Susan Jacobs, The ants are in the idiom
⬤ Buxton Contemporary 3 Jun - 30 Oct 2011
The referential density of Susan Jacobs’ immense exhibition at Buxton Contemporary, The ants are in the idiom, is almost overwhelming. Like an Ezra Pound epic poem or its precursor Dante’s Divine Comedy, such excessive citations necessitate a depth of knowledge, here expressed through Jacobs’ cryptic interplay between the visual and the linguistic, the aesthetics of matter and its reference to research. The history of ox-hide ingot currency, the lamb of Tartany, the sottobosco and vanitas paintings of the seventeeth century, as well as the chemical experiments of Jan Baptista von Helmont and Louis Pasteur, make up the bibliography of Jacobs’ latest offering. However, unlike many masters that came before her, Jacobs is not interested in concluding a grand narrative or synthesising an understanding of its dialectical principles. Rather, she presents the viewer with a series of riddles, the first of which is embedded in the exhibition title itself. The exhibition’s curator, Jacqueline Doughty, provides its key in her catalogue essay, wherein the etymology of the word “answer” in part derives from the word “ant”, meaning “front, forehead”/ “in front of”/ “before”. The ants are in the idiom is thus less a riddle and more a pun, holding the word “answer” as its core while continuing to draw question marks around the exhibition’s cryptic visual syntax.