“I like work which carries within itself conflicts of interest that risk being self-defeating” – Seth Price, Frieze, Sep 2010
I saw a lot of this image a lot over summer. For a while (until I saw Fever Ray in Glasgow in early September and decided I needed her on-stage visuals to be a constant presence in my life for a while) it was the desktop background for my laptop, and thus something that I looked at day in day out. I even had the pleasure of meeting its creator, the Middlesborough-born, Cardiff-based artist, critic and curator Gordon Dalton, during this time, and of recounting to him this same (mildly tedious) fact.
The reason I emphasise these details is to stress the sheer amount of time I spent with Dalton’s work throughout which I saw it as nothing more than a piece of well-executed absurdist buffoonery, a pathetically comic conflation of baldly confident lettering and canonical surrealist imagery – think of André Breton’s admonition that ‘the man who cannot visualize a horse galloping on a tomato is an idiot’. With little lemon feet.
Then, at some point, a whole new layer of meaning struck me instantaneously, like a piano falling on a slapstick clown. Like the best jokes, Dalton’s work contains a deeper, more meditative meaning: a treatise of the efficacy of art.
David Jackson, who has written many times for this blog, including once on the subject of the semiotics employed by the WWE, knows precisely what a suplex signifies in the pro-wrestling ring: ‘it’s like a line break in poetry, bridging passages of wrestling in order to create a coherent whole’. No one ever won a match with a suplex: far from being a decisive ‘finisher’, the suplex is a highly codified image of a takedown, bound by certain rules and conventions (doubly so, as it appears in a ‘sport’ that itself thrives on codified images of victory and defeat). It’s a step on the road to victory, a somewhat paradoxical gesture that may be more style than substance but is nontheless far from impotent.
Sound familiar? Doubtless no one has ever won a social struggle with art alone, but art always has a significant role to play somewhere along the way on the level, not least on the level of semiotics. Suplexing lemons is what artists do. Dalton’s work is all the more endearing because of the way it plays up to this powerful incompleteness, employing (to paraphrase fellow Cardiffian Alistair Owen) ‘angsty pseudo-adolescent daubing’ alongside its surreal humour. And little lemon feet.
By Luke Healey