It’s been a packed programme of exhibitions this weekend, with a trip to London for the Andreas Gursky one at the Hayward Gallery and a quick look-in at the Photographers Gallery too, but more of that in another post. Yesterday, I went to see the exhibition of women photographers’ work, called ‘Tribes’ at Lacock Abbey with Kate Aston. She had been before and was interested in my opinion of it, particularly the introductory blurb. I’ll come on to the exhibition itself in a while, but let’s just consider this Opening Statement, particularly in light of the fact that the only other explanation of the works was on the back of some placemats on a table, which most people wouldn’t have seen. Viewers were therefore mostly left to make of the work what they would. Here is the full text of the Blurb.
Where does one begin with this? I began with the word ‘earnest’. Why earnest? Does the word make the work more serious? And what makes work earnest? is it intent or outcome? And that list of great women photographers. Why were these ones selected, and not for example, Nan Goldin, Lee Miller, Cindy Sherman? There was no explanation.
‘Cycle of nourishment’, ‘nurse the world together’, ‘lunar rhythms of a passionate and sensitive creative life’? Pretentious, moi? Not to mention being entirely uninformative. This was not an inspiring introduction to the work, and if anything the sentiment behind it speaks of marginalisation rather than the current movement to bring women photographers’ work into the mainstream. Kate and I were not impressed, but now I have got this off my chest, let’s move on to consider some of the work.
The work was from eight photographers who consider themselves to be mid-career – Tama Hochbaum, Lori Vrba, Heidi Kirkpatrick, Heather Evans Smith, Anne Berry, KK DePaul, Kirsten Hoving & Emma Powell (mother and daughter) – and it had a pleasing variety of different physical formats, ranging from cyanotype printed dresses hanging in the stairwell to collage, dye transfers on aluminium plates, transfers on actual plates, as in dinner serves plates, and the more standard photograph. Overall, there was more than a passing nod to textiles and mixed media which was interesting given my own particular enthusiasms. I’m not going to talk about every artist, but the three that intrigued me most were KK DePaul’s mixed media collages and the mother/daughter partnership, Kirsten Hoving & Emma Powell’s ethereal visual storytelling sequence. I have included four of DePaul’s images below, and it is worth opening them to a larger size to look at the detail
The images are incredibly detailed and thought through. In the first, for example, one can just about see the word exposed embossed in tiny letters on the edge of the book. Each work is a series of physical layers which together construct a complex story relating to family history and its secrets. (see the video from the artist’s website below). In her artist’s statement, she refers to the mixing of elements of her history in random ways to assemble visual narratives, and that she is first and foremost a storyteller rather than a photographer.
This is all of particular interest to me, as my father-in-law passed away last week, and we are in the process of sorting and clearing his possessions, while at the same time attempting to find out any information at all about his ancestry and that of his wife, neither of them knew both of the their birth parents. I have been thinking about how to pull together parts of this family mystery into a piece of work without going publicly into the details (to spare my partner’s siblings), and this has given me some ideas to follow up. KK DePaul’s website has more of this, and other work and can be found here and a review of her work is explored in this Lensculture piece.
Hoving & Powell’s work is also about storytelling, but is based on a much more traditional theme (nothing wrong with that) of the Icelandic saga. The pair have devised a fairytale, Svala’s Saga, which is about climate change, and which they illustrate with allegorical fantasy images using the Icelandic landscape as their inspiration. The images are printed using a hybrid ‘pigment over palladium’ process which gives them an almost painterly, desaturated feel which is very much in keeping both with the landscapes and the subject matter. More information about the project can be found here.
Whilst I was at the exhibition, this series did not stand out particularly for me, but it is probably the one which keeps coming back to me, and whether this is because of the images themselves or my own ongoing interest in Iceland and its sagas, I am not sure at present. More information about Kirsten Hoving and Emma Powell can be found through the links below.