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It’s easy to describe the basic MO of Moyra Davey’s ‘mailers’: she takes a photograph, prints it as a poster, then folds it, stamps it and sends it through the post to a friend. But that doesn’t come close to capturing the work’s strange aura and its oddly melancholy effect.
Arranged into series, the works here – some sent directly to Camden Arts Centre, others borrowed from addressees – focus on incidental details, mainly from around New York where Davey lives (such as neatly stubbed-out cigarettes on a window-ledge), or depict themes to do with communication (close-ups of old letters and envelopes, or a series featuring subway passengers writing in notebooks). The point is, they’re all of ephemeral, transient moments, the sort of chance observations and fragments of meaning that make up most of our day-to-day existence but somehow fall short of what we fully think of as ‘life’. And yet, by being sent through the post, by being folded, stamped, addressed and physically handled, the works on the wall become transformed from simple images into objects. Likewise, the moments they commemorate seem to become more solid in the process, like a kind of communal relic.
Davey’s videos, of course, can’t be physically objectified in the same way, but they explore similar themes: time, autobiography, the act of recording and writing (Davey is known as a writer as well as an artist). The films are long, dense and discursive, touching on subjects from past literary figures such as Jean Genet to Paris cemeteries to – in true, New York fashion – Davey’s relationship to her psychoanalyst. Yet they never feel self-indulgent. Rather, this immersion in someone else’s life and thoughts feels thoroughly invigorating.