The legacy of Romanticism, Maurice Blanchot has written, is to pose discontinuity as an essential problem of both form and of subject: the romantic work as an unworking, as a meandering progression of syntactical knots and fragmentations. Romanticism is likewise posed by Simon Critchley as an oscillating sensibility, as a tearing between the desire for an absolute ideal and the acknowledgement of a lack of synthesis between reality and the ideal. The un-working process of Romanticism is a fragmentary one that desires the complete work alongside the acknowledgement of its own failure – a notion of the beautiful that involves the internalisation of a failing melody.

Arriving at this notion, the artists brought together under the title Romantic Anti-Humanism utilise aesthetic codes to invoke ‘Ideals’ whilst in turn revealing a self-consciousness of their partial or fragmented activity. The works on show use photography and video, as well as the language of gesture, performance and partial narrative. Theo Cowley will present a video extending his research into the Commedia dell’arte character of the Harlequin, the interruption of spontaneity, and the ability/inability to buck causation. Lisa Castagner’s photographs present meticulous photographic tableaux where female protagonists conduct recognisable yet indistinct actions: in this instance hypnosis alongside office-decor sensual symmetry. Jayne Parker will present her 1986 video En Route in which the artist is shown in the midst of several indeterminate acts or knotted passages: driving and getting lost, playing the cello falteringly after many years of non-practice, spitting-rubbing-tasting: “‘Are you lost?’ ‘No – Yes’… A video about transition and trying to find the right track”. Bjørn Venø will present a new photographic work that references the oppositional double-character of the computer fighting game Tekken whilst evoking the melancholic ecstasy of the medieval courtly love drama: a protagonist submitting to the ambiguous punishments meted out by his adored Lady.

Gathering these works under the notion of a sensibility that evokes the formation of perfection whilst teasing out disfiguring effacements where perfection becomes impossibility, Romantic Anti-Humanism as a show hopes to present a cluster of work which provide a model of subjectivity that is present yet not-whole: involved in interminable processes of self-creation and self-destruction. Claire Colebrook has discussed the Romantic sensibility as a scene where the poet describes himself as having-been, or having-experienced, in a finite and incomplete sense. Rather than producing a closed sustained self, this is a subject that recognises itself as “an abyssal effect”, as somewhere between the subject who speaks and the subject who is spoken – residing uncertainly in a gap. Affirmative but not totalising, celebratory but with a humorous understanding of its own dissolution, this exhibition hopes to be encountered as a series of instances where interruption and continuity are simultaneously enacted or embodied.