EUCATASTROPHE – HANNALIE TAUTE
Hannalie Taute has taught me a new word for happy endings – eucatastrophe – ‘a sudden turn of events at the end of a story which ensures that the protagonist does not meet some terrible, impending, and very plausible and probable doom’. This is what happens when we wake ourselves in the mist of a nightmare, when, snagged in some terrible dread, we engineer our escape. We know, of course, that happy endings, while avidly desired, are paradoxical – joy in and of itself defies endings. And yet, despite this absurd anachronism, this unending search for a time outside of time, we all plummet fitfully into the ramshackle happenstance of our everyday lives which no design can ever scupper.
Desire, after all, is a verb, never a noun, a quest, unabated, that cannot close in upon itself. Desire is our crucible, our condition for living, and, as such, the awful opposite of fulfilment. Page through a glossy or coolly matte magazine dedicated to ‘lifestyle’, and what we find if the glory hole that feeds fantasy. The pages are achingly beautiful, utterly unlike our messy daily lives. Art too offers us atonement. It feeds our mistaken craving for beauty. There is a good reason why we prefer pretty pictures, why impressionism, of all the modern art genres, is favoured by a global majority. In Taute’s world, however, pictures are never quite pretty. She distros the optics, rubs against our matrimonial fantasies, our longing for togetherness. The photographs which form the basis of her works are predominantly of couples, scenes from a marriage, some enshrines vision of conviviality – all the names we give to love: Eros (sexual passion), Philia (deep friendship), Ludus (playfulness), Agape (communal love), Pragra, (enduring love), Philautia (self-love).
All these forms of lobe matter greatly to us, yet all are fragile. What Taute does is expose the fragility of our most deeply held yearnings. She cutes out the faces of her couples, replaces them with black rubber, and then another garish embroidered layer. Why? Is it because the faces, once present, have lost their charm? Because of all the faces we prepare, ready for the camera, are posturing’s devoid of substance? Because a photograph, no matter how impressive in its objective certainty, is always an abduction? That love, too, is both an illusion and a heist?
Photographs curled like milk, says Roland Bartes. If, for Sally Mann, photographs are treacherous, it is because they are ‘the malignant twin to imperfect memory’. They cannot tell the truth, despite all claims to the contrary. I think Taute intuits this wager, which s why her images are repurposed, their ever-altering state further discomposed. Why rubber? Why embroidery? The compound of textures is jarring. But it is also affective, evocative- they speak to a psychology that understands that all photographers are spectral. The French philosopher, Jacques Derrida, invented a word – hauntology – to explain the haunted nature of all ontological of seemingly tangible things and experiences. In other words, all things, all experiences, possess their ghost – they are never one thing. Matrimony is a beautiful idea but is also a catastrophe. Its objectification in a photograph is, necessarily perilous because such is life, despite our optimist yearnings.
Ghoulish, macabre, Taute reveals night-world of colonial inheritance, the precarity of place and position, the surreality of conflicting custom and tradition. Hers is a white world that had curdled, turned rank – off. And yet, in her nightmarish vision there remains a tender pathos. We, the viewers, participate in the radio-active afterglow that courses through her collaged photographs. They disturb us, true, but they are consoling, for what they tell us through their muted speech, is that haunting is the inevitable byproduct of any aspiration – be it colonial, or matrimonial. In fact, the two cannot be disconnected. Matrimony, like colonization, is any aspirational project riddled with darkness. Both are contractual, and, as such, subject to breakage. This is because, for Taute, nothing is every whole or immune. She guts, replaces, stitches. Hers is an act of suturing – a stitching up of a wound of incision. The result is carnivalesque, inverted, perverted, topsy-turvy, in the manner, say, of the Mexican Day of the Dead. It is also a refreshingly eerie take on blackface – a reverse projection, an insult to injury, a reminder, after Frederic Jameson, that history hurts.