Marguerite Horner’s paintings might therefore appear to depict the polar opposite of the sublime. Her suburban streets and highways, deserted parking lots, cars, telegraph poles and wires, largely inspired by her experiences of small town America, are the stuff of the everyday – mundane, quotidian, man-made.
Yet, with their grisaille palette, fluctuating between being crisply focused and blurred to the point of obfuscation, there is something uncanny about these otherwise easily recognisable scenes. They are familiar, yet strange – estranged. Freud delineates the uncanny as ‘that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar’,4 as ‘nothing new or alien, but something which is familiar and old-established in the mind and which has become alienated from it only through the process of repression’.5 He drew a distinction between the uncanny and the sublime, by imbuing the latter with solely positive attributes, ‘rather than with the opposite feelings of repulsion and distress’. The uncanny, on the other hand, he classed as those things ‘which lie within the field of what is frightening’.6,7 This is false on two counts: (i) his interpretation of the sublime is somewhat rose-tinted, since it is often associated, in the first instance, with terror and horror, and (ii) this very process of alienation and repression, which Freud attributes to the uncanny, is what leads to Kant’s transcendental encounter with the sublime.
Derrida, in his essay ‘Parergon’, focuses attention not on the object of contemplation (the work, or ‘ergon’), but on its boundary. He speaks of the need to frame something to prevent it from becoming merely monstrous. Horner’s paintings are full of frames within frames: the grey skies, streets, and parking lots are bisected by bright white road markings, lamp posts, trees, and telegraph wires. In Boxed In (2010), the block of flats is set in a vivid red square, restricting the main frame of reference to a fraction of the composition, with the mundane continuing all around. Within this red frame, a myriad windows – further, smaller frames – push up against one another. Each offers a different (albeit the same) viewpoint, a reflection of the outer world. This segment could be seen from any angle, upside down, it would make no difference. Pixelated imagery, like reflections on the retina, multiple tiny photograms, just prior to being interpreted into a coherent image by the mind. Horner speaks of a constant dialogue between the mark and the inner eye in the process of her painting. The same is true for the viewer as he or she interprets it. Horner is providing just the ingredients – the flour and lemon juice of the madeleine – and asking viewers to reconstruct their own memories – to recognise in the universe without, their own universe within and to confront and transcend this inner abyss. In so doing, she is bringing the sublime into the mundane.
(from Anna McNay, Marguerite Horner, Brining the Sublime into the Mundane)