Altered State


Altered state


I first saw images of David Woodings’ eloquent Still Lives oils via the artist’s twitter feed during 2013. There’s nothing strange about that; the social media platform is the portal through which I and many others access an increasing percentage of our news and views, and visual and conceptual information. But seeing these images in the context of a live stream of information had an impact that I noticed as being peculiarly moving. But I wasn’t, at the time, sure why.


The images, which I have yet to see as ‘oil on wood panel’ objects, arrived via twitter’s rich and rapid data feed shortly after I had been in Christchurch for the first time since the earthquakes. I had been shaken by what I’d seen there. It was more than two years after the February 2011 quake and I hadn’t known what to expect. But the scale of emptiness and undoneness – and the depth of its impact on residents by then keen to talk about a numbing and seemingly endless ‘snail’s pace’ aftermath – stunned me. It was a million miles away from the positive renewal stories national media had been serving up.


Certainly the live twitter feed of what was happening in Canterbury had long since stopped – or maybe it was just that I’d long since stopped noticing it?  And then these images popped up, from post-quake Christchurch, carrying an unmistakable sense of fragility, beauty, survival. And a somehow vocal, charged sense of silence.


After the shaking stops brings together examples from three suites of work, each made in response to the earthquakes. In each the artist uses his characteristic interest in noticing things that we might not pause to see. In our everyday busy-ness these details are banal, extraneous. There is a sense, in the way the artist has chosen to select, compose and construct theses images, of tangible things which we now know are delible – able to be deleted. And maybe that is what an earthquake reinforces more than anything, that every tangible thing is, in fact, temporary. Deletable.


And so, from the fragments of broken family treasures, with their beauty and the poignancy of their loss so tenderly captured in Still Lives, to the inoperable slot-machine horse ‘Silver’ in Winners/Losers, Woodings’ shows how skilled he has become at noticing silence, stillness, loss and absence – as a way of drawing our attention to the things these qualities stand in for or replace. While we are more likely to notice these other qualities – noise, action, winning and presence –, Woodings’ highly selective photo-realist gaze allows us to catch a glimpse of the moment, the space, that sits between these two sets of ideas.


These images don’t strike me as being about the things they portray. Rather, maybe it’s this flicker of what comes before and after the images Woodings presents us with that’s at the heart of what is distinctive about these works. This transient idea of what happens between something being here, the realisation that it was always deletable, and the knowledge of what it is for it to have passed, be out of order or lost, beyond usefulness.


The reality of twitter is that every single thing is implicitly delible – created to be deleted. The transience of any one story, image, statement or point of view – and its rapid replacement with others – is part of its life force. I realise now why seeing Woodings Still Lives paintings in this temporary space was moving in that particular and peculiar way. In these haunting images Woodings captures this idea of transience; he names it in a way that makes us notice it.


And that is indelible.


Tim Walker

January 2014