Danielle Waters is a recent graduate from Staffordshire University whose work scrutinizes the female form. Her sculptures reference the narrow-mindedness of the fashion industry’s beauty ideal, they are made out of sugar, which is both fragile and durable and their edible qualities are a comment on the vicious cannabalism of body facism. Her forms could be eroded statues, crygenically frozen, gross pastiches or simply a fresh take on an oft used and abused aesthetic. The St Pancras Crypt damp could be problematic for Danielle’s sculptures, but they would make a fascinating visual when illuminated in the gloom.
Mancunian James Roper draws heavily on the concept of ‘peak shift’ to create his carnivalesque, bombastic drawings and sculptures. Peak shift, examines the relationship between art and the viewer where the viewer is neurologically attracted to exaggeration and extremes. His work certainly isn’t the norm, his drawings of ecstatic porn stars, orgasming supernovas through their chests; his comic book paintings of writhing galaxies, which look suspiciously phallic and breasty; and his sprawling sculptures of toys, which arouse the kind of playful desire in Takashi Muradami’s drawings; are the stuff of dreams, nightmares and uncomfortable sensations in unmentionable places. His work also screams of the willful freedom of a baby face-hugger busting out of John Hurt. Our exhibition is not only about restriction, but also about breaking free, and the chaotic, anarchic, joyful messiness that can occur when you throw off these bonds.
If Klarita Pandolfi’s work isn’t spouting a red, blood-like substances, it’s spreading under her work’s skin into dark bruises. Pandolfi has exhibited extensively (including a show in the ever-fantastic Sartorial Contemporary Art gallery) and worked in a variety of media including photography and sound. Religion, gender, life cycles, environment and chaos are her inspirations, themes which inflect her work with a distinctly gothic flavour. Her bloody re-enactment of Michaelangelo’s Pieta and her victim series, which features an uncomfortable series of photographs of a woman being drowned – commenting on the inherent voyeurism and rubbernecking in our culture, and societies’ innate ability to stand by and let things happen – are some of her strongest works, but her vast scope and the emotional magnanimity of her projects make her portfolio a fresh and lively one. Her visuals are strong, powerful and raw and deal with the alternately boxed-in and unmoored mindsets of religion, violence and sexuality.
Anetka Zakrzewska’s photographs are the telling ephemera of a colourful globetrot. Polish Zakrzewska is interested in the insightful minutiae of the road less travelled. A figurine, the soles of a pair of flip-flops, or a pair of wrought hands give a CSI-style scrutinisation of specific cultural traits. There is a sense of melancholy and whimsy through her work – her Spread Love project, which involved treks in a pair of flip-flops with the word ‘love’ carved into the sole, is an indulgent, slightly cheesy and emotional project, but one which examines the internal and external, working on connections and re-igniting a universal idea. Her work is highly emotional, imprinting her thoughts on the viewer through subtle and quiet means. Her photography may at first appear kitsch, but when you look closer, a souvenir, a black doll or a headdress becomes a legitimate and weighty symbol of a reinforced and persistent stereotype. Zakrzewska’s art also spills over into her life, for Vice Magazine she spent some time in a juvenile detention hall for girls teaching photography. Her interest in cultural restrictions and freedoms, and her fascination with the seemingly unimportant makes her a perfect candidate for the show.
Victoria Graham’s photography examines the stigma of mental illness and the marginalisation of the mentally ill in society. Graham uses blindfolds and gags to represent the unheard voices and restricted freedoms of the mentally ill. Psychologist Lacan believed that madness was the closest thing to true freedom because the mentally ill lived by their own set of rules and did not adhere to those imposed by society; however the mentally ill are some of the most marginalised, misunderstood and repressed in our society, even with care in the community programmes in place. It’s an area I would be interested to expand upon in the exhibition as it is an area which has been covered to a much lesser extent than racist or sexist boundaries.
Frederick Higginson’s hanging sculptures are like a scene out of Watchmen, when Dr Jon Osterman shatters into atom confetti, or a Cronenbergian nightmare His sci-fi characters appear to have burst in a frenzy of rage or frustration, embattled by internal and external forces. There’s an energetic violence to Higginson’s work. In direct contrast to James Roper (see above), his characters are embittered and worn down, shattered by the oppressive atmosphere they survive in or blowing their brains out in a brutal and final attempt to find freedom. There is no sense of elation or wonder, merely the fragments of what was once human floating through the air like specks of dust. The contrasting kinesis and nihilism of Higginson’s work conjures up the lawless urban realms of superhero comics, with a hint of fantastic realism to lift it’s weary message. It would be interesting to see how the work would travel to the space, and how it would hang in the crypt, but it would definitely be worth the effort to have something so striking on show.
Kate Atkinson’s work is the most abstract and conceptual of the artists we have picked so far. Her Crossing the Border series looks at the hidden desires and motives of the self using furniture, with its puntastic metaphors about ‘skeletons’ in the closet; with bulbs, ceramic and electrical cables to represent our deepest darkest secrets. It is interesting how Atkinson chooses to illuminate the work, as if the reveal is the release of a burden, a quite literal enlightening. The light also elicits a moth to a flame reaction, our deepest mysteries are the ones which appeal and repel the most and linger in a no man’s land, hesitant to be revealed, unwilling to remain hidden. Atkinson’s work is quite lo-fi and would maybe work better in a lighter, less fussy gallery space, but her tangible representation of restriction contrasts quite nicely with the literal and figurative drawings and paintings. It remains to be seen however if a cupboard placed in the corner of the crypt would make it look a bit Stepford and Sons.
I could write some high-falutin’ diatribe about John Middeton’s photographs, but well, it’s men, tied up with leather straps…plus homoeroticism…nuff said I believe…
Sarah Misselbrook’s work concerns the body, the female body in particular. Her sculptures, drawings and paintings turn the body inside out, exaggerate and distort the bone, sinew and muscle of the body into forms which are recognisable as human, but with the internal pain and mental struggles externalised. Misselbrook works with materials such as fat and chocolate, addressing the issues of feminism through the language of food, which women and the media have a highly developed and complex relationship with. The substances break down naturally, as an organic body erodes and disintegrates, meaning that the work’s meaning shifts and changes over time. Misselbrook’s sculptures feature spinal cords made of spikes, devices which restrict and deform the body, translucent sheaths which both reveal and conceal and body parts set adrift and recontextualised as objects, ephemera. Her use of space, the dramatic styling of her work, and her rendering of recognisable yet alien anatomy makes a profound comment on the mind’s relation to the body and the distorted way in which we view ourselves.
Maristella Colombo’s project I’m listening in the silence is a solitary quest for perfection. A visual expression of the vacuum your thoughts echo through when loneliness strikes. The dummy in the piece is placed on a bed and bound with bits of ribbon and pairs of tights. There is a quiet beatitude to the piece, it’s more a contemplation of the body than an outright statement of the ongoing battle against perfection. The ties are delicate, like octopus ink calligraphy or suibokuga (Japanese line drawings), and placed in patterns across the body, as if the anxieties and insecurities of the mind are slowly wrapping their tendrils around the physical being. The way the dummy is placed, and the disembodied hands conjure up images of Nabokov’s Lolita with her hand ‘idly dreaming’. The piece is not auspicious, it captures a fleeting moment of doubt, the butterfly wing flap before the hurricane hits – and in this way it addresses the complex mental traits of eating disorders. Colombo’s projects are varied, mixing the human and the exterior, her projects range from Nowhere – a series of pictures of ‘nowhere’ places which have no attributes to link them to a specific place or time; to My Body Landscapes, where she superimposes pictures of herself on trees and natural scenes to reaffirm her place in and as a part of nature.
The philosopher Baudrillard poses in Simula and Simulacram that our commoditized urban spaces, designed to adhere to a capitalist market, to enhance the flow of wealth and to keep the restless public in motion, are merely simulacra and shield us from the real, natural world. Urban architecture has a specific impact on its inhabitants, they become used to cramped spaces, loud noises, crowds and concrete; they are closed off, compartmentalised into units which contain the essentials; and as a result they become disillusioned, disenfranchised and subservient to the palliative thrall of the city’s heart. As much as our urban landscapes rely on our foot traffic and our patronage, we rely on their constant promise of a wider selection of ever more useful goods; easier, more glamorous lives and bigger better thrills and adventures. Like it or not, the psychological ramifications of urban living are as indelibly inked on us as the grime and graffiti; and graphic artist Jason Thielke is clearly inspired by this idea. His work superimposes architectural drawings on paintings of unmistakable city dwellers, linking them with the deliberate style and sprawl of urban planning. It’s surprisingly affective, using relatable characters and scenarios, Thielke manages to conjure up some urban myths of his own. His characters are an ideal mix of wide-eyed naifs and streetwise punks, made possible by his contrasting styles of hard and soft lines, creating an emotive picture with a steely edge. I was interested to use Thielke in the show because modern living is often full of restrictions, especially city living which has its own set of values and rules imposed upon homogenous spaces. Apartment blocks, schools, shops, theatres, bars, clubs and many more all have target customers, an unattainably average person who is rubber stamped as the control subject for all city projects, but when real emotions and reactions are factored in, some explosive and melancholic alchemy occurs.
Patty Levey’s photographs are folkloric and serene. Her heroines roam the plains and are pictured in barns, lounging on rusted cars and being sacrilegious in tiny chapels. Her Awakening series is like a countrified version of Miru Kim’s urban explorations in Naked Spleen City. They are naked and frail against harsh climes and yet they are pioneering, conquistadors of sexual freedom. Her sepia-toned images are chock full of Southern Gothic and bitter nostalgia. If Proust’s memories came flooding back after eating a madeleine, Levey’s memories are scented with oil and burning wood. Her female figures are vulnerable but powerful, strange but natural and emerge as sorceresses of a kind in the uncanny environments. Signifiers of witchcraft, heathenism and supernatural powers are rife in her imagery, in Goddess a woman’s arms grow into antlers, in Faith a woman evaporates into a wraith and in Door With Cross and woman throws a ‘crucifixion’ pose under a cross drawn in blood. Levey also examines the cost of liberty in her fascinating series of images referencing the ‘war on terror’, Taking Liberty. Levey’s work is a razor sharp social commentary with a raw poetic soul and would make a stunning photographic addition to our exhibition.
Susannah Benjamin doesn’t just take beautiful photographs; she lives breathes and – perhaps – eats the narratives she commits to celluloid. A (15 year old!) photographer with a startlingly sophisticated eye and a passion for creative writing, her projects cover her many travels ( the stunning A Million Miles); the transition between childhood and adulthood; and the natural world. Susannah’s muses are her friends (a whole photo set on Flickr is devoted to her friend Saskia above), whom she places into a variety of supernatural poses and situations, from curling up in bushes to being tied together in the middle of a road. Benjamin’s pictures enter a realm of imagination which photography aspires to, merely by thinking outside the box and using her props like a wunderkind; the kind of phenomena only made possible by those truly in love with the medium. Her projects venture into so much more than restriction, but she has some fine images suitable for the theme, both literally (as in her Saskia series) and psychologically (via the use of cocoons, bedsheets and jumpropes). A formidable talent who can only go on the up.
Alison Brady’s photographs are bizarrely enjoyable, theatrical set pieces. Her work very often references trauma and the psyche’s reaction to trauma. Brady refers to Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle and how the mind, in an incomprehensible act of sado-masochism, replays traumatic events over and over until they become ‘enjoyable’. Brady’s characters are found with their heads in clothes-dryers or suitcases; their bodies are fighting against them, becoming alien by developing varicose veins (represented by balloons inserted into tights) or ageing; and they are sprouting strange and unusual substances and growths through their mouths. The imagination in Brady’s work is just jaw-dropping; the uncanny thrill of Brady’s body-splooging antics is limitless and entirely unique. She finds many of her volunteers on craigslist, and it’s surpirising quite how many utter strangers are willing to be coated in chocolate or stick their head inside an oven in the name of art; however this is also a testament to Brady’s crystal-clear and potent vision, one look at her work and surely anyone would disrobe and bury their head in the sand to be a part of something so enthralling. Her images of people assuming a condensed identity by hiding themselves or obscuring themselves within their environment are a perfect mix of visual and psychological restriction and some of the most bizarre and beguiling wall candy in the exhibition.