Damian Dillon’s work involves defacing documentary photographs of banal subjects, inserting crude human gesture into the austere distance of the photographic picture plane. The results have always been unnerving compositions of powerful effect that I could apprehend intuitively, but have never quite understood. I knew that I liked them but I could never locate why. While this experience was not something I minded, it was a welcome surprise to find in his new show at Artereal gallery, Jailbreak , a level of resolution and cogency that allowed me to better grapple with the forces he puts into play with his process. What was not surprising was that these forces took on the nature of contradiction.
This is perhaps best illustrated through reference to the oddity of his names. Though the show is called Jailbreak, all of the works in it are named Real Estate . The logical discord of this naming strategy is strangely off putting, the two terms belong to completely different realms of discourse and their conjunction is awkward, unstable, even transgressive. Yet, when the question of their relation is allowed to settle, the terms resonate, drawing fascinating, asymmetrical connections between them. The continuity, for instance, between Australia’s convict past and it’s current obsession with real estate, or the oblique parallels that run between housing estates and prisons – begin to make a kind of sense that is only generated through such transgression.
This same strategy is at work in Dillon’s photographs of housing estates in Great Britain and Australia. Rough fragments of these two worlds are brought into abrupt conjunction and marred by shapes crudely drawn in Photoshop or made directly onto the photograph using an indelible marker. Dillon’s interventions into the photographic picture plane have the quality of vandalism, containing within them the destructive expression of the desire to break, disturb, and disrupt the inescapably grim continuity of the realities they refer to. This destruction though is essentially creative, seeking to decompose the reified form of bleak, concrete and fatal certainty, releasing the forces of possibility constrained within them. The creative gesture is left crudely incomplete, tracing the childish outline of a human house from of the inhuman forms that make up its prison.
The effect of all these disruptions though is one of unexpected continuity. Rosalind Krauss once observed that the muteness of the photographic index derived from the implacable continuity of its picture plane: that it could not be articulated into discrete units of meaning, as language can, gave the photograph its unspeaking aspect. I was surprised to find that despite Dillon’s many disruptions and breakages, the continuity of the picture plane remained, or perhaps closed over its newly disunified contents, enveloping them in its reticent testimony. This was due, I suspect, on the predominant use of Photoshop to make his marks, which leaves the surface of the photograph intact. The occasional interventions onto the literal surface, act in contrast as striking, almost violent accents breaking the illusion of breakage he has created for us within the picture plane – at once sharing the same impulse and origin as the Photoshop marks and yet taking place in a completely different dimension and thus remarking upon and encapsulating the entire vandalistic process in his art.
These works are ultimately an expression of hope; a hope sustained by the desire to shatter or transgress the implacability of the world as it is, so that something, anything might be created from its ruins. This expression, though, is itself entrapped in the world it attempts to tear down. This hope is as fatalistic as the world it brightens. It does not offer us utopic vistas or pristine Arcadias or any of the other dreams into which we might escape reality. It offers us only public housing estates, these habitats of poverty, fear, and extreme despair and yet, within that world, as a native to it, hope and a wilfully creative urge dwell as the impulse of running water in a frozen place.