Arranging life

In the time of postproduction, where the making of the object has little difference from the reusing of the object, highlighted through the acceptability, even on icons, of “vintage clothes” found in charity shops, it is rather the process of finding and placing that corresponds to the labour intensive manual aspects of production. The perception of value in this case is acquired by its ‘rediscovery’, with time and knowledge, representing the workings of the gaze and the selection. These tools, fastened together, act upon a landscape of limitless ob­jects and brings about the emergence of the idea of arranging. The concept of arrangement, an operation of ordering and altering, traces its etymology back to the enlightenment and the delineation of knowledge. It is however in the present condition, characterized by the near instantaneous appearance of objects and their circulation, which adds greater urgency to this process. The practice of Natalie Sand­ers explores this expanded notion of arrangements accompanied by an innate understanding of the nature of objects and their narratives.

The histories of the objects arranged by Sanders are left un­touched, in plain view, the price tags from the second hand shops cling to the frame of the marine portraits, similar to the seals of collectors from China who would leave their imprint on the image of scrolls in their collection, leaving a trace of their presence. It is the traces of these experiences, inscribed on the objects themselves, that question their very “objectness”.

The initials engraved on a discarded sports trophy, the snapshot of a bouquet in a living room, the man posing in his uniform, a worn walking stick: these remnants of affect im­bue the artifacts with a certain subjectivity, transforming the objects into active bodies of meaning. Arranged into installations, they can be seen as integrated communities. While certain members evoke nostalgia, there is no conflict between these bodies of experience and the time-less inkjet prints or particleboard.

The wall piece, Seascape, is an example of the confluence of the objects as bodies and their movement. Images of sail boats taken presumably by their owners stand as embodiments of memories. Portraits that would hang on the wall next to depictions of family. Although the af­fection that they mark has been lost, they have been uprooted and embarked on their own journey, taking on their own identity as absent mementos. The accumulation of dust and stick­ers on the frames are evidence of this migration and a silent testimony to the experience un­dertaken. Keeping these histories intact, they are repatriated, not to the living room but rather to the sea itself.

The grainy image of the placid ocean that acts as the background is also subject to the circulation of appearances. The idyllic environment is actually a reproduction of a Gerhard Richter painting. A photo-based work meticulously translated into oils, which was meant to challenge the perception of the canvas as image. Sanders transforms the work back into a photograph, reasserting a haptic quality with the print’s low resolution. In this arrangement of objects, the series of transformations of the images points to the breakdown of authenticity and exposes the disorder that stirs within.

A similar operation is at work in Tropic, a photo-collage of overlapping domestic landscapes and equatorial rainforest. Here the bouquet of flowers become destabilized as a struggle for location ensues. Not over an authentic origin per se, but rather a more empheral genis loci, or ‘sense of place.’ As Marlow was drawn up the Congo River by Kurtz in Heart of Darkness to a site both foreign and seemingly irreconcilable with modernity. The subjective experience and narra­tive of Kurtz is able to act as a guide leaving paths to be followed into the unknown, opening a profound, inexplicable progenitorial connection. It is the dormant stories in the snapshots that compel us to search through the terrain of the images for our own connections to be made.

The flowers in Tropic can be seen as transposable markers, denoting multiple senses of place: exotic locations, a dinner party, a romantic occasion, or the passage of life. A bouquet is a collection of individual subjects with their own history which when arranged, becomes a singular object of affection, one associated with a moment or event. There is also an affinity with the medium of the snapshot itself. The photo marks a casual moment of sig­nificance, one that captures ephemera, but the meaning of that time and the subjects involved is held by those involved in its taking and does not circulate with the image. It becomes another body without a fixed past, one that marks the passage of time but cannot hold onto its meaning. This unknowable identity nonetheless haunts the image. It takes on a new life as an object, a body that is subject to the effects of time, an appearance that can allow new narratives to emerge.

These arrangements by Sanders all have in common a certain precarity. A collection of bodies that could disperse at any moment and return to their state of autonomy. These fragments, while evoking a sense of nostalgia, occupy the present. The uneven distribution of time across the space itself creates a plane of tension, collapsing the individual histories into a critical mass. Held together by an invisible force and compelled to negotiate with one another. It is this precariousness of relations that resonates with our own human condition, and allows us to participate in the communities created by Sanders. A place that one stumbles into and then does not want to leave.

Essay by Jason Waite