Vita Zaman

The Wolf at the Door

A wolf in the house!  A startling, somewhat disturbing possibility, yet one which is entertained as a matter of course in countless tellings, as old folklore survives in the form of fairy-tale or horror movie.  The mythologised incarnations of the creature represent it as an intruder, infiltrating a scene to which it does not rightfully belong.  The ordered, wholesome familiarity of the domestic environment is usurped by an alien impostor.  The story of Little Red Riding Hood, probably the best known working of this theme, suggests that, concealed behind the homely satisfactions of safety, comfort and propriety lurks the allure of more dangerous pleasures.  Of course, the carnal symbolism of the wolf has been rehearsed many times, not least as the subtext to well-worn children's stories:  what would it mean to lose inhibitions, abandon the decorum of civilized repressions and sublimations?  But insofar as the wolf is a romantic emblem of nature and instinct, it has always served a dual role.  On the one hand it functions as a caution, conjuring a fear that unruliness of sexual desire might 'eat you up', while on the other, it acts as a screen for liberatory projections, often tied to a cultural fixation on fantasies of animal metamorphosis (from full-blown werewolves to the pretending of pre-pubescent scouting packs).

Vita Zaman's installation of video projections and photographs does not make its intervention into the quasi-domestic space of the gallery in quite the same lurid fashion as the lupine interlopers of popular legend.  Nevertheless, it does set in train a series of metaphoric links, which provoke a kind of identificatory switching between various levels of discourse.  The image of the wolf, notable by its absence in the work in all but verbal form, slides suggestively on to the figure of the huntsman.  In one video piece, he is represented by the subtitled text of his lesson on the skills of tracking.  He speaks of what is required to sniff out and stalk the animals as they roam the wintry forests of Northern Europe, here transposed to the discreetly furnished charm of a bourgeois household.  The stealth of the hunter, it seems, must match the primaeval guile of the wolves themselves:  their habits closely observed, their pathways intimately known.  The wolf's terrain must become the huntsman's own if he is to successfully root out the trespasser and re-assert his mastery over the land.  But this assertion of control is as elusive as the wolf is ironically scarce.  In another set of images the huntsman of the piece has become the landlord. Documentary glimpses show him touring his acreage (land apparently recently returned to his family, from whom it had been confiscated).  But the land he surveys seems inert, too far removed from any redemptive enterprise to make it economically viable, or symbolically replete.  Instead it is haunted by loss, by the sense of an irrecuperable history.  The dearth of wolves makes of the hunt a dim memory; their disappearance from the land can only stoke up a rural nostalgia for a return to the 'old ways'.

Narratives of desire and loss are thus imported into the frame of the gallery space.  The visitor, confronted both with tales of stalking something unseen, and images of distant territory which is only vaguely locatable, is requested to take up the position of the melancholy huntsman:  to track the significance of this uncanny occupation of one space by another.  The Baltic severity of one insinuates itself into the sparsely furnished elegance of the other, both spaces incomplete, yet not completing each other.  The speculator's identifications shift uneasily, moving between the two sites, but s/he remains unable to assign a definitive role to either.  The real status of the 'home' which houses the gallery is no less troublesome than the fantasies engendered by the images and sounds of Wolf Hunt.

Jon Cairns 2000