[Analysis] Tiger Tiger by Rosalie Gascoigne (1987)


This was originally posted as homework in the 'Lemon Blog' on UTS Online for Digital Media and the Still Image.

Tiger Tiger by Rosalie Gascoigne (1987)

Tiger Tiger by Rosalie Gascoigne

There were a lot of amazing artworks at the Museum of Contemporary Art which made the decision difficult to pick one to talk about. The image which was eventually selected is Tiger, Tiger, a dramatic artwork created by Rosalie Gascoigne made out of reflective material (reflective road signs) and wood. As quoted from the placard at the MCA, 'the artist carved up these signs and reassembled them into abstract grids'. Unfortunately this artwork does not contain any images/imagery of people so it would be difficult to relate to The Gaze or Framing, but Perspective and Composition are still very much relevant to the discussion of the artwork.

(Edit: On second thoughts, you could relate this to framing, since it's so close up. We are at the closest point we could get to the signs, yet the artwork itself appears to be one that you should look at from some distance. This is an interesting parallel.)

The placement of the artwork on the wall allows most viewers to see it face-on (equal angle) from a vertical perspective, either from a distance or up close to the image. The relationship is a feeling of similarity, equality or familiarity. We know when we first see the material that it is very much what road signs are comprised of because we are attuned to seeing vibrant and eye-catching yellow road signs with this particular typography. This this adds to the feeling of familiarity, yet this is contrasted by the fact that the signs themselves are not familiar because they are fragmented and split up into a grid, with the shapes and thus the letters rotated in different directions.

Close-up of Artwork

The composition of the artwork is interesting as there does not seem to be any focal point at first. There are two parts to this artwork which make the composition something different as well, creating a left/right. This doesn't have the same connotations as it does in other artworks though, where it may relate to old/new, before/after, as both artworks appear to be constructed the same even if their content differ. Similarly the traditional connotations of top/bottom do not seem to apply. On closer inspection, both artworks have one tile that is the most similar down in the bottom left corner, where they both say 'OR'. It is possible that this could be a focal point of both halves of the artwork, yet naturally upon seeing such an artwork we are drawn to the top corner and move very methodically down, particularly noticeable given that it is the shape of a grid.

Even though the letters themselves do not give us any meaning, language itself is still an important part of understanding the image and the artist herself has a strong background in literature of the textual form. If I relate back to Alex W White's text on the Practical Philosophy of Typography, we can see that this type of typography used is where the type is the image, although not necessarily the focal point. Of one of the eight categories which he provides, this artwork would be of the 'type chopped and arranged as an image', the image is made of parts of letterforms. Maybe part of its expression is not its readability but the fact that it is unreadable, because they do not form words. In any case, the artwork is inspired by the poem, The Tyger, by William Blake in 1794 which is said to 'ruminate on beauty and horror of nature'. When you consider the roads and the horrors which can result from them, this message is understandable, creating this juxtaposition of beauty and horror. The repetition of the 'Tiger' in the name 'Tiger Tiger' seems to reflect how there are in fact two parts to the artwork itself… The titles are an effective starting point in the understanding of the artwork, yet the artwork itself is open to interpretation.

Part of the illustration of The Tyger by William Blake

The way the artworks are mounted, however, gives them a depth which seems to imply that they themselves are the foreground and the wall itself is a background to it, a contrast to the brightly coloured deconstructed signage. The light cast on the artwork is not too bright, but because of their nature the signs still appear vibrant. Gascoigne is quoted to have said “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”. Again, the MCA mentions 'the richness of the work is to be found in the interplay between letter fragments, shape and light, along with the synergies suggested by its title'. The boldness of the yellow and black and the methodical way they are ordered in a grid is a throwback to the the stripes on a tiger itself.

I believe that this artwork is at once both transcending, yet also imminent in its content, as it surpasses its original intended purpose and lives on in another form, creating more meaning than it had when it was whole now that it is apart. Yet it is also imminent because the original meaning is still present and is still what we as the viewer will use to draw our meaning from, because it's a part of our world and what we understand. This could, however, have a very different meaning to future audiences, say if we no longer used road signs because of a shift in our ways of transport. Another viewer of the artwork online relates her experience of the artwork to "it reminded me of the little puzzle games I used to play, where you move the grid with one spare square to create a picture" which appears to suggest that the messages are hidden there for us to uncover and sort out, or 'solve'.

Visit: Tiger Tiger at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (Circular Quay).