by Kristina Johnson
by Kristina Johnson
The myths of ancient Greece have inspired artists from antiquity to the 21st century, yet the transference of a myth from words to images has never been straightforward. Much earlier than the Hellenistic and Roman Eras, were the Egyptians who created registers, depicting scenes ordered in parallel lines. From the Narmer Palette1 and onward, painted or sculpted constructions stood the test of time and are recognized as the testaments to Egypt’s quest for immortality. Understanding these stories, which were often used to educate, is the creative refiguration that shapes our belonging to tradition. What is presented to us is not just the genius of the author or artist but rather the transformation of our shared world, where the understanding of information becomes fundamentally social. Over time stories are shared across cultures, and ultimately, imitated or reinterpreted. One big thing Egypt, Greece, and Rome all had in common was their passion for literature. Egypt has one of the earliest attested literary traditions in the world, going right back to the 3rd millennium BC. Greek literature was comparatively young, attested from about 700BC (Homer, Hesiod), although the Greeks probably had oral literature much earlier than that. Today, we are still discovering the mutual influences Greek and Egyptian cultures had on one another. Then came the Roman Empire. Basically, just about every Roman wanted a piece of ancient Greek art. For the Romans, Greek culture symbolized a desirable way of life—of leisure, the arts, luxury and learning. In each case, the mimetic characteristics of cultural exchange included a transformation into figuration through which our belonging to the world and tradition was mediated and represented. This exchange of oral and literary tradition forged a collective global past. Swiss philosopher Carl Jung theorized that all people are connected by a collective unconscious; which dictates we understand a collection of archetypes and symbols. The trickster archetype is a character type in storytelling that is often associated with disruption, mischief, and humor. Tricksters are known for their wit and unpredictability, which often challenge the status quo and cause unexpected events in stories. But how do we understand these archetypes and symbols? Where do they appear? And how are they used? Talulah’s practice investigates the cultural impact historic influences have over one another, and how they continue into the present. Her title, Quicksilver, implies a fluid exchange of information, where material transformations subvert and contort meaning. Placing emphasis on the critical examination of Waiting Room’s historic space, Talulah couples site-specific installations with rich cultural references in order to preserve ubiquitous remnants of the past and present.
1. The Narmer Palette is a ceremonial engraving depicting the first dynasty king Narmer (Menes) defeating his enemies and uniting Upper and Lower Egypt into one kingdom. It also acts as a perfect example of the primitive artistic design of the 31st century BC.
II. Quicksilver (noun) is a heavy, silvery, toxic univalent and bivalent metallic element; the only metal that is liquid at ordinary temperatures.
Quicksilver is historically associated with the fastest planet, named after the Roman god Mercury, who is known for his quick wit, speed, and mobility. The astrological symbol for the planet Mercury is one of the alchemical symbols for the metal. "Mercury" quickly became the alternative name to quicksilver. When someone says they have a "mercurial mind," they are typically referring to the fact that their thoughts or emotions are quick to be unpredictable, much like the planet Mercury in astrology. It can also imply that a person is able to think on their feet. “Mercurial” depicts something or someone as susceptible to sudden and sweeping changes, which explains its direct correlation to quicksilver and its tendency for rapid, unexpected speed. In Greek mythology, Mercury is known as Hermes. Hermes is a clever trickster, regarded as eloquent and lively, and so mercurial people are often understood to be as well. In Homer’s Odyssey, Hermes appears as the messenger of the gods, traveling between worlds, and acting as the conductor of the dead to Hades. Hermes is also referred to as the Thrice Great because he knows the three parts of the wisdom of the universe: alchemy (the operation of the sun), astrology (the operation of the stars) and theurgy (the operation of the gods).
Tricksters, like Hermes, repeatedly annoy the gods. Challenging their authority, they attempt to flip power on its head. Talulah utilizes the repetition of an object as one form of trickery, encouraging us to question the moda operandi of our own beliefs and biases. During her residency at Waiting Room, she took out numerous nails from the exposed framing in the basement walls to cast in gold. She then placed the gilded nails back into the empty, existing holes of the wooden support structures. In the same vein, screws were cast in pewter, which are also installed in preexisting holes across the textured white wall in the hallway. Talulah sews discordance into the repeated item. The authority of perception is being undermined, by this gesture, with structures intended to deceive the eye.
III. From Talulah:
My work attempts to pull forward layered geographic, historic, and political contexts. Attentive to material, I cast objects mimetically, an elemental transformation parallel to the experience of shifting between identities, resistant to dogma. I’m fascinated by the impossibility of empirical history, the fallibility of memory, and the power and pitfalls in a collective deciding of truth.