A youth in a soft, floppy Phrygian cap kneels astride a bull. The bull has been forced to its knees; the youth gracefully extends a leg to trap the animal’s hind limb. With his right hand he pulls at the upper lip and palate of the bull, pulling its head up. We can see the bull has been wounded as blood trickles down its shoulder. Strangely, the youth faces back, turning towards us, disengaged from his action. His face is still and soft. On the surface we can trace the coordinates of a sacrificial scene, yet something sits out of sync.
This is the scenography of the Roman god Mithras, and enacted in hundreds of reliefs and sculptures excavated from the former Roman Empire. In its time it was legible as a visual code, an orientation to initiates of the Mithras mystery cult. It works as a cognitive map of the universe: each component corresponding to the placement of well-known constellations. The initiates could thus situate themselves cosmologically, finding structure in an unpredictable and unknown world. A ritual to regulate Hellenistic anxiety.
The depiction of Mithras communicates but doesn’t speak, as the cult has no written record. It is the only remnant of a tradition that can never be completely understood. It must be re-read.
Re-read, it is a star in the cosmology of Lauren Gault - within a map drawn from historical events, personal experiences, family history*. Animated via material interactions connecting the realm of human and animal affairs. Do we attempt to read the signs?
A bone-shaped chew is a scarred record of a domesticated carnivore. An index of doggy relief, doggy anxiety and doggy boredom.
Lycra is a synthetic material that covers the bodies of athletes who participate in a cult of athletic excellence and elegance. It’s a flexible barrier and a formal attitude. What or who is the Lycra cloaking? How are we initiated?
A drooping mega-droplet is anchored into the Lycra frame, pulling in and spilling out from the taut expanse of fabric. It’s transparency bounces and scatters light everywhere like a melted lens. Depictions of action press pause on life. So what’s left? A gushing, solidified: strawberry scraps eaten by humans are dehydrated by silica and frozen in silicon. In action sculpture, actions are always simultaneously moments in time and coordinates (constellations) in space.
The lighting conditions speak most obviously to the visibility of art objects, but also to hygiene. Or perhaps even the clean slaughter of animals? The space is a washable room, complete with floor drain and tiled surfaces. From where does your ‘read’ begin and end?
There is a technique of knotting a personal handkerchief in order to remember, making a note in tangible form. When you see the knot, you recollect. An old knot, mixed with dirt and snot, calcifies into a new sculpture. A dishcloth knotted twice makes an excellent toy for a curious dog, who will attempt to the best of her ability to both chew and unravel it.
*Lauren Gault is a distant relative of Martha Craig (b. 1866), a writer, scientist, and lecturer who travelled extensively across the United States, Canada and Europe. She wrote The Men of Mars (1907), a book about transcending the limitations of the body, under the mysterious pen-name Mithra.