The Aviary

1795 Gallery

179 Wollaton Street, Nottingham, NG1 5GE

Dates to be announced

More Information on the background to the project

This exhibition takes as its starting point an aviary, which appears in Plato’s dialogue The Theaetetus, and which symbolises the role of memory in the seeing of the false (pseudes doxa). This aviary is essentially a container that we have for storing experiences, in the form of birds that we have captured and placed there. When we release a bird into this enclosure we lose immediate control of it, as such it is forgotten (amnesis). It is only when we enter the aviary, and recapture the bird, that the past experience it embodies is once more made actual, by being brought to mind (anamnesis).

The sense being pointed to through these images, is that the same thing can be both absent, as what is forgotten, and present, as what is recalled. This seeming paradox places us is the realm of the simulacrum, the false image, in front of which we make a decision on what we see, not only from what is there before us, but also from what we have stored within us. We can therefore see what is present as that which is absent, and vice versa. This ambiguity finds its expression in doxa, a seeing aided by memory, intrinsic to which is the capacity to be mistaken. The seeing of doxa is never true or false, instead it operates in a sphere of free-play, it twists and turns, sometimes seeing what is false and sometimes not. In other words what is seen can seem like one thing and it can seem like another. 

Plato’s use of the image of an aviary has the effect of dramatising the structure of memory and the ambiguity of doxa. This approach will be extended into the fabric of this exhibition; like the aviary, the gallery will be understood as a container holding birds, specifically pigeons, in three ways: they will be there as paintings Hampson has made, based on illustrations in Fulton’s Book of Pigeons, a highly regarded book from 1880 which attempts to document, in painted form, all the types of domestic pigeons then known to be extant. This work will also be present in the gallery for consultation. Pigeons will also be present in yet another form, as music, a recording of Olivier Messiaen’s 1929 prelude for piano: La Colombe (The Dove).

Overall, the three sets of work in this exhibition occupy the uncertain territory of the simulacrum, each appearing as a mirage of an absent original. Hampson’s paintings combine birds with their imagined habitats of dovecote and painting. Fulton’s book illustrates a project of doomed taxonomy, ever more outlandish variations, in terms of name and image, cannot disguise that, at their heart, all the birds displayed within are pigeons. Messiaen describes La Colombe as “orange, veined with violet,” his synaesthetic view of the work, which sees one thing as another, in this case sound as colour. Finally, the viewer plays a role in this re-enactment, making the works both absent and present through their mobile acts of looking and listening.