Magazine article Art Monthly

Jeremy Millar

Magazine article Art Monthly

Jeremy Millar

Article excerpt

Jeremy Millar

National Maritime Museum London

28 September to 17 January

From my workplace in Southend on a clear winter's night, I can often see Jeremy Millar's hometown of Whitstable flickering far in the distance across the estuary. I share similar interests with Millar--WG Sebald's writing and gift economies, to name two examples--so it was interesting to journey up the Thames and meet this exhibition 'in the middle' so to speak; at the degree zero Prime Meridian in the heart of the capital. On entering Queen's House, where the artist's two-room museological display sits within the collection of paintings depicting historical exploration, it becomes apparent that its various facets enact a canny fictional take on the Polish anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski and the artist Stanislaw Witkiewicz's journey by sea from Folkestone to Papua New Guinea in 1914 to document the country's indigenous people. When Witkiewicz returned from Australia at the outbreak of the First World War, he left Malinowski to undertake the task single-handedly, with the latter's research subsequently becoming one of the foundations of 20th-century social anthropology. By turns, Millar's project--a latter-day 'what if re-reading of Malinowski's exploration in which he documents his own travels to Papua New Guinea, making a series of photographs as if he were Witkiewicz 'the artist' rather than Malinowski 'the anthropologist'--effectively becomes an attempt to take subjectivity back into the 'correct' hands of cultural expression rather than scientific understanding.

If Millar's overarching title, 'Given', was chosen not only to refer to the obvious set of assumptions surrounding the exotic tropicality of ancient civilisations that result from western anthropological enquiry, or ideas around tribal exchange and gift giving, then one could say that it also attempts to redress worn formulas used for evaluating contemporary art. An intentional ambiguity operates in the resulting value of the objects on display; With the Left Hand, 2009, for example, presents a 'soulava' necklace used in the Kula ring, a complex form of exchange in the Massim region of the country in which ceremonial objects move around a circle of people in the community to provide new experience and enrich its people materially, physically and spiritually. Importantly, this highly charged piece of jewellery can never be held as a possession, and Millar's own soulava is adorned by the artist with valuable and collectable coins minted with a portrait of Malinowski on the 60th anniversary of his death in 2002. …

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