Moyra Davey: On touching

Moyra Davey: Ornament and Reproach
Murray Guy Gallery
453 West 17th Street
New York, New York 10011
March 1 – April 5, 2014

MOYRA DAVEY, Ornament and Reproach, 2012-13, 34 c-prints, tape, postage, ink, installation view. Courtesy the artist and Murray Guy Gallery, New York.

MOYRA DAVEY, Ornament and Reproach, 2012-13, 34 c-prints, tape, postage, ink, installation view. Courtesy the artist and Murray Guy Gallery, New York.

I am trying too hard again, trying to please some unknown force – select the right topic, write with relevancy. I abandon two or three ideas. I give up and read instead Moyra Davey’s Burn the Diaries (2014), published in conjunction with her exhibition at the Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien. It is about reading and writing and also about starring languidly at a page. I suddenly want to read all the books she has read but when I think of the desert and the blank page, I don’t think of Jean Genet as she does but of Edmond Jabès. There are notations in the margins of my Jabès book. (He gave it to me, a long time ago, when he cared.)

I would like them to be received as writing of the vertigo where book opens to book.

This is loving.

MOYRA DAVEY, Ornament and Reproach, 2013, composition by David Lang, NYC, sheet music portfolio design by Nestor Kruger, Toronto. Courtesy the artist and Murray Guy Gallery, New York.

MOYRA DAVEY, Ornament and Reproach, 2013, composition by David Lang, NYC, sheet music portfolio design by Nestor Kruger, Toronto. Courtesy the artist and Murray Guy Gallery, New York.

Moyra Davey is a photographer and filmmaker but I think of her work as the art of touch. Every stone, bottle, record, book, paper, image, stamp, text, letter, and sign has been touched. In her exhibition: Ornament and Reproach at Murray Guy, every thought has been touched. She caresses surfaces. Her work touches me.

How? Like a lover or a friend or a doctor or perhaps a pianist touching keys?

I have met Moyra Davey twice. I am a little afraid of her. I don’t know what to say. She seems quite gentle. I am afraid my words will bruise her sensibility like a bulldozer the earth. Silence is better.

Is there always useless expenditure of writing, no matter what we write?

A car alarm has gone off outside my window. I recognize it – it often goes off in the middle of the night and doesn’t stop until the car battery dies. John Cage says that if you let a sound annoy you, it will drive you crazy; but if you think, “Hmmm, that’s interesting…how does it mix with other sounds,” your attention will drift away even as the noise continues.

It’s difficult.

(I was rarely worried about “how to say,” but rather, about “how to be silent,” Comment-taire, he had noted.)

Moyra – may I call her Moyra since I write intimately as she intimately makes pictures? – photographs objects close at hand: the transparency of empty liquor bottles, the surface of pennies, the new grave stone of a beloved New York City mayor, the wispiness of dust, fingers flipping through record albums at a fundraising sale, a friend whose silhouette resembles a sculpture in the garden, or whose face, the portrait painted in chalk on the sidewalk. Also, letters – that is, correspondence. I think about my own fascination for hand-written communication and how I learned to write by writing letters as she “keeps” journals. (The inscription in my book is all I have to remember him fondly.)

MOYRA DAVEY, Kevin Ayers, 2013, 26 c-prints, tape, postage, ink, detail. Courtesy the artist and Murray Guy Gallery, New York.

MOYRA DAVEY, Kevin Ayers, 2013, 26 c-prints, tape, postage, ink, detail. Courtesy the artist and Murray Guy Gallery, New York.

How does one honor correspondence in a digital world? Moyra mails her pictures as if they were letters folded up into themselves, as letters were in the nineteenth century to save the expense of an envelope. Her artistic and her exhibition practices are decidedly not fussy, yet exceedingly attentive. David Lang has written a musical composition based on the code left by colored tape that has sealed her images sent to a curator in Great Britain while her exhibition title comes from a chance encounter with a memorial tablet in a church. But the “reproach” it speaks of is tantalizingly obtuse; as a word, it hovers like the residue of past loves.

MOYRA DAVEY, Kevin Ayers, 2013, 26 c-prints, tape, postage, ink. Courtesy the artist and Murray Guy Gallery, New York.

MOYRA DAVEY, Kevin Ayers, 2013, 26 c-prints, tape, postage, ink. Courtesy the artist and Murray Guy Gallery, New York.

Like her images, her writing is a promiscuous correspondence with history – details of her life coinciding with those of Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Shelley – giving in to favored authors, the intimacy of submission that is reading. But Moyra shares without forfeiting, visualizing notations we can only partially conceive, that take shape and divide as assuredly as continents; for her imaging, as her writing, is also a reading that will in turn be distinctly different for each of us.

So: a reading before the book, by the author, and a reading after the book, by the reader.

Her touch becomes a composition – visual and audible as it is tactile and textual – to be read in conversation alone. And to be re-read, revisions noted (in the margins), later on by others.

…Reading is a daughter of light).

…O solitude of signs.

MOYRA DAVEY, Untitled (from the Diverse Secrecies series), 1984/86, gelatin silver print. Courtesy the artist and Murray Guy Gallery, New York.

MOYRA DAVEY, Untitled (from the Diverse Secrecies series), 1984/86, gelatin silver print. Courtesy the artist and Murray Guy Gallery, New York.

Quotations are from Edmond Jabès (1975, 1984) The Book of Margins (Chicago, 1993).

Moyra Davey: Ornament and Reproach remains open through Saturday, April 5, 2014.

Moyra Davey: Burn the Diaries is on view at the Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, February 20 – May 25, 2014 and at the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, September 17 – December 28, 2014.