Speech Acts, Manchester

 

Twenty tiny spotlights, mounted evenly around the upper frame of the display cabinet, provide a uniform illumination for the various sculptures in this exhibition by Halima Cassell. The objects are carvings in marble, concrete or bronze, mainly in a pale biscuit colour or dark grey. They combine elements of the geometric with the organic; crude swirls are etched onto a football-sized lump of stone. Elegantly curved diamonds cascade from an off-centred origin, gently sweeping out to embrace the margins of the piece.

One piece, called ‘REM’, sits like a shallow bowl upon a polished metal plate which reflects both the underside of the sculpture and the glass top of the cabinet. We can imagine the light waves bouncing up-and-down a million times to give this ghostly image. Sometimes the lights produce numerous overlapping shadows, which create an ornate grey flower beneath the sculpture.

You can imagine these objects on a slow turntable beneath an angled shaft of light; the gaps and details in the carved surface would bloom and vanish.

Upstairs, another gallery houses ‘Speech Acts: Reflection-Imagination-Repetition’, a large collection of disparate paintings and photographs. We have Hockney’s Rake’s Progress; the self-portrait by Wyndham Lewis; and Spiral II by Kim Lim, a ring of stoneware fragments, together with a few abstract oils.

Lewis tries to make himself look like Raphael, which only reminds us more vividly of who and what he really is; the painting is almost a hundred years old but still carries an aggressive modern swagger. I am reminded of the Faber Book of Modern Verse, which I bought in 1980, and which carries Pound’s Canto where Lewis is mentioned:

 

Trujillo Blues

If we are serving the truth, then it is acceptable to lie.
Germs are from Satan; that’s why they have six legs.

There was a mix-up in the labelling of a new raw material at the factory, which meant that the PP microfilaments ended up being blended with the latex rubber emulsion. We tried to clean the vessel out, ready for the next batch to be prepared; but the rubber material had now become unusually tough and difficult to break. One of the lads remarked that it’s a shame you can’t use this stuff to make condoms, cos they would be a lot stronger and lighter than at present.

We have a series of pictures – a grey amorphous wash upon which hover a series of circular voids, gleaming as though made of glass and lit from below. The pictures have titles: ‘Holy Holes µ’, ‘Holy Holes Q’, ‘Holy Holes X’ and ‘Holy Holes π’.

The artist explained in her brochure notes that these images are electron microscope pictures taken from used latex condoms. The circles are holes which have been etched in the rubber film by sperm cells, which carry a high-tension aura of estimated frequency 144 kHz; this is the energy that allows them to break through the protective membrane and fertilise the ovum.

A local theology student is very impressed with these pictures, and arranges for copies of them to be sent to a Catholic newsletter. The pictures prove (or so he claims) that condoms cannot give protection against pregnancy or infection and so there is no justification for their use.
In the newsletter a brief article reproduces one of the pictures, explaining that the latex film has been damaged by sperm cells, so that all the supposed quality testing is in vain. There are numerous examples of women becoming pregnant due to condom failure, says the article, and the latest scientific research explains how this failure occurs.

In the hairdresser’s salon, young Maureen is helping to cut-and-colour; she overhears two customers discussing this news item. One of them gives a dry laugh and remarks that she always used a pin to stab her husband’s johnnies while still in the packet.

At the same time, Trevor is collecting flowers for his wife, who comes home from hospital the following day with their new baby girl. His workmates tease him about having a new mouth to feed, and why didn’t he take precautions? I might try that next time, says he; not letting on that he always uses condoms.

In six months’ time, his wife will be angry and annoyed because she has a crying baby and she is no longer able to go out with her friends and they cannot afford to take a holiday. And he will pull on his jacket and say ‘Well, you should have thought of that before you decided to stick a pin through my rubbers!’

Later, in the hair salon, Martin calls in to meet his wife, who is the last customer. He waits in a narrow, uncomfortable chair and begins leafing through the glossy magazines by the window. One of these has a feature called ‘Controversy’, and the latest episode concerns a senior Catholic clergyman who has been advising his flock that condoms are useless because they contain innumerable tiny holes. Martin grins at the fatuous distorted reasoning of this item; but then, on turning the page, he finds a picture showing the latex voids as white dots on a grey background.

This picture looks very similar to – no, exactly like – the photograph he had produced about fourteen years earlier, showing the glass beads embedded in a sheet of plastic after the adhesion tests had been carried out. He remembers that his daughter had asked to borrow the image for one of her art projects, but he never heard any more about it afterwards.

Occasionally he would see copies of this picture alongside pictures showing spots of rust on a painted metal casting, or constellations taken from a journal of Astronomy, or dark red lesions observed on the skin of a disease patient somewhere in Portugal. He once tried to look up the various forms of medication that his daughter took every day to hold her personalities in check; but all he found was a swarm of angled lines and letters with ornate subscripts. And now, here it was, telling a fake story to serve the mistaken idea of a greater good.

Germs are from Satan; that’s why they have six legs…

Yellow Bulldog Bondage

 

Of course, you must be aware that
Forty-six percent of crisp-bags
Are made from laminated polyprop.
And, because it was unusually mild
For February, the trains were full
Of young men wearing shorts; their
Firm and hairy strides consumed the street
Leaving me exuberant and dizzy and so very short of breath.

This is a miniature foldback clip; the standard versions are marketed under the name ‘Bulldog Clips’ and we jokingly referred to the smaller items as Puppy Clips. Back in the day they were available in black, black or black; but even if we had been able to procure them in a set of funky bright shades, it would have made little difference. This washed-out yellow makes me think of nickel titanate, the mineral used to extend the vivid and expensive organic pigments found in high-grade coatings.

We used the clips – dozens, hundreds of them – to secure adhesive joints between small strips of metal and plastic, holding everything in place while the adhesive layer set. Often, this setting process would be carried out in an oven (65 degrees for the plastics, 160 degrees for the metals) so the clips would have ended up being a dirty brown colour anyway.

My speciality was sticking polyprop, which, as every schoolboy knows, is impossible to bond using structural adhesives. So I carried out a set of experiments and stumbled upon a method using a commercial primer solution and a wet-abrasion stage to activate the plastic surface. A version of this work had been done before in the seventies by Lerchenthal; for some reason it was never exploited by industrial production managers. Perhaps the technical staff were too busy reciting the mantra ‘It is impossible to bond PP – it is impossible to bond PP…’ to bother checking the results of his research.

The results from my work indicated that if you abrade the polyprop while it is wet with a dilute primer solution, you end up with a transformed material which can form strong durable bonds to most standard adhesive materials. Most of the research was carried out using two-pack amine-cured epoxy, with the joints (firmly held together with cute little puppy clips) being placed in an oven at 65 degrees.

When the epoxy base and activator components react together, it is possible that they may generate a brief temperature rise, causing the plastic to melt. Or it may simply be the force of the spring steel clips is enough to drive the glass beads into the plastic. Either way, we found that after testing the joint strength and inspecting the failed polymer surface, there were numerous circular artefacts, corresponding to the 100-micron ballotini that we added to regulate the glue-line thickness.

nder a microscope, it was impossible to decide if these were glass beads embedded in the plastic surface, or if they were spherical voids left behind after removal of the beads. I would spend ten or fifteen minutes in a trance, gazing at these peculiar moonscapes and the constellation of gleaming discs.

Because the ballotini have sunk into the plastic surface we cannot be sure that the adhesive film is 100 microns thick.

The puppy clips with their charred crust of glue are probably sitting in a box somewhere underneath a dusty lab bench, waiting for a young research chemist to embark on a project which needs things to be held in place. Meanwhile, I now have only one clip, a watery yellow item, which I use to close my half-eaten bag of crisps until the next tea-break session at work