Set high on the end of a wall near the gallery’s entrance, it’s easy to miss the opening work in The word for world, Joana Escoval’s first solo show at Grey Noise, Dubai. Like so many of Escoval’s works, Time flows ever on (2018) poses a basic challenge to visitors and photographers alike, most obviously by being difficult to see, let alone capture on camera.
Composed of exquisite, hand-made wires of silver, copper, and gold, the delicate and apparently fragile work acts like an aerial or set of antennae, catching occasional drafts while also responding to subtler environmental forces such as gravity, light, humidity, and heat.
While Time flows ever on may be inspired in part by North American cosmology and star maps, a universe in which we are all intimately connected with nature, its positioning also affords the work a liminal, Janus-like quality, recalling the symbolism of the ancient Roman god of gates and doorways, beginnings, endings, change, and transition.
As such, Time flows ever on hovers, literally, in a space between the interior and the exterior, the visible and the invisible, between drawing and sculpture, and by referencing indigenous forms of knowledge, it also calls into question our commonly held distinctions between belief and science, technology and art.
Unsurprisingly for Escoval, an artist who often describes her work and exhibitions as endless, Time flows ever on also references an earlier work, I forgot to go to school yesterday, she exhibited in 2016 on the high, boulder-strewn plateaus of Iceland and on the similarly active volcanic island of Stromboli. “It span with the wind and was transformed by the energy of the place. In Iceland, the weather was always sunny, because of the midnight sun, but it was also constantly changing, sometimes it was raining, there were very strong winds, other times it was almost snowing and so the works transformed really quickly because the weather was so magical,” she says.
If Time flows ever on interrogates our relationship with and sensitivity to our environment, it also embodies Escoval’s firm belief in the essential interconnectedness of things, making it one the works that comes closest to explaining The word for world as both a concept and a title. “At Grey Noise, the work is installed very high up on the wall, near the entrance, hoping to catch a gust of wind and also, in a way, in the hope of being in communication with the previous work.”
If many of the works in The word for world examine themes that will be familiar to long-term observers of Escoval’s oeuvre, The Sun Lovers I (2018) represents something of a departure. Featuring a bronze sculpture of a rodent-sized animal climbing the gallery wall with rods of gold emerging, ray-like, from its eyes. The work is inspired by one of Escoval’s own stories, which tells the tale of a group of animals that are so in love with the sun that they follow its path around the world, travelling non-stop, to avoid sunset and darkness. “They do not want to stop being in contact with sunlight, but they are so in love with the sun, they eventually become petrified, static, and only their eyes stay alive, like drops of gold,” Escoval says, revealing plans for more of such sculptures.
As was the case with Sand, the 2017 show at Grey Noise that paired Escoval's work with that of her Galeria Vera Cortês stablemate Daniel Gustav Cramer, The word for world is accompanied by a text. Written by her long-term friend, the Portuguese artist and writer Pedro Neves Marques, Everywhere one escapes to there is a desert, and then a way out of the desert recounts Escoval’s travels, questing journeys made in search of spiritual pathways and source material in places such as the Colorado Plateau, home to the Navajo nation.
Like Escoval, Neves Marques ideas are also informed by the radical role that indigenous knowledges can play in helping to reconfigure our relationship with the environment, but his accompanying text also references the work of two authors, Sir James George Frazer and Ursula K Le Guin. An early 20th century anthropologist who rose to fame as the author of The Golden Bough, Frazer's work amounted to a wide-ranging, comparative study of magic, mythology and religion. An outspoken feminist, Ursula K Le Guin was an award-winning American author of science-fiction, fantasy and children’s literature, famed for the books in her Earthsea Cycle, whose pioneering work ranged across politics and gender, race and religion, sexuality, ethnography and environmentalism.
Like Escoval, Frazer’s work explored the notion that things which have once been in contact continue to act on each other at a distance, while Le Guin’s award-winning 1972 novella, The Word for World is Forest, explores an indigenous culture’s interconnectedness with the forest environment it calls home. Such is the intimacy of the relationship that the culture also uses the word ‘forest’ to mean world.
“The word for world can also be a desert, but I am using [the word] ‘world’ because I am always trying to show how everything is connected,” Escoval says, explaining the link between Le Guin’s title and her own work. “Things do not work by themselves. Everything is a part of each other.”