Museum of Contemporary Art, gift of Loti Smorgon AO and Victor Smorgon AC, 1995
reflective material, wood
H 110.5 W 111.5 D 2cm
Tiger Tiger is one of Gascoigne’s renowned and dramatic works made from reflective road signs that flash and flare when they catch the light. Within these works, the clear directional language of the signs are fragmented, the letters are scattered and their meaning incomprehensible. The real meaning of the work lies in experience of the found, weathered and reconfigured material and the play of light upon it.
Although the letters across the surface of Tiger Tiger do not cohere, language is central to its layered play of meaning. Gascoigne’s early training was in literature rather than the visual arts, and language infuses her work. Her assemblages are frequently referred to as visual poetry and share with modern poetry the construction techniques of fragmentation, repetition and juxtaposition. She often commented that her collaged use of text in works forms a sort of ‘stammering concrete poetry’. (1)
Gascoigne’s titles are always significant and she named this work after English poet William Blake’s 1794 rumination on the beauty and horror of nature, The Tyger. She frequently referred to Tiger Tiger subsequently in order to demonstrate how a title would come to her in contemplation, following the completion of a work. If the visual effects of Gascoigne’s works are open-ended and experiential, the titles reflect the formal qualities that are evocative, personal and precise – providing a point of entry into the work without being prescriptive. Just as Blake’s description of the animal begins, ‘Tyger tiger burning bright’, Gascoigne’s title points to the bold yellow and black colouring and its bright reflection. Similarly, the repetition in the title Tiger Tiger mirrors the two square panels of the diptych and the regular grid evokes the ordered patternation of the animal’s pelt, like Blake’s ‘fearful symmetry’.
It is this interplay between the texts of Romantic poem and road signage, like the flash of light across the surface of the work, that captivates our attention, thrills the senses and serves to expand and sharpen our perception of the natural world.
… like, when I was doing Tiger Tiger, the recent work. I do them in the studio and then bring them inside and I just like to watch them, when they’re not watching me, and vice versa … and it was there, standing up against the table, and I went past it and just said ‘Tiger Tiger’, and I just knew that was its name, you see, and it was … it was the squareness, and the yellow flashing tiger crouching in the grass with grass all over its face, a sort of threat … as roadsigns are, and, to me, it was the right name. And as far as those things go, the fact of the retro-reflector, I’ve always liked the glint to be brought out. I don’t want it to be dramatically lit, but I do want it to sometimes flash at you, as road signs do, and then go sullen, then flash, like a living thing …
I don’t want it to be dramatically lit, but I do want it to sometimes flash at you, as road signs do, and then go sullen, then flash, like a living thing
Rosalie Gascoigne, 1988