Uncertain Territories by Kathryn Gray and Mary Modeen

The starting point of this work, entitled Uncertain Territories was a discussion of the feeling of doubt, of intentional uncertainty in both text and image. Each of us knows all too well the feeling of hesitation, thinking we have been certain of our territory, thinking we have been addressing something quite straightforward. And all of a sudden, there is the moment when other possibilities present themselves, when the subject shifts and other possibilities enter the frame. A word that rings with a different tone, a peripheral glance or a hint of something underlying the surface begins to suggest other readings, other aspects that are part of the whole. In this way, it was the shared sense of aesthetic uncertainty, of pause that led us forward. Kathryn’s deceptively simple language folds outward and inward simultaneously, elegantly suggestive without sharp outlines. And in response to her text, the sense of where one stands shifts, as if one were visually looking outward and askance, seeing multiple layers. As an artist book, the intimacy of viewing, the printing of front and back in its material form, and the richness of colour and surface hint at the appeal of, and then the resistance to, singular sensual comprehension.
Kathryn had a slightly different perspective on this collaboration She wrote:

This collaboration with Mary Modeen proved to be especially serendipitous for me, both personally and professionally. On the one hand, it came at a time when I had recovered from writer’s block, largely a result of becoming, paradoxically, to certain of the poet I was. Recovery came from acceptance: I had begun to embrace the personal shifts in myself that time presents to us all. At the same time, something abides: who we were and who we thought we were. This lends us our richness and complexity. We are both flux and residue.

On the other hand, here’s the charge of all art: to take us from our certainties to our uncertainties. Art is not about the answers: it is about the questions. Art is multivalent and fugitive; it denies us safety and emphatic grounding. It presents us instead with competing tensions and readings. In undertaking this collaboration, I thought, principally, of Robert Frost. Frost employed deceptively simple language to explore complex ideas that were as elegant as they were often disturbing. The ‘saying’ in a Frost poem is all in the unsaid or offstage. The resulting collaboration with Mary seemed perhaps an ideal collision of what visual art and poetry do best, in their particular ways: showing and hiding, lending intimacy and taking retreat, of gifting and denial.

Kathryn Gray studied German and Medievalism at the Universities of Bristol and York, and received an Eric Gregory Award (2001). Her poetry and criticism has appeared in The Times Literary Supplement, The Independent, Poetry Wales, and Poetry Review amongst others. Her collection The Never–Never (Seren, 2004) was short–listed in 2004 for the T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry. She is editor of New Welsh Review.

Mary Modeen is an artist, academic and Senior Lecturer in Fine Art and Art and Philosophy at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, University of Dundee. Her research has several threads, combining perception as a cognitive and interpretive process, philosophy and literature, with place-based research. This practice is usually interdisciplinary and speaks to many different audiences. Her work appears as creative art, usually in the form of printmaking and artists’ books and also as writing, curation and public presentations.