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Image of The Bigger the Searchlight the Larger the Circumference of the Unknown by Harland Miller
Harland Miller, The Bigger the Searchlight the Larger the Circumference of the Unknown. Photo © Harland Miller

Harland Miller

Works exhibited: The Bigger the Searchlight the Larger the Circumference of the Unknown, Wentworth Street, St Helen’s RoadNickel Gate.

Although the detective has not been replaced by the forensic scientist in contemporary culture, the latter now rivals the former’s ingenuity and authority. The rise of the popular television series exploring the dynamics of crime scene investigation simply occludes the detective’s idiosyncratic methods, based as much on intuition as on ratiocination and focused above all on the individual investigator.

The cultural prominence of the crime scene scenario shifts attention instead onto the group, onto the workings of a system, onto saturation methods of research: perspiration rather than inspiration. The white suited human components of this system seem at first glance to be interchangeably anonymous in stark contrast to the detective, with his or her defining eccentricities.

Harland Miller’s eerily frozen tableau of crime scene teamwork deploys the saturation aesthetic of naturalism to tell the truth about the surface of things, with a precision and vividness that makes every last detail seem equally important, or equally unimportant. Our attention is distributed among these several figures absorbed in their separate tasks, leaving us unsure what to focus on, where to look, in order to make the whole scene cohere and yield up its secrets.

In the end, the point of the story is the same, no matter what crime has been committed, who the victim was, or who the perpetrator: the point of the story is the triumph of the method, the efficiency of the system, a homeostatic mechanism that absorbs the energy of individuals into a common purpose, irrespective of their individual strengths and flaws, fears, and desires.

Miller’s remarkable copper umbrellas are the evidence standing for everything that gets left out of the efficiency story, everything that has outlived its usefulness and presentability, everything that has been discarded. Umbrellas offer protection against the weather, but they are also accessories that offer a limited means of self expression.

Miller’s umbrellas are damaged and abandoned, they seem in need of protection themselves; perhaps their impaired condition reflects back on the vulnerable humans to whom they were once attached. The lustrous copper skin that protects and gives new value to what has been neglected preserves the unique patterns of deformation that make each of these works tell something of its own story.

Miller’s two installations in this show seem to fulfil in part Lautréamont’s famous desideratum for the work of art: ‘as beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table’. It is from the collision between human frailty and the forensic sensibility that his work derives its power to move us.

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