parents, a musicologist who had relocated years ago. On seeing two of Murray’s lights in the kitchen, I was compelled to say with feigned surprise, ‘–Ah, are those Brett Murray’s lights?’, which was met with such enthusiasm from my host that you would have thought I had just declared that I shared her love for Schostsakovich and Mahler.

Despite the explicit political content of his work, in my mind Murray’s sculptures, wall texts and posters, have therefore kept these associations of home, of my parents and their friends, their ironic love of kitsch, their intellectualism. As you can imagine, Murray’s exhibitions were like family gatherings for the art world of Cape Town. At these openings there would be an inevitable discussion about the political situation in South Africa. Being a child, I couldn’t follow the conversation, but I would wait with large eyes like a little owl for a name I might recognise – the playful syllables of ‘Tutu’ or ‘Winnie’ – and mouth these to myself quietly and hungrily as though they were the very marrow of meaning.

So it was on the one hand that Murray’s political satire totally escaped me as a child, while on the other its obscurity and complexity intrigued me. It covered the artworks in a kind of radiance, a promise of growing up, an anticipation for knowledge. ‘Politics’ came to represent to me everything that was serious, important and difficult about art, and art in turn came to symbolise life proper, without fairy-wheels and child-locked car windows. My pleasure, wandering around the galleries as a child while my parents and their friends conversed heatedly, was derived simply from this radiant obscurity, as flummoxing to me as hieroglyphs.

I felt that life – life proper – had not-yet begun for me, that I was in a sort of waiting room; the meanings of things were not actual but mediated through a veil of the future which would eventually be lifted. But this veil, like streetlights in a heavy mist, gave everything a wonderful glow; my naive idea of the future gave my reality to me spangled. It was a glow that concentrated around art especially, but which lay over everything, authenticating the world around me, heightening it, like when you have been swimming for hours in a chlorinated pool and emerge into a summer evening that smells of jasmine, and the gentle fairy lights, the candles and lanterns in the garden look huge, beautiful and blurred and you feel warmly detached from the lovely visions of your life passing in front of you.

To be confident or sure of one’s knowledge, to say ‘I am right; you are wrong’, is to put an end to the fantastic glow, to put an end to the firework display of imaginative and speculative thought. To call it ‘the light of knowledge’ is not the most accurate metaphor then, because it is the acquisition of this knowledge that rapidly diminishes this glow of the possible until it disappears almost entirely. I think that artists – artists like Brett Murray – are those individuals who never recovered from the diminuendo of that melody which played throughout childhood.
As an adult I can now understand the political meanings of Murray’s work. I can sense the artist’s anger and relate it to the broken promise of a new democratic South Africa, for example; I can draw connections now between Murray’s formal interests, and the formalism of Jean Arp and Constance Brancusi. I can see the work now in its historical context. I can detect Murray’s apparent disillusionment in art-for-art’s sake for a direct and political art. (What role does beauty have in the face of the brutal realities of apartheid?) I could relate this to the neo-conceptualism of Jenny Holzer and the YBA’s who were working contemporaneously to Murray. I can understand the content now and interpret it, but also I can feel something deeper that is not as clear or straight-forward. What I know now, as an adult looking at Brett Murray’s work, is what in many ways obstructs me from seeing it for its complexity. What I am interested in now is complicating my familiarity and folding the single plane in on itself.
In Brett Murray’s 1996 show, White Boy Sings The Blues, among the exhibited pieces was a striking photograph of a young Brett taken from a family album and titled, ‘The Artist as a Zulu, aged 6’. The boy in the photo is dressed up as an African, a Zulu warrior perhaps. The whole of his already then stocky physique is painted black – from his face to his feet – making the whites of his eyes shine. The boy looks serious, totally committed to his role. There is a look that seems embarrassed or even guilty and yet something tells me this may be my own projection, my need to reconcile the image. It’s a very difficult picture—difficult to come to terms with because we can see the innocence of the child but looking from our 21st century stand point, we also cannot unsee the manifestation of racist ideology. As viewers we experience a schism between these two signifiers: child and black-face, innocence and racism.

The result is an endeavour to peel the child from his political context as one would peel a fruit from its skin or the content from its form; we try to stage a rescue, recover the boy from the historical and political codes of the photo: the whole ghastly history he seems thrust into and will have to grow up folded inside of. Brett Murray exhibited this photograph again a year later in his exhibition Guilt and Innocence, shown inside of the Robben Island Prison, in which it was featured beside other family photos: one shows the artist’s family standing patriotically beside the old South African flag; another is of a young child wrapped in it like a blanket, literally this is a child folded into this emblem of ideology. Brett Murray wrote of this exhibition:

I was born in December 1961, a few months before the Rivonia trialists (Nelson Mandela and his compatriots) were imprisoned. Being born in Pretoria, into a half-Afrikaans, half-English family, where my father’s heritage extended back to include both Paul Kruger and Louis Botha (Boer presidents), disguised by my grandmother re-marrying a Scottish Murray and my mother’s history reaching back to the French Huguenots, I am a white, middle-class cultural hybrid. This was and is my comfortable and uncomfortable inheritance. The political and social forces beyond the confines of my family formed a system which protected and infringed on me, empowered and disempowered me, promoted and denied me. When I looked beyond my private experiences of loves and relationships, family and friends and of boy becoming man, the contradictions in this system, which divided my life from others, resulted in a cross-questioning of responsibility and complicity. […]

The contradiction to be reckoned with in ‘The Artist as a Zulu, aged 6’, the difficulty and complexity, is in the imaginary act of the boy’s play. Because, it is the act of play that is at once the foundations of the artist’s creative life and the very product of a racialized subjectivity. A theme, even perhaps, the theme, of Brett Murray’s work is this: his vitriol, his whole arsenal of cartoons, satire, wit seem to me in the purpose of an aggression drive directed at a Master Signfier, which changes names: Apartheid, Zuma, Authority, Self. The fight for a recovery, reconciliation, rehabilitation of the image of the child innocently playing a Zulu warrior, is an attempt at unknotting the complicated/implicated [plicare ‘to fold’] child in a systematic legacy of racism, but with full knowledge of its failure. The work is not here to make new claims of grandeur but to simply, pathetically, to fail and fail again to show something of this frustration of being bound by subjectivity.

Murray’s practice is fiercely anti-ideological, and yet, following Althusser’s thought that there is ‘no outside of ideology,’ it cannot be escaped. What becomes the target of Brett Murray’s vitriol is not only the hypocrites, the political elite, the moronic inferno, but the artist himself folded within this system. The work in a sense tries to wash the black paint from the child’s face, to remove the adult, and revive the pure imaginary state of the child, but is fully aware of the impossibility of this task. This Sisyphusian labour must be performed repeatedly in every exhibition, every sculpture. What has given the gift of imagination and creative life is implicated/complicated in ideology. I’m reminded of what Spivak says, that “we are folded with the other side.”

Perhaps this is why The Child features throughout Murray’s work in various manifestations. We could imagine it as a kind of hidden image or watermark to be recovered by the viewer. Whether the image of the child appears as a self-identification with cartoon characters like Bart Simpson, who becomes a kind of alter ego appearing and reappearing in the early work; a bubble-head in short pants; the child-like physique of the fat sculptures (mirroring and mocking the short stocky physique of the artist himself) ; the black-faced Richie Rich in ‘Rich Boy’ who holds a bag of money in one hand; the self portraits of the artist in diapers and a baby’s bonnet; and the bronze and marble sculptures which are like huge children’s plush toys showing the influence Jeff Koons’ balloon dog or flower-bed puppy. In Koons too we have an artist whose love for cartoons, toys, and sweets show an imaginary life linked to a notion of The Child. In this sense, I think, Murray’s work is only ‘completed’ when it is experienced by a viewer who retrieves the watermark, the image of the child, which carries with it something of an essence. Only once the artwork is apprehended, experienced, once this essence is impressed on us, does the work lead towards a completion.
Over a video call, Brett Murray speaks to me in a Cape Town accent I haven’t heard for a long time. I have been in London now for almost a year. The last time I saw Murray it was Easter and he was following his children into a swimming pool looking exhausted after extensive egg hunting. Now he sits at his computer in a room, behind him are many high shelves packed with children’s things: legless action figures; two slightly deflated birthday balloons, which say ‘11’; old Halloween decorations stuffed into a corner; Lego constructions and fluffy toys fallen out of favour. He tells me when he’s in a bad mood, Sanell—that is, his wife, the artist Sanell Aggenbach—says to him, ‘for fuck’s sake Brett, go and make something’, and he disappears into his studio for a couple hours. He tells me his working process, like this, is quite basically cathartic. He’s in a discoloured t-shirt covered in paint marks, which gives him the appearance of having just come out of one of these therapeutic sessions.
We are having a conversation about his latest exhibition, Limbo, a series of small, highly stylised, bronze animal sculptures that were shown at the Everard Read Gallery in London, and which I have been fortunate to see recently. I ask about the stylistic shift these new sculptures might signify, being smaller, formally softer and more introverted than previous work. He tells me it was a natural process, that he doesn’t regard these sculptures as a whole new phase, but rather as an inevitable step in the evolution of the work.

I ask him about his childhood. He tells me how he liked cartoons and comic books. And while he talks I become strikingly aware of the fact that this Brett Murray, who is reduced in size to fit digitally on my laptop screen, is a kind of cartoon version of himself as we speak, which has the bizarre effect on me of an urge to caricature him. I make a silly little doodle in my notebook while he continues to speak. I don’t do a great job of capturing his personality: not much more than a stocky little stick-man with a big smile. After all, to reduce someone to a stick-man one is forced to kill off many physical characteristics.

“Did you find it at all difficult,” I ask him, looking up from my ridiculous doodle as though it were a serious and pertinent note, “to cartoon your family? – I mean to use the same reductive ‘tools’, or the same stylisation as you’ve used on politicians as on those you love?”
In previous exhibitions of Murray’s this reductive quality is very distinctly used to ridicule, mock and parody; in the Limbo sculptures the antagonism, the demonic quality of the cartoon is quietened or refined to a deftness of capturing a likeness rather than exploiting physicality for polemics. So this violence is tempered to a playful chiding of his family; the same hands, the same techniques, used in the past to crudely caricature the powerful, are used here, in a manner of speaking, but to tickle the child-feet of his children, to be playful and tender and peel the fruit of love to its pulpy interior.

‘For a while now,’ he says to me, ‘I’ve been looking for a different material. I was finding the stark, very black patinas of my bronzes had a particular language.’ He pauses for a moment to arrange his thoughts. ‘It was almost always about perpetrators rather than about people. The same animals that I am using now were the targets of my vitriol. They were the patriarchs, they were the predators et cetera. And I had been wanting for a while to do something that was about people, that was more human based,’ he says. ‘You know, that was about my family perhaps, and about my friends, and about us; so what you were saying – to rather look internal, and look inside.’

His eyes close in concentration as he speaks, emphasising with easy gestures that remind me of my father’s own hand movements.
‘It came to me when I started working with marble on my last show,’ he continues. ‘I had made a series of maquettes. They are light grey in colour, a much lighter material that I make in preparation for my bronzes. I had half a dozen of these in my studio and the tone and the colouring, and what they started resonating, was a vulnerability even though they were about perpetrators. And it was that I was looking for. And on the same day, Sanell walked into my studio and she looked around and she said, “these would look great in marble.” I didn’t know what marble would do to these forms. And actually they have made them much more intimate, much more sensual, much more quiet.’

There’s silence,’ I say.
‘In the marble specifically,’ he agrees. ‘Whereas before, in the earlier bronze works, you might reference military things and shields and armoury. In the marble there is a totally different resonance. And it was the physical nature of the marble that encouraged me to loosen up actually, for these same forms to be more intimate and private and able to talk about vulnerability. It was what the marble brought to my forms which I decided to pursue in bronze.’

Limbo consisted of about a dozen plinths displaying small bronze animals. These were arranged in a kind of grid pattern to cover the room, so that I had to walk among them to see each one individually. There was a red painted wall as a backdrop, a Scorsese red rather than a communist red, which in itself seemed to mark a movement from Brett the agitation-propagandist to Brett the aesthetician. The sculptures – rabbits, donkeys, birds, gorillas, monkeys – were rendered in a playful stylistic manner, like children’s toys or cartoons. The poses of the sculptures characterised them, giving them almost recognisable personalities, so that these two could be Brett and Sanell, this one, Kai, that one Lo, their children.
Some were by themselves, alone, some in a tender embrace, others seemed almost alienated from one another. They were illuminated reverently by spotlights, in which they seemed confused and lost, even blind, I thought. They reminded me in this way of a man I had seen one evening peering strenuously out of his brightly-lit apartment, cupping his hands to his eyes, trying to make out the street below. All the passers-by, including myself, could see him illuminated perfectly in his light-box of a room, but he, surrounded by light, was completely blind to everything outside his little world. Each sculpture seemed also alone on its own plinth, what Murray described to me as “awkward, isolated islands”. Most of these animals look upward, in anticipation for something to soon arrive, happen, give clarity.

In a John Ashbery poem from 1956 the poet writes: ‘soon / we may touch, love, explain’ – a line, which has stayed with me and its relevance has changed with time. For example during the pandemic its meaning changed to incorporate my longing for those commonplace things then removed from us, a period when something as simple as touch became taboo. Murray’s sculptures too, created in isolation, express this anticipatory anxiety of the pandemic. And like Ashbery’s line, the meaning of the sculptures have broadened as time progresses. For example with the war in Ukraine having broken out since the exhibiting of these sculptures, they have incorporated into their expression of loss and separation the connotations of the refugee crisis. Images of mothers torn from children, families huddled in shelters or in camps, all this seems now to be silently preserved in these bronze creatures.

I think this ability for art to outgrow the moment it was made into, is to exemplify total contemporaneity. The contemporary is mistakenly thought of as a ‘now’, but in fact to be contemporary is always a temporal disjunction. It is a dislocation from time, not an obsession with the new. To be contemporary means to hover just above the things happening, drawn to the present but only bearing witness to it, always about to come into being soon but not just yet. The titles of The Limbo Sculptures seem to speak towards this: ‘Witness’, ‘Tether’, ‘Pause’, ‘Loom’ etc. The gentle humour of these creatures, their almost smiles, their forms and postures are folded with fear, worry, sadness; but perhaps there is also a calm acceptance of contradiction and turmoil as though they were floating stilly, as Keats says, ‘about that melancholy storm.’

The apparent ‘blindness’ of the sculptures seems related to the experience of living through an event that has ‘not-yet’ taken place but is still emerging into being. There was especially in the beginning of the pandemic a perpetual feeling that something had happened or was about to happen, but no one could say where or in what manner because it only ever revealed itself to us as its symptoms: the actual virus, microscopic, invisible, travels in obscurity. We only ever saw the symptoms of its being. We experienced the pandemic as non-real, non-actual, like an unbelievable subplot that goes off on a tangent and derails the legitimacy of the novel completely. But the pandemic was also hyper-real, beyond real, fulfilling cringe-worthy cartoon realities of apocalyptic computer games and sci-fi films. The ‘soon’ of the pandemic, the soon-it-will-end, soon-we-may-touch, was also a desire for the stable authenticity of the past. Every one of us constructed, fabricated an ideal future in which our banal lives before the pandemic were imagined as halcyon days to be recaptured. Though we knew this was not possible, the past lay over our eyes like scales obstructing our ability to see the present.

The name of Murray’s exhibition, Limbo, gives the sculptures the same irrealis mood of the pandemic. Limbo is a non-actual and liminal place, the inhabitants of which, frozen outside of time, await, indefinitely for the coming of Christ who will redeem them. They are caught inside of a ‘soon’ or a ‘not-yet’, which is the same untimeliness that post-colonial theorist Dipesh Chakrabarty called ‘the waiting room of history’. In this way the perpetual labour of tracing the folded child opens up into an allegory for contemporary South Africa (post-apartheid/post-Zuma), for the the pandemic, and even, as new catastrophe’s mount, of Ukraine, and of the demolished, dying earth. The sculptures are quiet, not revolutionary, they advocate nothing new, even the idea of ‘newness’, they seem to say, is an old worn out trope, another ruin for tourism. The creatures only gaze mutely in the direction of the ruins, that is both the way forward and the way back to childhood.
Arriving in London, from lack of money, I spent most days in bed listening to a crow bark over the terraces, the whisper of time in the draping leaves, bird songs smudged by the wind. I scraped my rent together piecemeal through various haphazard jobs which made my days feel blurred and frantic. I fell in love with a beautiful girl from Hungary who lived in an old run-down sweet factory in Limehouse near the Thames. And it was from there that I took the underground, in a marble coloured fog, to Chelsea, to see Brett Murray’s exhibition. And so the devastation of heartache and longing tinted my experience of the work.

Heartbreak, according to Barthes, renders the world thunderstruck: “various objects – whose familiarity usually comforts me – the gray roofs, the noises of the city, everything seems inert to me, cut off, thunderstruck like a waste planet.” Murray’s work is so familiar to me. And yet, seeing the small creatures in a gallery space in London, the opposite of South Africa in so many ways, is experienced by me as a disreality. I find it distressing, to be in the unfamiliar landscape, made aware of an unredeemable past presented to me by these artworks. A sculpture of two donkeys called ‘Tether’, isolated from the world in their embrace, both look up as if they have just heard the first crack of thunder.

Writing now, from a few notes and memories, Brett Murray’s small sculptured creatures reveal to me something of my state of mind at that time. Lost and frantic, identifying with the émigré protagonists of the novels I was reading, it seems to me now that I was living in a kind of mist. I can only describe this as a fugue state in which my previous life, my previous self, lived only in my memory, which seemed totally unreliable. Fugue from fugere means ‘to flee’: a fugitive from love, from childhood, and from home. The small, child-like sculptures, so intimate and anxious, made from the same eye, the same hand, as those objects of Murray’s that hang in my parent’s home so very many kilometers away, where I used to sleep to the sound of the ocean in the distance, felt like ghosts of the past. The colours of these sculptures, their earthy, soft patinas, were representative of the landscape of that home, the colours of the dry soil that the protea emerges from, the rocks and caves damp from mountain springs, the fynbos scorched by seasonal fires. Beset by memories and history, they reminded me of the mushrooms in Derek Mahon’s famous poem, who beg us to remember them, the lost people of Pompei and Treblinka. Under scrutiny, these memories, my own and the entire terrible history of South Africa, seemed increasingly fictitious, like I had created them myself. Rather than comforting me, the deteriorating memories now represented by these small, wide-eyed creatures threatened to derail my entire sense of self.

Looking at the child-like forms I wondered about Brett Murray’s own childhood, if his love for comics and cartoons had inspired the stylisation of these forms. So I fabricated in my mind an image of a young boy-Brett watching cartoons on a television set. On the screen he sees the hilarious violence of cartoons: Bugs Bunny blown up with dynamite, Mickey Mouse hit over the head with a baseball bat. They seem indestructible and plastic because one can revive them after immeasurable damage, unscathed in a second. Then again, TV was only available in South Africa in the late ‘70s, and Murray would have been a teenager. So perhaps the young boy is not watching cartoons but reading comics, in short-pants, cross-legged on a carpeted floor, his elbows on his knees, his head supported by his hands, his eyes as big as moons on his face. This boy we could imagine would be too young to consciously understand the immensity of what would be taking place in South Africa. But perhaps it operates in other ways, indirectly, on his psyche. A cartoon doesn’t represent in a direct manner either; it is by nature an unrealistic illustration.

We could imagine this young Brett’s quickening heartbeat, as something below his conscious thought connects the absurdity of these cartoons and their violence, with the scenarios of everyday life in the pristine, white’s paradise of South Africa. The violence of the manicured lawns and clean, ‘crimeless’ cities where the oppressed majority of the country is barely present.It seems to me that something about the violence of cartoons is integral to Murray’s practice and so demands some kind of theoretical attention.

Firstly, what is a Bart Simpson? What for example is at play in a character who is yellow, who has four fingers and whose hair is not distinguishable from his cylinder head? What are its constitutive parts? What makes a cartoon? and what kind of movement is the move of a cartoonist’s hand toward exaggeration, hyperbole and reduction? In the cartoon world everything is stripped to a grotesque surface essentialism. It says, ‘this is unequivocally the nature of this’: Mickey Mouse epitomises a mouse more than the actual rodents we occasionally catch a glimpse of behind skips and bins. Although in a sense this ‘glimpse’ is what the cartoon recognises as the real, this is what it captures and exploits. If we catch a glimpse of someone who steals a handbag, for example, and are asked to describe their features, we say it was a man, he had a balding pate, small eyes, a wooden leg – the police cartoonist renders us this image of the glimpse. This is the move of the cartoonist, always towards an abridgement, a best-of-compilation which eclipses the real thing.

In this sense the glimpse is something essential, a physical determination, a reduction of being to a singular physical aspect: strange head, big nose, no chin. In this sense it shares a constitutive similarity to the bad selfie. An unsuccessful selfie is one that is unused, unposted, deleted, the reasons for its discardment are based on a criteria of aesthetics one associates to oneself: this is my good side, I look best in this pose, the camera at this angle. So, implied in this aesthetic evaluation is an imaged understanding of the self. We tend to believe we know what our selves look like. The bad selfie is repulsive, because it shows us how we are seen beyond this image repertoire.

Isn’t this related exactly to the timely capture of the glimpse, isn’t this the move of the cartoonist’s hand? A move that is always an ontographical reduction to the essence as manifested in physical appearance. The cartoon, like the exoskeleton of an insect, is a complete externalisation. There is nothing elliptical, no psychology. The outrage caused by ‘The Spear’ was the outrage of reducing the president to a penis, to an image of himself beyond that which he projects. It is this forced reduction to crude physicality that makes the cartoon so ridiculous, absurd, exaggerated, and cutting: there is a subversive power in reduction. We fear cartoons, as we know they can reveal our greatest fears to us, that we are not the projected sample selves we present ourselves as.

I guess it is this power, this ontographical violence which made me ask if Murray had found it difficult to reduce his loved ones to cartoons. But The Limbo Sculptures do something more than the bad selfie and the cartoon, something which Murray’s earlier work, being more polemical, never needed to attempt. Firstly, they are not simply cartoons of his family; there is not a 1:1 ratio of family member to creature, these animals are and they aren’t his family. They are my family and yours too, they widen to incorporate us, they move a distance away from Murray. It’s this distance, comparable to Rauschenberg’s ‘I work in the gap between art and life’, which is so generous, which gives us the sculptures. So maybe it is not so much something these sculptures do that Murray’s previous work did not, as it is something which is added or embedded or folded in, something which is not only political pop art cartooning. And perhaps it’s in this gap that the folded child resides. Where meaning recedes.
Towards the end of the video conversation with Murray he said to me, ‘An image that came to mind when I saw all those figures [the Limbo sculptures] looking fairly scared and terrified, I mean this sounds fucking pretentious, but it reminded me of – in Pompei and in earthquakes and sandstorms, you have skeletons that have been exposed in poses of intimacy. There is a beautiful mother and child, literally like my sculptures, looking up at impending doom. Then they’re exposed, and I suppose as a human being you relate to that there is a kind of relationship you have with that. The kind of intimacy and pathos. It was a surprise.’

This reply reminds me so much of Roland Barthes, who in Camera Lucida gives an account of the process of mourning through photographs. Barthes becomes frustrated by the many photographs left behind of his mother because, to him, none of the images captured her essence. Eventually, he finds one that he believes does this, but curiously, it is one of his mother as a child, before Barthes had been born. He writes however that in this photo, a certain pose or gesture brought forward the realisation that the light which came off her summer dress quite literally was the light which impressed itself, imposed itself—or, I should say, ex-posed itself— to the strip of photographic film, the same light, or its physical impression at least, which Barthes receives with his eyes. He says what is recorded by the camera, however posed, mannered, rehearsed, set-up, fictionalised, has without a doubt for a moment paused, passed, still, even for a split second, in front of the lens.

Murray’s sculptures are not photographs, but he frequently referred to them as ‘exposed’, like the ash figures of Pompei, as though he really were capturing the light, or the essence, the glimpse of his family  inside of their  smooth forms.  If the little face of this bronze monkey called ‘Pause’, who gazes up at me, were even a fraction lower, or its posture a little straighter, its smile a  little happier, it would not have captured the playfulness of Murray’s child, Kai so accurately. It would not allow me either to recall the calf-like face of the woman I’d fallen in love with – see how this monkey drifts, hovers above the personal and becomes a universal. A fraction  is all that would be required to tilt the work into kitsch or cute. A fraction, a less-than-one  (x < 1), an almost nothing, a barely there, is all it would take! And wouldn’t this be the weight of a soul?  Without this glimpse this perfect pose would have been missed, it is exposed at just the exact degree, the exact angle, the exact moment in time. This is the timelessness not only of the contemporary, but  of the cartoonist who, a few hours after a political scandal, can produce a drawing that perfectly captures the moment. And I know this timeliness/timelessness has everything to do with the ‘soon’, the veil, the glow and the folded child, that they are all connected, but in what direct sense I couldn’t say.

But isn’t the perfection of this capture almost a minimalism in its economy, almost Japanese? And it’s no surprise then that Murray’s bright little rabbits looking skyward, are inspired by the formal precision of Netsuke button fasteners. The capture of the sculptures, the eidos, is so slight, so deft, so quiet (it weighs as much as a soul!) so seemingly natural, that its contradictions – what seems to me to be the impossibilities of this execution – are overcome with the naturalness and ease of a breath, the naturalness with which Sanell could say “these would look great in marble”, the complete chance encounter with the uncanny, with the rodent, the virus, the bad selfie, and not to reject it, but to tarry with the negative.
When I stand in front of two bronze monkeys, ‘Shield’, a mother and child in a close embrace, they seem to advance towards me, or am I drawn closer to them? Like a camera, my attention becomes myopic, singular. I see only these two creatures; but the more I look the more I am drawn into what they do not disclose to me. I want to immerse myself, not in the image of their embrace, but in the actual bronze forms, the substanceless geometry constituting that embrace: the roundness and smoothness, the cylinders and spheres of their tenderness and their sadness. But even if the geometric shapes had overwhelmed me completely and my eyes had dropped big cartoon tears there’d still be something more I couldn’t touch behind the physical symptoms of the creature’s being.

I feel this falling into abstraction, this tunnel vision, nonetheless plays out the theme of a return to the child, and to the home, to a lying in the garden with the sunlight dimly red through the membrane of my closed eyelids. Again, as in my childhood, just as those words ‘art’ and ‘politics’ held from me the mysterious world of grown-ups, these sculptured animals perched on their pedestals, keep a secret from me. They connect me, in this way, to my childish state of anticipation for a world I felt apart from. A world which, to my frustration, is never where I am at any present moment. Always between me and this world-of-grown ups, between me and the meaning of these sculptures for example, is an interposed ‘soon’, which pushes the “now” – the arrival of that world of meaning – slightly farther off. Like a sentence one writes in which a sub-clause opens out into another set of commas so that the final conclusion of the sentence is yet again put off ‘till later.

I returned again and again to this image of the two monkeys in their moulded embrace. As the anguished eyes of the philosopher who pours over the picture of his mother as a child, my stare was full of hands, full of mouths. It leeched to the light they fed me which rose to meet me faster than my eyes could drink. And here, myself floating just above this sculpture, I experienced a strange stasis, my breathing slowed to the pulse of their slow undulating postures, an arriving. And somewhere inside me, beneath or maybe above the troubled surface of my consciousness, I felt an emotionless calm, which I can only describe as the experience of my experience. The creatures gazing outward to some imminent catastrophe exemplify a state of innocence thrust headlong into experience and thereby capture something, a mere flash, the eidos of the rush of a soul from itself. In this way, like a pencil hovering above the cartoon image it draws, like a strange moon above a planet, I experienced these immobile figures as a kind of map of my own way.