WINNER OF BRITISH WOMEN ARTISTS COMPETITION 2015
'The Chandelier of Lost Earrings' by Sagar and Campbell
This work stood out for me, because of the contrast between the overall shape and size of the chandelier, and the delicate texture of the earrings, there is a sense of a multitude of lives being brought together. The chandelier literally lights up/highlights these individual fragments giving each a single resonance while fusing them into a glittering whole. Mary Allen
The Chandelier of Lost Earrings, is a beautiful work that makes the everyday magnificent. A lost earring becomes redundant without its other half, yet reunited with hundreds of other 'odd ones out' they collectively form a shimmering storybook, a stunning light onto the world that simultaneously reflects how different, yet connected we really all are. Like an over sized goblet, this work to me draws on Old Masters and the many individuals over centuries that obsessively collect as a way of ordering their lives and the world they live in to deflect death and ensure a legacy. In contextualising these lost adornments that no longer grace a face and creating something so seductive and compelling, the artists remind us of the power of desire and our role in the cycle of consumer culture. The process of engagement undertaken by the artists with a wider community and the individual stories collected questions value and worth, providing another layer to the work that really does make it truly rich. Ceri Hand.
Sagar and Campbell's Chandelier of Lost Earrings engaged me as a work of memory that is both an idiosyncratic and poetic object, and a material site of personal and imagined narrative. In judging the work, I felt curious about its social and cultural significance, and rituals of gift-giving and story-telling. This is a piece that excites my curiosity as a writer who enjoys narratives located in memory, and their relationship to personal histories and myth-making. The process of making the work, and its final incarnation as a chandelier, suggests the potential for texts that bring the poetic and the fictional into a dialogue with art criticism attentive to the social and cultural life of rituals and the objects to which they are attached.
I am also intrigued by Sagar and Campbell's particular request, and the impetus behind it: what were the thoughts and feelings of those who gifted single earrings that might have personal and emotional significance? I would like to know more about the kinds of narratives written by the owners of the earrings, and how they chose to stage these. What did they choose to foreground, excise, imagine or project in the writing of their stories? The final work, the chandelier, is not simply a beautiful object. It is part of social and private rituals and performances that are not visible to us. I can only sense and imagine the presence of the gift-givers through the earrings and the tales that they have told. We are told that the earrings 'held strong associations for the owner of a particular memory: a gift, a holiday or a momentous occasion'. We are also told that the value of the earrings rests not in their materials but rather in their personal and emotional significance thus countering the historical preciousness of chandeliers and how they functioned historically within sites forged by economic wealth and social, cultural and political power. How did the invited gift-givers perform and make meaning from the process of giving away something of personal as opposed to material value, and how did they process this loss?
I enjoyed the personal and autobiographical aspect of the work, and would also like to know more about the site of the project, which was initiated at St. Mary's Hospital, Manchester: hospitals are sites of vulnerability, healing, life and death, and I think there are potentially imaginative and critical connections to be made between the site of the project and the Chandelier of Lost Earrings itself. Yvette Gresle.
Very Highly Commended: 'Milk Production' by Elisabeth Bond
Two men with broad shoulders stand to attention, chests out, arms behind backs, legs set apart. Their attire, which suggests a uniform (although not one that is identifiable) is soft pink. Their smudgy caps are a darker pink-red, and I notice the rakish angle of the one worn by the man on the right hand side. I read macho masculinity as this is simultaneously undermined by the associations I bring to the colour pink, entrenched as girly and feminine in a heteronormative sense. Histories of colour locate the gender specificity of pink as a phenomenon that emerged after World War Two. This is a humorous work, and the humour is lightly and subtly handled: I notice, along with the play of soft pink and macho masculinity, the darker lines and shapes that suggest creases in the men's clothing but also draw attention to their crotches. The artist visually undermines the presence of the men as she simultaneously makes us aware of them. The assertiveness suggested by black booted feet is diminished by the obfuscating effects of fuzzy, light outlines. Their faces, with features that are indistinct, communicate characters and expressions upon which we can project our own subjective thoughts and feelings. The men appear benign while the capacity for brute force is implied. They guard cattle who peer at us from behind them.|
The physical space occupied by the cattle and those occupied by the men differ. In the spatial world imagined by the artist, the non-human animals remain in the background within the space of black and white line. The bodies of the guards extend vertically upwards partially blocking our view of the creatures whose forms are obscured by the black and white colour that defines both their bodies and their ground. There is a sense of claustrophobia which speaks to the politics and ethics of milk and the cows that are the source of this form of human nourishment and life.
The pink uniformed men take on oppressive significance as we begin to read the work through narratives of farming and contemporary global capitalism, the closure of British dairy farms, and the exile of cows to gigantic sheds where they function as machines for milk. The title of this woodcut by Elizabeth Bond is Milk Production.
Bond's woodcut deploys the critical humour and political/social commentary attached historically to printmaking. I particularly enjoyed the ambiguity of the piece, and the visual process of reading the artist's depiction of the body, colour, masculinity, and the relationships between human and non-human animals. The work is especially interesting in bringing a pressing current issue, the politics and ethics of human and non-human animal interaction, into the foreground. In judging this work I enjoyed thinking about how Bond brings the materiality of printmaking and the woodcut, which is historical, to contemporary concerns. Yvette Gresle.
For me the work juxtaposed lyricism with brutality and a comedic edge. Gentle portrayal of animals, the source of the milk in the background is contrasted with two aggressive sentries guarding them, seen as characters which could be fools or soldiers. Every detail in this work is telling, for example, there are a row of what could be prison bars running across the top of the work page. Mary Allen.
We spoke at length about the print: 'Milk Production,' as a trained print maker I appreciate how difficult it is to make an image look so simple, as if it was always meant to be made that way. Elizabeth Bond has made really quite a remarkable image and work. Witty, politically charged and formally engaging, with fantastic colour choices and mark making that draws you into a seemingly simple image that then willfully disarms you. Her two 'farmers' in cheeky pastel pink boiler suits with coquettish yet menacing red berets and individual facial features are soldiers, standing poised, alert. Like sentinels they stand over their cows, protecting them from attack or preventing their escape, either way these cows are there to serve. As farming is increasingly under threat from corporate big brands, this image to me, represents production, consumption, corruption, power, capitalism and all its bittersweet characteristics. An everyday product, milk is an analogy here for our domestic engagement with politics, our ineffective, silent protests, our domestic battlefield. Ceri Hand.
Judges Personal Favorites
'Coal Hole A Capella' By Freya Gabie [ View Artwork in full ]
An urban residential pavement of the kind I might walk in my everyday life without much thought to my environment or its history. It is a pavement like many others, ordinary and apparently insignificant. I am aware of the dense noise of traffic. I see parked cars and someone walking down the pavement in the distance. The pavement, which is the focus of my attention, is banal. And then, the sound of a man's voice singing emerges from a coal hole, which I am now aware is open, unlike the others which run down the length of the pavement, and are closed. Taken unawares by this singing which appears from the ground beneath the pavement I am surprised, and I laugh, and then I pause to listen, and to pay closer attention to what it is I am hearing, and what it is I am not seeing. I cannot see the man, and I reflect on the significance of this.
What does it mean socially and politically to be unseen, and invisible? What is the importance of these now obsolete spaces that functioned historically beneath the pavements of nineteenth and early twentieth century Britain? Who had access to coal and the warmth it provided, and who did not? And what is the relationship between coal mining and the history of capitalism in Britain? This sound and performance work is an intervention in public space, which poses a number of historical, social and political questions. I want to know more about the artist, Freya Gabie, and the work that she does. As questions begin to form I am struck by the affective capacities of the singing that I hear, and I am curious to know more about the history of this sound, and this song. The work is titled Coalhole A Cappella (Flow, My Tears). I am intrigued by the reference to tears, and the significance of these tears. I have questions about the particular subjectivity of the artist as a woman artist who enters into a dialogue with the idea of coal. What might we learn from the reference to tears and their historical, cultural, social and political importance? What is the relation between affect, emotion and the political?
I selected this particular work as my Judges Favourite because it invited me to think, to feel, and to ask questions. It spoke to my particular art historical interest, which is to do with the ways in which women artists enter history, and deploy ephemeral media, such as sound and performance, to do so. I did not read the work as a video piece but rather as documentation of a performance. In this sense, the work also poses questions about how artists work with and document performance for the purposes of circulation, and for the interest of art historians and critics. My response to the work is also imaginative. I imagine myself walking down this street and encountering this sound. Yvette Gresle.
'Vanessa' by Marie Jacotey|
I selected Marie Jacotey as my personal favourite as I like the commitment to her very particular vision, style and line of enquiry. I am curious about the protagonists in her work, sometimes they are acting and sometimes they are being acted upon, but they are always active and you always have the feeling they are in charge of their own destiny, odd, sexy, vibrant yet wistful. I like her subtle subversion of the usually male dominated comic book, which she utilizes to draw on the frame, the still, the idea that this drawing/story is part of a wider narrative. I like the fact that the woman in the image is aware of yet deflecting the gaze.
She doesn't actually give a shit if you are there or not, she would just go on being herself, full of life, waiting for somebody or something much more important than anything you could bring to the table. Jacotey draws and represents women I know or would like to know. They are players and are playful, but always on the way somewhere interesting, not reliant on men, or anybody actually. Jacotey's work positions women in a way that is thrilling and thought provoking, providing a window onto a world of others that we want to project ourselves into. It's an everyday world of the extraordinary. Ceri Hand.
'All That Glitters' By Barbara Ash|
A doll like form modelled in clay & cast in bronze. I liked how the work questioned who is attached to whom? Delicate bracelet around wrist and a flower attached, this flower could be a ball and chain or something beautiful and empowering.
The piece has a serenity that you find in archaic sculpture and a quiet elegance, to me underneath it all is a powerful statement of female confidence. Mary Allen.