Pat Brassington by Juliana Engberg

Excerpted from the Know My Name publication (2020).

Doors are important to Pat Brassington. They feature as dynamic characters in a number of her works. As ominous thresholds in the series Cambridge Road; as trap doors in Below stairs; as mise‑en‑scene props in 1+1=3, Untitled and A little waltz. Doors are part of Brassington’s adopted language and repertoire of surrealism, and indicate portals to the unconscious—operating as entryways into, or as guardians of, hidden thoughts, experiences, memories and inklings.

Brassington’s installation In my father’s house 1992–2019 consists of three wooden doors, photographic prints and activated fluorescent tube lighting. The doors are left slightly ajar, which keeps Brassington’s imagery tantalisingly clandestine to a curious audience. The luminous spectral tease is there, daring one to open the door to reveal all or sneak away, thwarted and remain unimplicated.

Secretive, closed off from general access, doors bar the way to unknowable, possibly forbidden things. They suggest the awakening to the primal, illicit scene of the mother and father in carnality, which the child registers when access to the master bed is denied by a door left mistakenly unlocked—a first trauma of separation, causing anxiety, guilt and jealousy. By extension, they also suggest taboo, incestual thoughts and perhaps actions.

While tempting, it is perhaps a trap to assume Brassington refers to her own father in this house of symbols—although she might. She is insistently evasive on the subject of biography within her work. But most definitely her artistic and psychoanalytic ‘fathers’, Freud, Jung, Magritte, Dali, Ernst, filmmaker Luis Bunuel and others, are acknowledged in the shared repertoire of signs and signifiers.

That being recognised, and while this might be the father’s house, it is the surrealist ‘mother’ Dorothea Tanning’s painting Eine kleine Nachtmusik 1943—with its hallway of closed doors, one slightly ajar and flooded with light, populated by two young girls with deranged hair, torn clothes and phantasmic appearances—that signals a particular feminine temperament with which Brassington has an affinity.

When Brassington keeps her doors open a crack, the fluorescent light escaping like some weird poltergeist, beckoning yet repelling those tempted to transgress the boundary and enter the scene, she adds a further cinematic twist to her arrangement. She plays with the suspense and horror genres of film language in which a door ajar signals danger, entrapment and lurking terror to which the protagonist is innately, fatally drawn; or reveals hidden truths and repressed memories in the manner of a psychoanalytic methodology.

Affinities aside, Brassington’s language is emphatically her own. The livid, phallic tongues; suggestively shaped seashells; flower bouquets; wrecked childhood toys; and taut, arched, supine torsos in this work have since become ever present visual clues in Brassington’s output. This is her own dictionary of the unconscious which she lends to the viewer so that they can activate associations, thoughts and memories to unlock their own doors.

Citation: Cite this excerpt as: Engberg, Juliana. "Pat Brassington" in N Bullock, K Cole, D Hart & E Pitt (eds), Know My Name, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2020, pp 56–57.

JULIANA ENGBERG is a curator, writer and cultural producer, and most recently curator of Angelica Mesiti: Assembly at the Biennale di Venezia 2019.

Pat Brassington appears in