10th September - 3rd October
The Golden Probe
Oliver Watts

The law, as Derrida suggests, is based on a ‘mythical foundation of authority.’ At the limit of the law there is a point at which any questioning of the validity of the law ends with, ‘Because it just is!’ In post-colonial Australia especially, we are very aware of how one country’s sovereignty may override another culture’s claim, in our case by force of arms or through disease. This inconsistency in the law is covered up, or sublimated, by almost ‘religious’ icons and legal tomes, which desperately try to veil the lack that founds the law.

This show explores these themes through the assassination attempt by Henry O'Farrell on Prince Alfred in 1868. The work explores the theological implications of the sovereign body and why O'Farrell wanted to 'pierce' or touch that body. The golden probe is apocryphally the probe used to find the bullet by doctors on the scene; it is a 'relic' held at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. It is unlikely that the gold probe was actually used, because gold is too soft, but the Victorian sensibility suggested that the doctor touching the royal body needed such an unusual instrument.

The contemporary psychoanalytic understanding of the crime of regicide, or an attempt against other ‘father-figures’ of the law (Prime Minister, President, etc) is not so much about bringing about revolution. The crime is now seen as a calling for symbolic recognition; the subject feels that he has no place in society and must call to the symbolic order to ‘interpellate’ them. Like a child, sometimes this provocation is done through violent transgression. ‘Suicide by cop,’ seems to have similar symptoms.

In this exhibition O’Farrell is elided with Doubting Thomas (or alternatively Thomas the Believer), who also probed the ‘symbolic real’ transcendental body (of Christ). In this case O’Farrell’s bullet asks the Prince, ‘Do you know who I am?’ ‘Does the law exist, do you exist?’ The punishment by hanging, paradoxically, may have brought O’Farrell the recognition he craved; legally and historically he was finally inscribed somewhere.

Through gold-point and silver-point, Renaissance drawing techniques, the exhibition reinterprets and re-inscribes O’Farrell’s story. The sending of letters to various archives also restages O’Farrell’s wish to find his social position. The church which did not allow him into the priesthood is asked to provide his seminary information; the asylum, the judge, the Queen, are all asked to admit to knowing and recognising the claim of Henry James O’Farrell.
Oliver Watts