Aberystwyth Arts Centre

Ellie Rees’ exhibition at Aberystwyth Arts Centre Pretty Eyed, Pirate Smile has been on for a little less than a month. I was able to see it on its’ last weekend. In the autumn of 2008 she was one of the first artists in residence in the Thomas Heatherwick designed Creative Units.

A series of 6 films were screened in the darkened space of the main gallery. Two pieces in the exhibition were initially shot at Aberystwyth, Beyond Narcissus and the eponymous Pretty Eyed Pirate Smile.

Although beautiful, the title work was the least interesting and engaging, however it is beautiful; a dancer, or performer in a pool of light, almost like a fairy she is floating above a pair of cupped hands. This piece was a dual channel video, with each element projected separately. Beyond Narcissus and Reader, I married him were both screened on flat-screen, wall-mounted TVs.

Beyond Narcissus shows an intimate embrace, at first sight it appears to be a couple but it gradually dawned on me that it was a woman and a mirror. The filming was soft and delicate, like a rose. It was sensuous and sensual.

Reader, I married him reminded me of two reference points, the first, a rather beautiful woodcut I have recently been looking at in the Whitworth Art Gallery collection by Edvard Munch, called The Lonely Ones. Like Munch, Rees presents us with a very still, motionless protagonist, whose face we do not see. She is standing on the edge of a lake gazing out, across, into… we notice the stillness of the scene, the gentle movement of the water, the sunlight dancing on the lake’s surface. The woman, in a wedding dress eventually walks determinedly into the water and vanishes beneath the surface. I wondered if this might be a reference to Virginia Woolf, who famously ended her life by walking into the river near her home and I later read that it was indeed inspired by this event. Both references inspire contemplation but at the same time we are reminded of the deep depression experienced that led to that isolation, that determination to end it all.

Another piece that has literary references is You Didn’t Call, So I Read Jane Eyre Instead. A woman in a black hat, wonderful red dress and very high yellow heels climbs incongruously up a ladder set against a blue-sky backdrop, with wispy white clouds. She precariously settles herself at the apex of the ladder and opens a book. A female narrator then begins to read from Jane Eyre, in which Charlotte Bronte challenged the patriarchy of the time.

There is humour and irony in all this work, not laugh out loud funny, just an intelligent commentary on the roles played by women, what it is to be a woman. How romantic to be scooped up by a Hollywood legend, Scoop, but equally how ridiculous, and demeaning. The works are all beautifully executed and performed and I thoroughly enjoyed the show.