by Claire Mead, Art Historian and Independent Curator
You wake up and for a moment suspended in thought you do not know where you are in the world. The components are there – bed, sheets, sunlight streaming through, but their meaning is softly blurred like a smudged scrawl whose meaning you can vaguely decipher. This is not home. But where is home? Where does it begin? Then you wonder if all people have so many strange thoughts about hotel rooms, and whether those thoughts linger beyond the time they check out and return to the real world with its flow of information and people, never allowing us time to reconsider our place in the here and now.
Hotel rooms are sites of transition, in between familiarity and anonymity, intimacy and displacement. As we construct ourselves an ephemeral sense of home, we can paradoxically reconnect with our own bodies and relationship to an environment. We can acknowledge the need to change, experiment and make mistakes, to get lost in between spiritual ,virtual and physical realms. We can craft narratives through lost and found elements to make sense of our place in the world, our own sense of space within a vaster whole. When you feel displaced or you feel at home, is it within a space or within yourself? From the onset the artists of the UK corridor questioned their relationship to the hotel room as an ambiguous site of interaction and display, dispossessed of the autobiographical memory of a bedroom yet without the impersonal anonymity of a white gallery wall. To reclaim it both as a space and as a bedroom is to foster a special, intimate relationship with the visitor. Throughout the corridor, wandering from door to door and being invited inside for a short while reveals interrelations and fragments around the relationship to the space – and the relationship to the body.
Jodie Wingham explores notions of voyeurism and intimacy in her work, revolving around the notion of revealing what is usually hidden or left half-revealed in order to entice further. Through the staging of subtle signs of intimacy in her series Untitled (Intimacy) , images entice us like the act of peeking through a keyhole: the focus on a gap in an unbuttoned shirt, a fold of skin as legs cross and a skirt rides up slightly, glimpses of intimacy, embraces, touch, in illustrated buttons scattered across the bedroom, like the forgotten witnesses to an encounter we stumble across by chance but which sparks our desire to discover more. An open-ended narrative unfolds within the space, its intimacy and the images we associate from the experiences and memories we project upon hotels filling in the gaps. Through this careful and voyeuristic act of finding and intimating, our experience of the space is slowed down and made more deliberate, attuning the viewer to the particularities of the bedroom as a site of new discoveries, as a catalyst for new relationships to the body, to the space and to the way we evolve within them. As we peer even closer, another revelation – what appears as a photograph is in fact a screen-print, adding a layer of voyeurism to the encounter – a desire to reach out and touch. Here Jodie’s training as a printmaker, as a recent graduate from the Birmingham School of Art, allows her to disrupt our expectations surrounding an image, creating a new sculptural and material quality, working from photographs while subverting our encounter of these works through their display.
These images are found, their initial context lost and attributed new, elusive narratives, like an erotic collage waiting for additional pieces to complete it. As Beth Horner explores the relationship between exterior and interior spaces, her depictions of domesticity remain intentionally ambiguous and fragmented in a similar way. Low-quality photographs snapped on her phone and reassembled through collage let her intentionally blur the boundaries between the physical and the virtual, with quick sketches and doodles adding humour and life to images such as Window Cat. Glimpses of kitsch imagery in Blue Man reflect upon the peculiar spatial identity of suburbia, while Static Field devolves into abstraction, any sense of home or place obscured through the obsessive reworking of the image. Her process combines these digital snapshots with experiments on its surface, from printmaking to the addition of found materials. In collage works such as Red Room these physical surfaces are also “painted” over digitally, disrupting and confusing our physical experience of “real” painting – a medium Beth knows how to master in order to better subvert it, following her recent BA in Fine Art: Painting at Wimbledon College of Arts, University of the Arts London. Playing upon the ambiguities of surface in terms of forms mirrors the disruption of narrative and context in Beth’s work. Through autobiographical images of the everyday enhanced and collaged, finding intimacy is seen as a constant process and the interior we create for ourselves as an ever-shifting state. As surfaces and screens overlay and pixel and pigment interact, so do meanings about what it means to exist within a space and the way in which our experiences can be constructed and deconstructed in between physical and immaterial planes.
There is a sensitivity around drawing attention to the flaws, cracks and ambiguities in our relationship to physical and virtual states which takes centre stage in the work of Katie Hallam. Articulated and created around the notion of the beautiful error, her images are a elaborate exploration of a visual language unique to visual technology. It seems all the more fitting that she started developing her artistic practice by sharing her work directly to Instagram, adding a layer of meaning to these works initially displayed in an immaterial space. The glitches we usually take for granted or as an obstacle to the data we want to access are actively encouraged here, through the deliberate corruption of photographs. Element of play and experimentation define Katie’s work, each glitch and warp of the original surface creating a unique artwork through its haphazard nature. Her series TV addresses the particularity and strange beauty of layers of glitching and image transmission failure created by the television screen – bringing back memories of damaged VHS tapes and an awareness of our shifting relationship to media and technology across a few decades. Various stages of pixilation and corruption allow for an element of the surreal in her series People and Places as figures appear half-submerged in a new digital plane. In the meantime, other aspects of her work play with the effects of layering and pixellating subtle colour planes in order to create a poetic impression of digital brushwork, as in the series Clouds. Other images push the notion of corruption to its limits, creating abstract patterns which would, paradoxically, almost appear as organic elements observed under a microscope. This is the case in the series Chemigrams, blurring our notions of print and pixel, physical trace and virtual fragmentation, abstracted code and organic mark.
The details of the organic made abstract are a vast component of Maria Macc’ artistic process, uncovering our relationship with the body by chartering its insides through an aesthetic lens. Using science as the basis of her practice as an artist and psychologist, her recent research on historical dissection and interventional surgery through her recently awarded Art and Science MA at Central Saint Martins’ and based on her study of pathology specimens in collaboration with Kings College Anatomy Society, including drawing cadavers and studying taxidermy, could read as dispiriting at first sight. However, this exploration is anything but, taking at heart (literally and figuratively) the notions of transformation, decay and regeneration to celebrate the inner dynamics of the body, sparking our morbid curiosity to encourage us to adopt a new perspective on our bodies and ourselves. The room effectively becomes a fragmented site to inner workings, through an installation using a combination of materials bringing up different medical and personal recollections and associations. Medical documents and sketches, born of her collaborations with medical professionals, remain scattered across the desk, providing a record and framework for Maria’s bodily reimagining. Latex and steel provide a framework for projections and wood panels on which organic and visceral textures are layered and laid bare, displayed dramatically but carefully like a crossing between a stage set and a pathology lab. The senses lead towards fragmented ideas of the body embedded throughout the room, through looking and feeling, experiencing a discomfort replaced by curiosity and a desire to become immersed in the biology we all share.
This exploration of the fluctuating and evolving body, and the way in which it may shape our identities and experiences is at the core of Suzann Kundi’s practice. Her autobiographical approach allows for an intimate immersion within a different kind of bodily experience, one related to fluctuating notions of illness, disability and sexuality. Displacement is a constant in her images and time-based media of the body fragmented, reframed and reinterpreted, becomes the site of conflicting feelings of intimacy and alienation, past challenges and future hopes. In For Personal Use Only, the photo etching personal photographs with medical care objects, with a feeling that one cannot be dissociated for the other, creating a space for narratives which go beyond our assumptions of living with a disability. With an MA in printmaking from the Royal College of Art obtained in 2008, Suzanne’s practice has continuously used the engraving while experimenting with and expanding towards new techniques. Her photography of fragmented and re-imagined parts of the body, are subsequently recreated into etchings and time-based media, while her use of sculptures as well as models in the Monster series defined her interest in provoking conversations around our own body images and perceptions. What is a “monstrous” body – and on whose terms? These interdisciplinary material process allow for a multi-layered visual approach to disability and illness. Their intimate and sensitive tone allow for a shift in perspective, challenging the viewer to emphasize with notions of physical displacement.
Creating an intimate conversation with the body as a site of struggles, complexities and differences extends into portraiture, meant to capture this interiority, frozen in a particular time and place. Victoria Heald’s portraiture is rooted in this notion of dialogue between viewer and sitter, while reclaiming oil painting as a medium which can draw from past traditions in order to be reinterpreted from a new perspective. Ignited at Chelsea Art College while studying for a BA in Fine Art, Victoria’s curiosity in reflective surfaces used in portraiture allowed for her practice to unfold around the ways in which the representation of her subjects could also provoke a direct engagement and immersion of the viewer in her pieces. Her paintings of figures on reflective backgrounds, seemingly devoid of a particular time or place allows the visitor to “reflect”, both literally and figuratively, upon the painting and the new meanings that can be related to it within a new space. After using aluminium as part of her process, the use of gold refers back to both modern and historical uses within art history, from the backgrounds of medieval religious paintings to the stylised and jewel-like portraits by Gustav Klimt. As the light and reflections shifts, so does her methodology, as she both accepts portrait commissions and actively seeks out sitters whose attitude seems to convey a spirit and idea corresponding to her vision for a work. The flatness of the gold surface contrasts with the intricate and vibrant use of blue in Contemplation II, whose composition and palette construct an image drawing from religious and regal imagery alike, while capturing the sitter’s moment of quiet reflection. The reflected interactions of the viewer intersect with attitudes, gestures and states of mind captured onto the surface, testimonies not only to an artful painterly technique but also the crafting of a relationship between viewer and paintbrush. With a surface that would at first appear smooth and flat, Victoria creates a myriad of subtle experimentations in colour, form and composition, the life found in her representations surrounded by gold making them seem like poised religious icons for a new age and urban space. Her series of pen and ink architectural buildings across London seem to counter this carefully layered suspended animation with a sharp and spontaneous line, creating spaces which contrast with the gold-leafed emptiness of her portraits, as if her sitters had been displaced from these sites to sit in their own realm within spatial definition.
This experimentation with medium and surface to convey an organic and almost tactile notion of transforming bodies reflects Chris Horner’s process. Working hand in hand with the notion of chance and error as he currently studies for an MA in Fine Art at University for the Creative Arts, Farnham his work revolves around the creation of elements which read as physical imprints of the body in all its vulnerability and intimacy. His Paulin series toys with the boundaries between textile, sculpture and image, creating playful and experimental topologies with a skin-like textural quality. In the context of a bedroom and of the presences and absences that pervade it, the creases of his crumpled structures in Towel Trace or Microcrystalline can become reminiscent of folds of skin, the crinkled crevasses of a discarded towel on a bathroom floor, playing with notions of the organic and the mineral. The body need not appear directly in order to become a constant, pervasive presence. Through these objects, Chris maps our relationship to our bodies and surroundings, the physical and mental imprints we leave behind as time edges on, materializing new forms and possibilities, new rituals for existing, changing and evolving. This obsessive means takes the form of a particular ritualistic approach to handling and deconstructing these textile forms, in a routine-like process which allows for an ever-changing long-term relationship with the material.
This sense of ritual and relationship to the space is contrasted with Alice Cooke’s approach, exploring the way in which a sense of belonging within a space is rooted in gendered differences. In her work, an strong awareness of the feminine body is put forward, as a shell formed by expectations and pressures of the outside world, a process fostering feelings of alienation and estrangement. “Is it that I cannot see myself without seeing myself being seen?” This question by Iris Marion informs her own practice around the conflict between interiority and exterior perceptions as a woman, and led to her series Is it that I cannot see myself? using photography and film, drawing upon her recent BA in Photography at the London College of Communication. What does it mean to take up space within the world? Displacement and disappearance colour her approach to the body, considering the way in which women are made to perform femininity and a defined acceptable presence within the space. How to reclaim and subvert a way of moving and expressing the body within a given space? Alice magnifies these patterns in behaviour and gender expectations through her work mingling performance, photography and film, highlighting the particularity of movement by reclaiming and subverting their meaning. Reclaiming this body within the natural landscape resonates with Alice’s concerns around the idea of returning to natural and autobiographical roots, the often animalistic movement and ritual pagan-like nature of her interventions perhaps reflecting a long-lost freedom. The landscapes represent those of the artist’s birthplace, Cornwall, returning to the roots of a sense of belonging, home and newfound intimacy with a displaced body. In doing so, a subtle and intense dialogue forms between the body and the land, both elements of the other’s presence, blurring boundaries and creating new spiritual and non-human connections. The mind transcends a physical shell in order to converse with the landscape in order to find itself rooted within the world again.
This notion of performance exploring the expectations of the feminine body also express through these animalistic, improvised movements its potential as a site of resistance. In EJ Major’s work, this sense of performance related to identity becomes intertwined with her process as a photographer and visual artist, using both digital and analogue tools to manipulate photographs and construct a new image challenging notions of authenticity and historical “accuracy”. Image and language become means through which to create new stories and question why these stories are still asking to be rewritten and re-enacted. As a photography BA student and in possession of an MFA in Art Practice from Goldsmiths, her studies first began in the realm of social sciences. The intersection between this socially aware approach and her visual experimentation becomes all the more apparent in the series Shoulder to Shoulder, with the notion of reclaiming historical narratives in order to reinterpret them in a new space and social context. Its exploration of the Suffragette Movement leads to the reimagining and reframing of the slashing of the Rockeby Venus in the National Gallery through the set Venus Vanitas/Seriously Damaged by Attack/Self-Portrait with Slasher Mary while the Contact Sheet series re-interprets the Suffragette movement through the documentation of a Climate Change protest and chaining to the gates of Parliament dressed as a Suffragette prisoner. The archiving and presentation of the process intentionally blurs any feeling of authenticity or defined temporality, forcing us to make a double-take and question the images we are being given. This subverted history of feminist protest adds an additional layer of meaning to her series ‘love is…’. The phrase is a prompt whose blanks demand to be filled in, and were – by the strangers it was sent to via a postcard. Serving as a caption for each individual frame of the film Last Tango in Paris on her cards, a particular relationship is forged between the iconic film and participants’ response, either creating a disconnect or a meaningful moment, either displacing meaning or creating an intimate moment and vaster conversation between image and language.
As this exploration of femininity is laid bare in ways which parallel Alice’s work, her deep, physical engagement with the landscape also leads into the elements at the core of Charlotte Barlas’ work. In this instance however, her own spiritual immersion within the natural environment leads to a physical translation and reinterpretation of its effect through sculpture, a practice she refined during a BA in Fine Art at Leeds College of Art. Her use of material reflects a desire to remain both mentally and physically related to the earth she has derived energy and creativity from, with the use of stones and rocks combined with steel and copper. The contrast of this refined material with original mineral “brute” matter is at times left as a means of formal contrast between original states and their transformations, and in other works softened by letting steel and copper weather facing the elements, their oxidation and rust, usually seen as negative serving as a reminder of their earthly, non-industrialized origins. As translations of a shifting, transforming landscapes, the sculptures are anything but static: unfolding through the space, their shape shifts according to the viewers’ movement and perceptions, mirroring Charlotte’s own encounters of the natural world. This notion of carving out a space and engaging with a particular relationship with the viewer circling around it creates a strong interactive element, here heightened by the new context in which the works can be found. Usually exhibited outside, Charlotte wished to engage directly with the notion of bringing her interpretation of the natural and untamed landscape within a small and controlled environment. The result creates a dialogue performed in movements and shifts in perspective between sculpture and viewer around intimacy and motion.
This sculptural element related to an exploration of organic environments finds itself in the work of Lam Ly under a variety of forms. Expanding from sculpture into other materials has only expanded and enriched her ideas around space, materiality and absence. After a break in her art practice following graduation in 1995 from a Fine Art degree from Newcastle University, and at her return to art in 2010, foam started Lam’s sculptural exploration around the representation of the sea, deconstructing and abstracting her relationship to its forms and manifestations across sculpture and drawing alike. In The Diver this takes the form of lines converging towards a figure immerse in water. The continuation of her exploration of drawing has led to formal exploration around geometric compositions, ways of situating ourselves within a space, to be immersed and eventually lost within it. Ultimately, the representation of the sea is fragmented and reinterpreted in the notion of the void – blurring boundaries between the feeling of absence and distanciation in the physical body and the in-between, ambiguous nature of a body of water. The relationship Lam shares with the sea and its expression in her work has been expanded in her interactive sculptural work. Within the room, she invites visitors to participate in constructing, deconstructing and re-assembling blocks forming abstract structures, allowing them to form their own relationships with the sculpture, the space and the visitors they encounter. Attempts to reclaim a body and space can be to translate its experience into experiments with form, both material and digital. But ultimately, attempts to engage with the environment and the body relate with the need to connect with one another, throughout a hotel corridor space usually reserved for distant acknowledgement and familiar strangers rubbing shoulders but rarely taking the time to engage with one another.
Building a physical relationship with the sea draws a subtle relation between Joy Trpkovic’s practice in dialogue with that of Charlotte Barlas and Lam Ly. The sensitive translation of the sea’s organic elements into her ceramic works allows for an approach to craft which is nonconventional and playful, both drawing upon her education in fine art at Goldsmiths’ and Sussex University, and her ten years of experience focusing upon ceramics. Rather than base herself on a specific ceramic crafting tradition built around consistency and stability, she allows herself to experiment with the notions of error and chance, from the first formation of her creatures into clay to their final firing. A process of high fired porcelain creates risk and a challenge for every work which ultimately leads to an impression of lightness and translucency in her ultimate products. Each crease and crinkle becomes a unique trait due to unpredictable effects in the firing, very much like the glitches Katie is adamant upon celebrating or the inconsistent creases and folds Chris Horner creates in his textile works. Furthermore, this bending of craft’s rules is taken further by formal contrasts between the delicacy of porcelain and the roughness of black stoneware in many of her works. This fragile balance in terms of form and the fragile ecosystem based around crafting, timing and climate allowing for the creation of her works reflects her own concerns around the fragility of marine ecosystems. The hybrid-like nature of the creatures which marine ecosystems inspire her is also a testimony to what we may so easily lose.
In the same way, Rafael Atencia’s ceramic work around texture and surface experiments with the challenges of the craft in order to stretch his limits, reinterpreting the decorative tradition of layering techniques and texture glazes to achieve his own personal visions. With a degree in Ceramic Design from Central Saint Martins’, his approach is collage-like, borrowing from various traditions and firing techniques in order to create a piece of craftsmanship which is both experimental and a sincere tribute to the traditions of craftspeople before him. Taking shoals of fish as his elegant subject matter, his aim is also to explore the fragility of ecosystems but from a different, rarely-explored viewpoint – that of the slow disappearance of local legacies, via the disappearance of the fisherman industry, within the South of Spain he originates from. This notion of absence and slow eroding of legacies is further explore alongside his series of fish, with vessels imitating the “tornos” found washed upon southern Spanish beaches, abandoned and left to slowly become incorporated into the landscape. Rafael’s work allows the natural ecosystems of the ocean and the traditional techniques of his homeland to cohabitate as a commentary on the way in which the industrialization of the industry rather than remain on a human scale is what is driving the depletion of marine resources as well as the creation of an environmental imbalance. Red becomes a colour linked to alarm, contrasting with the elegance and fluidity of his sculptures and stoneware and the cold tones usually associated with marine life in order to raise awareness on their waning existence.
From room to room, these relational strands can be rooted into a specific intimacy and interiority often steeped in autobiography, unfolding from the insides of the human body (medically, erotically, painfully). They can map our links to the natural environment, drawing up tense and complex dialogues between nature’s impact on our inner balance and the way we disrupt fragile ecologies with our presence. They can unfurl into the act of looking and re-enacting, performing the body within a space like a ritualistic attempt to reconnect with a lost feeling of belonging, rooted in gender and sexuality. The trace of the body expressed into material create new presences at the intersection of the organic and the artificial.
You wake up and you don’t know who you are. Perhaps it is home, perhaps another displacement. Perhaps you never find out. Perhaps what matters is not how to seek out this perfect connection, but the experiments, tension, ambiguity and curiosity along the way.
Welcome home and have a safe journey.