“I’m just an animal looking for a home.” Talking Heads, This Must Be the Place
In their song This Must Be the Place, the Talking Heads explore the underlying unease and disorientation that accompanies intimacy and the longing for home. Deborah Farnault’s work creates a similar sense of discord by maintaining the visual order of a landscape while it simultaneously exposes faltering structures and crumbling tranquility. It is long recognized that landscapes depict symbols rather than facts, and Farnault’s work too symbolically expresses our contemporary experience—one of fragmentation, pixilation, and anxiety, occasionally punctuated by a calm serenity. These are landscapes that mediate the tension between the known and the unknown, the natural and the artificial, presence and absence, the alienating and the inviting.
With Farnault’s Dirty Word (2012) and Shared Vocabulary (2012) we are reminded that texts—even those that appear complete—are inherently full of gaps. As such, we fill in meaning based on our own experiences, perception and desires. Farnault calls her text-based work “fragmented landscapes,” attesting to the way in which discourse shares qualities with the spatial and the scenic. This connection is underscored in the series Beasts (2012) where Farnault removes substantial pieces from landscapes. The obvious and intentional subtraction forces us to face the feeling that something is always missing. Conjuring the melancholy of things that are lost, “Beasts” confronts our interventions in the natural world. We are left searching—trying to recover what has been squandered, what remains elusive.
When contemplating This Must Be the Place we are struck by the uneasy presence of absence. Farnault’s landscapes do not hide the erasures, which are part and parcel of their very existence. In doing this Farnault is breaking that tiresome taboo in artistic practice, which demands that we hide all traces of erasure in order to preserve the integrity of some illusion. Farnault’s landscapes refuse to shamefully cover up the covering-up practices, which are essential in the creation of any landscape or narrative. Given this, her landscapes challenge typical assumptions about the production of art. Assumptions which have tended to deny the paradoxical reality that ‘absence’ is itself always a thing that is created. The uncanny feelings which Farnault’s work may provoke, signify that we are being uncomfortably reminded of this reality.
The uncanny quality of the work also unfolds in imagery that is both disconcerting and enticing. Dirty Word (2012) and Shared Vocabulary (2012) recall ransom notes we’ve seen in thrillers. The cutaways in Beasts (2012) resemble the police outlines left behind after a murder or glowing phantoms. The grainy prints in the series Wild Things Are (2012) take us into the dense undergrowth of a forest where we can almost hear the bloodhounds approach in their search for a body or a fugitive who has taken refuge. Better Days (2012) evokes a sublime sense of the familiar and the strange, like the sunny opening of a horror film before the terror begins. These scenarios are common tropes in our popular culture and they are as familiar as they are unsettling.
Ultimately, Farnault’s This Must Be the Place, displaces. Again and again we find ourselves asserting, “this must be the place,” only to find that it isn’t.