Lena Amuat & Zoë Meyer
The Doubting Finger, Kunsthaus Baselland‚ 2013
In the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem in the centre of Rome, tucked in one cool, marble corner is a glass case. The Chapel of the Relics holds several ornate gilded stands; on one shelf, a glass circle holds two thin pricks, purportedly from the crown of thorns.
On the bottom shelf is a framed piece of wood, a portion of the True Cross. Next to it is a glass cylinder in which rests the small bone of a human index finger: the doubting finger of St. Thomas. A portion of the Apostle’s finger, stuck into Jesus’s abdominal wound as a means of verification. The burden of proof rests on these objects. The stories they carry might not, perhaps even need not, be true. But they still act as vessels for the transmission of knowledge, their histories and presence acting as testimonies — whether factual, allegorical, or ethical. The Latin origin for the word, ‘reliquus’, means ‘left behind’, ‘surviving’, but also‘owed’, and the trail of the relic is a path beset by rhetoric, uncertainty, and scepticism.
The images and installations of Lena Amuat & Zoë Meyer make use of photography as a form of contemporary reliquary. Their work constructs a space that is a gathering and ordering of forms, shapes, and objects from a range of backgrounds, holding them up for the scrutiny of disbelief, and visibly unravelling some of the major lines of thought of the past few hundred years.
The sources of their relics each contain a claim to knowledgesystems, depicting series of ethnographic artefacts, mathematical models, educational tools as well as religious relics. Knowingly using photography as an ambiguous documentary tool, Amuat & Meyer capture these objects in direct, formal portraits.‘Pink Tower’(Montessori) (2012)‘ is a series of the cubes for Kindergarten children, stacked as they should be in ascending smaller order, presented on a background of corresponding, but only slightly lighter, shade of pink. ‘Biology Model No.1’ (2012) shows a plastic model of an orchid, cut at a cross-section to display its inner workings, shot against a neutral dark grey background.
The photographs of these teaching props are contrasted with more conjectural representations, whether the physical mock ups of mathematical equations, or images such as ‘Impossible Figure No.2’ (2012), an image of a starspattered space in which a square frame hovers at an angle over what might be its elongated shadow, each component made up of fragments of the galaxy.
Each specimen is captured with a cold eye, the tone of academic distance hanging over their collected stills. But they are presented almost half-installed, some images leaning on the floor, others as large-scale wall prints providing backdrops and settings.
This unsettled interruption highlights the provisional, propositional nature of their subject matter, their formalism turning into a creeping Platonic unease. Their use of didactic models folds in on itself, becoming an open civic museum that traces its own history with a restless, doubting finger.