The True North, Plastic and Dyspeptic
Nedham’s exhibition of delicate, dangerous, historically and anthropologically anointed drawings is almost as exhausting as it is exhilarating. It is exhilarating because her drawings are so ambitious, because she has attempted so much. It is exhausting because each of these exquisitely-wrought, superbly worked images is made to bear a ponderous weight of reading and research.
Even the show’s title – though lyrically intriguing – is demanding: Tapping the Admiral traditionally refers to Horatio Nelson’s being stuffed (as a way to preseve his body for the journey home) into a cask of brandy after dying at Trafalgar, and the crew’s surreptitious siphoning off of the Admiral’s embalming grog in a determined effort no to forgo their daily allotment.
After that, it’s all uphill. Nedham proceeds – exquisitely, one must add - to bring together the torture machine from Kafka’s In the Penal Colony and the delineation of preserved specimens harvested from the worlds natural history museums. Here, for example, is s weird, woozy drawing of Saddam Hussein’s horse (the Iraqi Natural History Museum), “cloaked with the Dazzle Ship patterns from World War One.”
Nearby is an image of “a 50-cent token machine mounted atop a bone grinder” (a Victorian apothecary’s dose of medicinal ground bone, ground fresh on request, costing about 50-cents). In drawing after intricate drawing, Nedham muses upon animal preservation, torture, packaging, modalities of display, Museological strategies, the cruelties of history and the odd histories of cruelty. Her drawings, it bears repeating, are remarkably fine. Her subject matter is unashamedly grotesque, challenging and inevitably upsetting. As a result, her work, once you are inured to it, is moving and, in the end unforgettable.