at odds with their scripting

by Jed Murr

Floating white squares on white walls; thrift store fabrics, obscure tools, red velvet; collaged photos with disappeared referents; the accoutrements of learned habit, etiquette, belonging; feeding tubes and holding straps. The array of materials and images that make up “Good Manners and Great Understandings”—now flat, now three-dimensional, here lush and inviting, there cruel and despondent—demand, in their stillness, that we move, both nimbly and clumsily, between multiple scales, times, and locations.

The reiteration of fruit bowls on tables might recall histories of induced, constrained creation, the scene of “fancy pieces” and women’s “edification,” where certain protocols of gender and racial assignation, embodiment, and performance converge with a set of regulative assumptions about the construction of “civility” and the perpetual threat of the “uncivilized,” the disorderly, the barbarous—a threat which turns out to be internal to “civilization” itself. Here as well are the histories of expression and exchange which shadow and undermine that convergence. Other objects haunt tables, too. Small, masculine, strange—familial and familiar. Bolt, pen, wrench, comb, razor: things of fathers that bespeak other, intimate histories of force, of repetition, of feeding, teaching, and creating.

Eleven curtains enclose and invite. The curtain as mask: an injunction against unknowing or lack of control, a denial of process, of the still-in-formation, the middle-space of producing and unfolding. The curtain as revelation: cascades of velvet open onto childlike fantasies alongside the violence of restraint and its implements. The curtain as question: about property and the proper, about the production of certain kinds of (female) subjects, about the desire for order and the dirty processes that “order” hides and hides from but can’t escape.


If “Good Manners and Great Understandings” approaches installation, it is in its positioning of the viewer—of “us”—as part of the scene, the one peeking through the curtains. Our looking feels surreptitious, unwelcome, and voyeuristic, but it can’t be avoided. We are caught looking, caught up in a world where proper manners and the rigid placement of fine china on a table meet forced feeding, where the untamable, the devalued, the confined bleed through the wallpaper, where the tools at hand might be gathered up differently, at odds with their scripting.

This is one way in. There are others.