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R C Gibbs

Essay by Neville Wakefield
They say that home is where the heart is. But, more and more often these days, it might be where the luggage is; lost in what the anthropologist Marc Augé describes as one of the many ‘non-places of supermodernity’, familiar to the rest of us as the transit lounges of life. Whether parked in front of the TV or behind the wheel, waiting at the hospital or DMV, or addressing the airborne dilemmas of chicken or beef, these are spaces where we find ourselves on the move but going nowhere. As our bodies accelerate our minds become more accustomed to the condition of waiting and the architecture that describes it—the crossings, embarkations, terminals, baggage drops, roads, airports and hospitals that form the subjects of Rose Gibbs most recent works.

For Gibbs, who I first met while she was still attending Chelsea Art School, painting is where the heart is. After a few decades of doing other things – including running a successful business and being a mother—she returned home with a body of work that speaks to conditions familiar to all. The spaces she paints, even as they are informed by the migration of people and things, are devoid of humanity. Baked in the sodium glow of operational movement they are places of solitude and absence, cracks in a dream of travel conjured to take us away from who we know ourselves to be. Within this form of hybrid painting the speed of photography and the slowness of the hand are set at odds. Gibbs pulls paint across the glassy surface making the moment indecisive and blurred as if seen through the cataract of unfulfilled promise. Everything is what it seems—a slow-motion deceleration of possibility that leads inexorably towards a kind of terminal condition.

Others, equally drawn to the banality that accompanies the infrastructure of transit, have been here before. But where Fischli and Weiss’s documentation of airports melded romantic nineteenth century ideas of tourism with twentieth century technologies of globalism, Gibb’s focus on the architecture of emptiness suggests a more complete evacuation of those dreams. It’s a vision of travel as monotony stalked by fear.

When I write to her that I identify with Ground Level Baggage Drop 3 her response is to say she’s been stuck in the departure lounge for years. Looking at these works I’m not so sure. They are full of yearning – nostalgic perhaps for an era when travel promised to separate us from the baggage of the self; the person who enters these non-spaces is always a passenger. Subjected to a gentle form of possession, theirs is a journey without beginning or end. Like the paintings themselves they live in a space defined at once by hope and loss – places that the spiritual nomads we all are have come to call home.