Douglas Morland is a Glasgow-based artist who, despite having been exhibited extensively in Glasgow and beyond, comes to the Gallery of Modern Art for the first time. Rachel Boyd chats to Douglas about his latest show, The Death of Lady Mondegreen.
How relevant is the theme of communication (or miscommunication) to the concept of Lady Mondegreen -
and in particular, to your featured film Broadcast Rites?
The title of the show The Death of Lady Mondegreen was used as a device, in a sense, to frame the works in the show – I don’t refer directly to the source of the title in the works on display – it’s more about oblique echoes and suggestive connections. The title comes from a 1954 literary essay in which the author coined the term ‘mondegreen’, meaning a mishearing in a song or poem that gives rise to a new meaning. In this case, the line ‘they slayed the Earl of Moray and laid him on the green’ became ‘they slayed the Earl of Moray and Lady Mondegreen’ when she misheard a Scots ballad as a child. The scene of tragedy and loss that she imagined so vividly, as well as the fictitious Lady herself, vanished in an instant upon hearing it years later as it should be heard.
Miscommunication and slippages between mouth and ear, across time or across space, are at the heart of both the film and the other work in the show. Shapes, forms and textures repeat and echo each other throughout the show with shifts of size and orientation. The film features two characters: an older male broadcast continuity announcer and a young slave from ancient Greece (who I discovered from reading Herodotus – regarded as ‘the father of history’ - and his story of a slave whose head was shaved and tattooed with a secret message. His hair was then allowed to grow back before he was sent across the sea to secretly relay the message, apparently the first recorded instance of a hidden message or ‘broadcast’).
What appealed to me was the idea of these two ‘broadcasters’, millennia apart, occupying the same time frame and physical space. Both in some way represent the physical ‘fact’ of information and its means of communication - the older man with his stutters and apologies, and the close-cropped, almost forensic shots of his mouth or tapping fingers, and the young and virile slave and the emphasis upon the visceral act of his hair being cut. The broadcaster is constantly apologising for ‘the break’, and the film is composed of very short, fragmentary scenes. The emphasis on ‘cuts’, breaks and disjunctures was very much my conscious intention. On an obvious level, it’s flagging up the ‘cut’ as the principal cinematic device which lies at the root of moving image language.
The Death of Lady Mondegreen includes a three-part series, Slow Reveal, in which ink-dipped voile creates a transparent, almost ominous overlay.
I've noticed the materials you create work with can often be described as 'perfect' or 'delicate'. Why do you choose to create abruptions (through tainting, staining, folding or creasing) within the fabric?
I’ve been using this lightweight voile fabric in my work for a few years now and was specifically attracted to it because of its semi-transparent qualities, and when used in conjunction with other materials, its ability to partially conceal or reveal information. It’s a relatively cheap but very sensuous and pliant material that can be draped, stretched, cut or folded, so a kind of compositional language arose from that. I also began to experiment with staining it – further playing with or complicating its transparent qualities – and discovered that various coloured drawing inks provided almost marble-like and incredibly beautiful results. At first, this seemed problematic as I’d never consciously made ‘beautiful’ work before, but in tandem with this very hands-on experimentation in the studio, I was thinking a lot about how information is mediated through speech, gesture, coding and dress, as well as looking at and reading a lot about the early days of broadcast media (in particular the stiffness and ‘received pronunciation’ of old BBC announcers) and the idea of complicating things by ‘dressing up’ the work or ‘seducing’ the viewer in such a way became quite appealing.
Doing this seemed both a conscious and quite mannered construct, whilst also being very much about the materials and the physical/sculptural fact of the stuff itself. I’m also quite partial to the moiré patterns that emerge when two layers of the material overlap. So there are two patterns vying for the viewer’s attention – the moiré which is not a real physical thing, it’s a trick of the eye and only really exists in the brain as the eye tries to make sense of the two meshes of material on top of each other, and the other pattern – the dried ink held in the weave of fabric that is very much real and tangible: it’s physically and chemically there. Also, I initially studied painting but haven’t made paintings for quite some time and this felt in some strange way that I was edging back in that direction: a concern for surface; the loading of the fabric surface with a liquid stain and an investigation into how it will hold that stain; a tension between flatness and three dimensionality or visual space.
In the other work on display, however, there’s also the suggestion of an almost theatrical space that could be physically occupied: the shape and size of the sculptural objects; the smaller, graspable wooden stick-like works; the arrows that pierce the top of one of the large cast works and so forth. All are reminders of the real world that our bodies inhabit (and where the fictitious Lady Mondegreen could perhaps have existed). The images of objects that are printed on the scrolls of paper – feathers, horns, ivory – are all ‘animal’ objects. Perhaps suggestive of a primitive, pre-language state, they are also things that have been fashioned into tools of communication by humans and are very sensual or physical materials in their own right- very much alluding to touch, hardness or softness and material presence.
Ultimately, I hope I’m encouraging an awareness on the viewer’s part, on a poetic level, of the relationship between language and the body. Everything else, however, is down to the viewer and I think the work’s pretty generous, visually, in enabling spaces for possible meanings or readings to arise.
The Death of Lady Mondegreen runs at GoMA until the 20th of September.
To see more of Douglas Morland's work, visit: www.douglasmorland.com