Finnegan’s Teeth

Stella Santacatterina


Finnegan’s Teeth is initially a book by Judith Cowan, which takes the form of a visual diary; inspired by daily wanderings in the urban space of Kings Cross in London with her dog Finnegan and a camera, it occupied the artist for over a year. The photographs are taken according to the dog’s perspective. This contamination of the artist’s gaze with the dog’s gaze tends to establish complicity between the artist’s subjectivity and that of the animal...


...In Finnegan’s Teeth, rhythm and grammar are broken up, and reversed in an elaborative generation of curves and shadows where the unpredictable, the accident can emerge. Finnegan’s Teeth, a ‘narrative’ by image and an economy of words, is a singular work not for its form but because it synthesises the poetics of her work, in which spatial solutions are always present. It contains, in fact, the spatial solution of a sculpture, of painting, of photography, theatre and a cinematic set. From the semantic point of view, Finnegan’s Teeth is consistent with previous work realised through other media. At the same time Finnegan’s Teeth surprises us because it reveals aspects of the artist’s thought that were unknown to us. It presents a journey that she has revisited through the camera’s click but suggests an artistic journey that simultaneously looks backwards and forwards. The freedom of expression and solution that always marked Cowan’s work through the animal gaze acquires an accent of anarchic excitement. ‘Only absolute freedom still excites me,’ Breton writes. Also for the artist, freedom is an indispensable condition for the manifestation of art. There is no doubt that the spirit that animates and nourishes Finnegan’s Teeth refers to the historical avant garde of the twentieth century, Futurism but above all Dada and Surrealism. The artist of course knows very well those pages of art history, but she uses them as a platform from which to create and re invent.


The work can be divided into two parts: two different temporal and spatial rhythms and solutions that manifest to the eye simultaneously. There is an effect of displacement, evocative and uncanny. Words and image create an intimate symbiosis of two images, different but complementary. A kind of Dada game with words is suggested in the way the letters of the book’s title are located.


Finnegan’s Teeth may be associated with Baudelaire’s comment about his own book The Spleen of Paris. He would introduce it as a book without a head or a tail because everything at the same time was both head and tail. Likewise, Cowan does not aim to create a logic from the multiple: formal logic is irrelevant. Image and word in the book function as a symposium to which many participants have been invited: architecture, stones, clouds, sky, shadows of men, cars, buses. All these elements do not allude to any subject, but, as in the stage of a theatre, they activate and condense many effects that suggest other images, other thoughts.It is a mobile place that continuously rotates towards the street and the sky, towards art and quotidian. It is a place of wandering and potential narration.

 


Extract published in Portfolio no. 52, 2010.

© Judith Cowan 2022