When someone leaves us their absence amounts to a void. Well-meaning friends inundate us with haphazard solutions, placating us with ambiguous terms like ‘moving on’ which never seem to specify how. Making sense of being left behind is an unsettling undertaking. In the absence of something discernible we seek to grasp onto the physical – think of all those post-breakup hobbies and shopping sprees. There is a physicality to these efforts which recognise that we will seek out the tangible when we are faced with the unknown.
Responding to ideas of abandonment, Eleanor Amor in her exhibition Substructures at FELTspace looks to the material in an attempt to understand loss. Construction materials common to roadworks and building sites are suspended by functional supports. Castor wheels promise safe passage to besser blocks, while porcelain tiles are held tight by cast alloy spacers. Materials are lifted, secured and held. There is stoic, enduring bearing of weight amongst Amor’s forms and all it makes me want to do is lean. Find an unoccupied wall and take the weight off.
Reduced to their functionality, these materials form relationships of support. A language of care, something seemingly foreign to utilitarian materials, is detectable in the way they carry and hold one other. Support requires intimacy and Amor’s forms hold tight to one another.(1) There is a sense of reaching out, and in that gesture an acknowledgement of inadequacy and of need. Materials are emancipated from their weight, from their intrinsic limitations, and become realised through the act of support.
Building structures halted before their adornment speak of the underlying structures that make relationships function. A complex interdependence develops between material and support. Both need each other; the support to fulfil its function and the material to reach its potential. But the burden falls to the support. Always secondary, the support sacrifices its individuality to support the other. Amor’s supports are easily overlooked, the eye goes to the cement slabs and the besser blocks, skipping over the caster wheels and fixings. Yet these supports are so inherently part of Amor’s forms, she hasn’t attempted to hide or disguise them. Unobserved and unacknowledged these structures resemble all those relationships where support is undetectable until it is withdrawn. Think of all those partners, family members and carers; those who are easily overlooked but essential to the strength of those they support.
The newfound confidence that support affords coincides with the fear of its withdrawal. Roland Barthes in his treaty on love A Lover’s Discourse speaks of the absence of the lover as abandonment, felt as an emptiness the amorous subject longs for the presence of the loved object.(2) Seeking to hold onto the lover, the amorous subject performs a fragmented remembering. Like Barthes’ prose, Amor’s objects act as fragments. Works appear in suspended passage, a dolly transports some besser blocks while wheeled concrete slabs are caught in a vertical climb. The space holds a rearranging of forms, a stop/start manoeuvring of mobile parts. When we find ourselves unwillingly alone, we collect prized moments in our memory hoping to guard against its atrophy, through a perpetual rearranging of parts. The pleasure of love, and protection against despair at its loss, is fuelled by these discontinuous acts of recollection.
Memory can ensnare us in a liminal state, fixing us between two tenses. The absence is present but the abandonment is past, and forgetting is the only release. For Amor, roadworks signify change, a replacing of forms and a subsequent forgetting. After construction has ended and the signs are removed, change is so easily absorbed into our being and the memory of what was, obscured. Amor’s found roadwork sign cautions change to the passer by. Slow down, take care. I wonder if we should all wear signs when undergoing upheaval. There is so often a comfort in liminality. A rest, a suspension, a need to take stock. Relief stems from arresting time, holding onto the last embrace of the known. Arguably, this liminality is a form of self-support, a desperate attempt to prevent a collapse when care has been withdrawn.
Finding ourselves struggling unaided, we come to understand that support occasions an imbalance of power. Barnes laments, ‘I am loved less than I love’ as do all lovers left behind.(3) A refusal to enter into the present brings with it feelings of entitlement. I will not let go, yet. Continuing to clutch at the memory of the person who has left amounts to a violence. There is a fine line between holding and squeezing, between reaching out and gripping. Abandonment invites feelings of privation and in that we often disregard the person we still love.
Relationships of support often feel good at the time. Support has the capacity to uplift you, but also make you dependent. In turn, the supporter fulfils a need to care but can also become obligated, secondary to the one being cared for. Beneath them is a complex entanglement that often allocates power to both individuals but in different weights and intensities. In this inequality is a temporality - unless the act can be reciprocated. Rarely, but every so often, there eventuates a love that can both accept and give support in equal measure to another. The distribution of power remains equal and the structure exists in solid, permanent quietude.
The balance we strike between our needs and those we love is a complex negotiation that rarely sees weight carried equally. Relationships provide us with the opportunity to give and receive support, but often through complex structures. Amor’s utilitarian materials allow us to observe the dynamics of support through the Other. Materials can provide us with a working basis from which to comprehend ourselves, offering tangibility at times when it feels like there is none. When it is too difficult to look at ourselves, materials find ways to lure us into understanding. Seemingly objective and removed they provide us the necessary safety to reflect. If there is ever anything like ‘moving on’ I suspect actively encountering the material might offer a meaningful way to do it.