In 'Floating the Gold Standard' Gordon continues to concern herself with opposition and conflict, but her themes are more subtly and ambiguously presented.
A E Denham, D.Phil.
Oxford, December, 2004
Fellow in Philosophy
St. Anne’s College,
Mary Ogilvie Gallery.
For over thirty years Gordon's work has pursued variations on a single theme: oppositions and their resolution.
Her painting, writings and constructions present the spectator with images bringing together opposing polarities - often the universal poles of birth and death. Gordon's earlier 'Dead Sea' series achieved this integration very dramatically: some of these paintings emphasized the embryo shape of the Dead Sea, others the historical connections of the sea with the birth of religious traditions, and yet others the symbol of evaporation as aspect of environmental death.
In 'Floating the Gold Standard' Gordon continues to concern herself with opposition and conflict, but her themes are more subtly and ambiguously presented. While pleasing to the eye, they are not easy to interpret. A (male) acquaintance remarked to me that these works are "like a passionate young woman: beautiful and alluring, but impossibly difficult". The surfaces of the paintings often present gentle, translucent colours that shimmer and dance; some are literally 'gilded'. At the same time it is plain that their quiet beauty is not their point and purpose: the spectator is referred to an elusive plethora of psychological and metaphysical concepts.
These background concepts are complex and indeterminate, but the series title - Floating the Gold Standard
- points us towards some of the oppositions at play. What, for instance, does the term 'standard' mean? It is ambiguous: something can be 'standard' in the sense of meeting the norm, reaching a level that is common, unexceptional, entirely ordinary. But at the same time the idea of 'standard' (for instance, an ethical standard) may refer us to what is precisely not common, not ordinary
: a standard in this sense is an ideal, an exceptional height, an unreachable goal. A person of the 'highest standards' is not someone who contents himself with the morally and spiritually ordinary. He aims for the very best.
These two opposing meanings nonetheless hold together, for in both a 'standard' is a way of measuring value - a mark by which to decide a things worth and interpret its significance. So what of the 'Gold Standard'? What is being valued and interpreted in Gordon's work?
Gordon writes, 'Man sets the standard of animate life. Science has become the standard of Man. Alchemy - the attempt to create gold - was once the standard of physical science; it's highest ambition'. We now know, of course, that men cannot literally manufacture gold. But one might argue that the historical tables have turned, and that now the gold standard metaphorically manufactures man. We define and explain
ourselves by the 'gold standard' of the physical sciences: science not only legitimates (or condemns) our beliefs about nature and origins, but often purports to tell us who we are and what we might become. We also find it natural to elevate ourselves by 'the gold standard' in a very different sense: the standard of material wealth. This kind of wealth is still measured by the translation of a man's possessions into a specific value in gold, and while that value may be widely condemned as measure of our human worth, it's weight in modern life cannot be denied.
Does Gordon believe that these two 'gold standards' - the physical sciences and material wealth - now exhaust our ways of understanding ourselves?
If she did, the work presented here would, I think, be less enchanting and much darker than it is. Gordon's boat floats in the Dead Sea, that vast and lifeless remnant of the earth's geographic past. But the boat is of course not just a boat: it is a work of imagination and art. It is also a symbol of the human spirit: buoyant and beautiful, its journey not yet complete.
Free air gravity anomaly map of Dead Sea Basin, 2003, acrylic on paper, 44" X 30"