Paranormal Activity at Queen Street Studios?

A visual requiem by Zoë Murdoch summons a psychopomp of art in the Queen Street Studios

Zoë Murdoch’s exhibition at Queen Street Studios is haunting – in more ways than one. It consists of a series of manipulated self-portraits of the artist, each one over-laid with symbolic imagery of bones, words and wings. Despite the artifice integral to the exhibition, Murdoch somehow imbues the photographs with a sense of gritty, pared down candour.

The photos are scratchy, grainy and desaturated, as if someone had used an old film camera to take them. Or perhaps, as curator Brendan O’Neill claims, these images ‘could only really exist now’.

O’Neill points out one image where Murdoch crouches on a bed in her underwear, coyly (desperately?) hiding her face behind a silver balloon. The walls are scratched with half-hearted graffiti, angry pen-knife vandalism rather than the transgressive art of spray paint and tags. There is a sense that what should be a private space has become a public, not very salubrious, one. ‘Like something you’d see on a very dubious website,' O’Neill says.

This isn’t your father’s voyeurism, it’s gone digital with pay-per-view peeping and screencaps.

Other photographs use paranormal imagery, layering bones over Murdoch’s limbs or mounting ghostly wings on her shoulders. It is as if Murdoch has created a pyschopomp out of pixels to haunt her art.

Or perhaps that is what is seen rather than what she intended. ‘With work of this nature you tend to reflect what you know and bring what you see. That’s pretty much the post-modern condition that we are in,’ O’Neill explains.

A photograph of Murdoch curled up on a bed can either be an artistically informed homage to Goya’s ‘The Sleep of Reason’ or reminiscent of imagery used by Edwardian spirtualists. Murdoch’s imagery is neutral, waiting for the catalyst of the viewer’s expectations to inform.

Yet when you walk around the exhibition there is a sense of a fractured, do-it-yourself narrative suspended in the art. It is the fiction that this exhibition is a requiem for. The photographs are hung in chronological order from the oldest to the newest, start to finish. It is like a storyboard or an unlettered graphic novel.

The broad strokes of the story are there – woven through the pictures and trinkets – but the fine details are obscured. It is possible to elaborate, but it necessary to work within the structure of Murdoch’s story. Whether it is an avant-grade piece of magical realism, a psychological thriller or a horror is, according to O'Neill, up to the viewer.

Murdoch compliments the exhibition with a display of hand-made boxes that draw on the same gothic aesthetic as the photos. On their own they are beautiful, unique pieces of art. ‘Framed feelings, love letters on display, the stuff of wishes made real,’ O’Neill describes them whimsically. Each box contains imagery, text and trinkets as well as hints about the over-arching story that Murdoch is telling.

The key object for the narrative might be one box entitled ‘Reign Over Me’. It is a long, narrow case that is only open a crack, mirroring the obscured narrative of the photos. It contains a broken-handle knife (probably, it is decided with O’Neill, a fish knife) and a shattered, heart shaped mirror.

‘It probably relates to broken love. Some sort of maudlin type homage to a broken heart,’ interprets O’Neill.
Or perhaps that is just bringing what he sees and another viewer would interpret it differently.

Requiem for Fiction is on display until October 30.