This blog documents a self initiated residency to develop work with an a-n Collaborations Bursary. Working in and with the same site, experimentation, discussion, and analysis will initiate knowledge and understanding in relation to common themes and particular conceptual motivations.
Before and After the Event
By Victoria Lucas
The works can be thematized as a series of considered and poetic interactions with objects and places. Focusing on urban public spaces that frame the everyday, works punctuate the ordinary so that relatively minor happenings are revealed as monumental events.
Searching for unintentional monuments becomes a process, and structures, stories, places and moments are studied for resonant content. The encounters developed are imbued with metaphorical significance, devised in response to each subject’s inherent value as an artifact or structure. Wider cultural, social, political or historical perspectives are unearthed and alluded to as original contexts are removed.
The recognition of each subject and its worth as a monument is developed through an encounter with a place or situation. Prevalent occurrences or issues surrounding the chosen site may form a general situation from which particular works are developed. This objective search for meaning within a specific place results in site-related works that articulate the past, present, future. The extraction of an experience removes the subject from its context and reframes it in the present as a video, photograph, sculpture. This methodology immortalizes the subject or event, allowing each one to live on beyond its reality.
Motionless scenes are often characteristic of the artworks presented. The absence of activity becomes a marker, the stillness a pause. The aftermath of human activity is portrayed through the detritus left behind, and this anchor to civilization enables the projection of oneself in to the spaces presented. Points of drama are constructed so that their potential can be imagined and explored by the audience in isolation.
In the videos, actors are sometimes used to depict apparitions within the otherwise empty scenes portrayed. Characters interrupt the silence with specific behaviour, imagined or replayed in response to research gathered. Communicating concepts that exist outside of the frame, or animating the scene and its peculiarities, the personas developed become imprisoned within a temporal environment.
An interdisciplinary approach to making provides a multifaceted approach to communicating ideas. Videos are animated, existing repeatedly in the present. A photograph archives or traps a moment out of time for consideration. Sculptural works confirm traces of the past using found or cast objects. Through these selected media, aspects of place, archive and memory in relation to inhabited landscapes are examined.
Articulating a point of view
by Flis Holland
Part of an ongoing series of works, the installation takes us back to a house in England. This eerie domestic setting seems suspended in time, held just beyond our reach, but it is also set in relationship to the physical environment in which we view the work. The insistent, repeated return to this particular site bears the characteristics of a traumatic dream or a haunting, while the structure of the installation reflects both the ambivalence of the desire to return and the difficulty in articulating such a compulsion.
The process begins with the construction of a scale model, within which photographs are taken using a mobile phone. These are then transferred to 35mm slides, which are installed within a series of daylight viewing boxes and distributed throughout the gallery. The boxes are hung using a system of wires and weights that suspends these fragments in mid-air and responds to the touch and movement of visitors. This hanging system acts both as a framing device and as a metaphorical extension of what is on display inside the boxes.
The images themselves, the conjured spaces within the boxes, are suffused in a flat light and emptied both of people and of the normal detritus of domestic life. The occasional traces of activity – a broken pane of glass, a lump under the rug – provide a few clues as to what might have taken place, but what little information they offer does not take us very far, and ultimately just frustrates our curiosity. The inscrutable nature of the images, some even refusing to come into focus, is complemented by the forced gestures of the viewer. Repeatedly shifting her gaze between the space of the gallery and that contained within the boxes, she is engaged in a continual process of looking away.
The setup foregrounds the act of seeing, which is performed by the visitors to the exhibition. In order to satisfy the scopophilic urge to look into the box, the spectator must turn her gaze away from the surrounding populated space of the gallery, relinquishing a level of self-awareness and control. This visible blindness, seen by the other spectators waiting for their turn, increases the tension and can give rise to the unsettling feeling that something – or someone – remains just out of view in the photograph.
The strict viewing conditions within the context of the exhibition – the transition from the gallery space to that within the boxes, the public performance of a very private act of seeing, the singular viewing of each image – cannot be recreated when the images are viewed as prints, nor is it possible to successfully document the installed works using photography or video. In the attempts to do so the tension between the spatial and the pictorial, present in the exhibition in the passage from the minimalist installation of the boxes to the images held within, endlessly reproduces and reasserts itself.
Funded by a research grant from the Kone Foundation.
At the thresholds of haunted places – the art of Flis Holland and Victoria Lucas
Written By Elaine Speight
Within contemporary culture, there is a growing obsession with sites of abandonment and decay. Previously inhabited and everyday places, emptied out by natural or man-made disasters have become tourist destinations, and vacated theatres, hospitals and office blocks provide locations for the increasingly popular pastime of urban exploration. Aestheticised images of derelict buildings in devastated cities, such as Christchurch, Detroit and Chernobyl, litter the internet, and the popularity of zombie films has led to a proliferation of post-apocalyptic landscapes on our screens. These images of wrecked, crumbling places, slowly returning to nature both terrify and thrill us, because they present the almost unimaginable prospect of a humanless world.
The exhibition by Victoria Lucas and Flis Holland features certain characteristics of this cultural phenomenon, which is often called ‘ruin porn’. A conversation between two separate and autonomous bodies of work, it confronts us with aspects of memory and loss, which speak to deep-rooted fears of oblivion. Lucas’s films and photographs present sites of intense human activity as silent, empty places, where graffiti, litter, handwritten notes and other mundane indications of life amplify an unsettling sense of absence. Holland’s intimate installations, meanwhile, project the viewer into an ostensibly uninhabited domestic space. Lacking the ephemera of daily life and displaying signs of violence, the setting is at once disconcerting and familiar – an oddly clinical crime scene in a half-remembered place.
However, unlike ruin porn, which invites the voyeuristic consumption of disaster and decay, the installations of Lucas and Holland deny the pleasure of passive engagement. Holland’s claustrophobic images tantalise with their refusal to reveal the wider scene; whilst the enforced choreography of the audience, who must walk, stoop, bend and squint to experience the work, reflects the viewing gaze back upon the spectator. In Lucas’s film After, the hypnotic exploration of an empty market hall is disrupted by an unexpected human presence. As the solitary figure slides slowly into view, our role in the artwork becomes apparent. Not simply detached viewers, we are the beholders of a place, called to bear witness to the rhythms of the lives which have shaped it over time.
The geographer Edward Casey describes bodies and places as ‘connatural terms’, which ‘interanimate each other’(1). Places are the product of embodied experiences which, in turn, are engendered in place. In After, the interdependence of people and place is poetically explicit. Chairs, tables, sweeping brushes and shrouded market stalls wait dumbly, like theatre props, for the daily ‘place ballets’(2) of shoppers and stallholders to resurrect the market. At the same time, proprietorial placards – marking ‘Angie’s good grub’, ‘Sharon’s café’, ‘Jenny’s fabrics’ and ‘Billy’s Frillys’ – commemorate the lives which are enacted in this space, imbued with its sounds, smells, tastes and flows, and patterned with its textures.
Much more than the backdrops to our lives, places are central to our experience of the world and our relationships with other people. Lucy Lippard describes place as ‘latitudinal and longitudinal in the map of a person’s life…a layered location replete with human histories’, which has ‘width as well as depth’(3). When we leave a place, we leave traces of ourselves, and carry something of it with us for the remainder of our lives. The disquieting and dreamlike scenes in Holland’s installation speak of this entanglement of memory and place. Fragmented visions of a recognisable and reconstructed scene generate a darkly nostalgic sense of place, which summons other ghostly landscapes from the edges of our minds.
The artworks of Lucas and Holland do not fetishise human absence, but rather interrogate the entwined relationships between people and a place. Michel de Certeau tells us that there is nowhere ‘that is not haunted by many different spirits hidden there is silence’, and ‘haunted places are the only ones people can live in’(4). By reconstructing and re-presenting particular moments and events, the artworks conjure up the apparitions of a site, and act as thresholds between the layers of its many presents, pasts and futures. Unofficial monuments to unassuming lives, they emphasise the significance of individual actions, and remind us that as humans we are, eternally, ‘in place’.
1 Edward Casey, 1997, ‘How to Get from Space to Place in a Fairly Short Stretch of Time: Phenomenological Prolegomena’, in Senses of Place, eds. S. Feld & K Basso, School of American Research Press.
2 See David Seamon, 1980, ‘Body-subject, time-space routines, and place- ballets’, in The Human Experience of Space and Place, eds. A. Buttimer & D. Seamon, St. Martin’s Press, New York.
3 Lucy Lippard, 1997, The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered World, The New Press, New York.
4 Michel de Certeau, 1984, The Practice of Everyday Life, University of California Press, Berkeley.
Flis Holland and Victoria Lucas
14 page concertina pamphlet
This publication documents Holland and Lucas’ Helsinki based exhibition, which took place in April this year as part of the Helsinki / Sheffield collaboration. It comprises text and images from the two artists and documentation from the show. Elaine Speight, curator of In Certain Places, has also contributed a text that explores themes pertinent to the works exhibited. The publication will from part of a proposal for future exhibitions in Europe and beyond, and could develop in to a series as the project progresses.