Jessie Flood-Paddock’s new work, Mammoth Adoration, weaves between alternating anecdotes from art history and personal experience about the defacement of works of art. The first anecdote recalls surrealist poet and painter, André Breton, who, while visiting the cave paintings at Pech Merle in 1952, claimed that they were fake, and scratched at a drawing of a mammoth to show that the paint was still wet. The painting was authentic and Mr Breton was taken to court for damage to historical property.
The second occurred while the artist was exhibiting in Warsaw where a video projection was attacked with paint by protesters. Beyond the reasons for the protest itself, the tragi-comic or hopeless, impotency of the attack remained as its strongest feature. Mammoth Adoration also references the vandalism on 17th July 2011, of a painting by Nicolas Poussin called the Adoration of the Golden Calf (1633-34). This painting, depicting the idol set up by the Israelites while Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments, was sprayed with reddish paint by a man of 57 years while it hung in room 19 of the National Gallery, London.
Jessie Flood-Paddock intertwines these tales as a backdrop to the iconoclastic defacement of her own projected video-work depicting a toy mammoth. Here, her act of vandalism does not damage the video itself but disrupts the scene of its exhibition. It becomes separated from the artwork it tries to attack, and stands apart from it in its own right. In the same space, a radio plays quietly as if someone has just left the room.
The discovery by young teenagers of the caves of Pech Merle in 1922 opens another layer in the work. The artist’s short video conjures the imaginary world of childhood play, she evokes the unmediated wonder that children still thrill to of encountering monstrous creatures, real or imaginary, a fascination still accessible in adolescence. It is this playful alteration of space through changing scale that the artist counterpoints to the more destructive forms of iconoclastic transformation. Additionally, in the video’s candlelit intimacy, associations are made to the making of the original cave paintings. These paintings are our earliest evidence of man’s relationship to the magical power of the image, a potency that is linked to death. These images depict the hunting and slaying of great animals. This reveals, according to George Bataille in his work on Palaeolithic cave painting and the sacred, that ‘from the very beginning, death had introduced the beyond of human life.’