The all-female multidisciplinary group exhibition For the Record is heavily photographic. Some of the most engaging works in the exhibition draw upon ideas of folklore and magic to explore the boundaries of photographic image making in relation to the body.
Seven striking and richly coloured portraits by Faye Claridge, for instance, explore the gaze via characters dressed in the eccentric garb of Morris dancers. Part of her series In Guise of Cultural Memory (We Come Together in Gangs) is arranged to build a larger picture from separate portraits. Two portraits of the same young girl are shown in profile. Her gaze is directed out of the photographic frame. Three others, however, have their heads covered by white hoods, while others have their faces ‘blacked up’ and direct their gaze toward the viewer in a challenging stare. As exquisitely detailed as they are troubling, these imagined portraits are sinister and theatrical, beautiful and provocative.
Lindsay Seers’ works Kiss (2005) and Dee’s Tree (2005) take a more alchemical view of photography and consider what might happen if the artist’s mouth was, in fact, a camera. These two small circular red and white photographs offer the viewer images of the outside world taken from the perspective of Seers’ mouth. In these, it is the body that becomes author rather than the hand or the eye, in a gesture that seems to reference the purported Cartesian mind/body split. The works offer new perspectives on what it might mean to see and to consume images. Nearby are presented a series of elongated red glass forms by Hermione Wiltshire that recall something of the colour and form of Seers’ works. The wall-mounted My Touch (1993) holds photographs at the base of each sculptural form. These are enlarged finger tips, physical manifestations in glass of the sense of touch.
The body is further considered in the Conjurations series of photographs by Clare Strand. In two of these, a child is shown apparently sawn in half, her body arranged across two cardboard boxes on the floor. In another, she is shown standing atop a table covered by a magician’s star studded cloak. It is Aerial Suspension (2009), however, which is most compelling. In this a woman is eerily suspended in mid-air, her body arched uncannily and her limbs loose. There is a sensual quality at work and it is unclear whether her body is falling in a downward motion or instead floating upwards. Devoid of shadows, there is also a strange flattening between the figure and the wall behind her. This contributes formally to an ambiguous photograph. The image of the body, in Strand’s hands, becomes a mutable tool to be explored for its complex expressive qualities. In a neat curatorial move, the arch of the body is echoed by a sculpture placed in front of the photograph: This Girl Bends (1996) by Kerry Stewart, wherein a woman is bent backwards at the knees in an impossible act of flexibility.
For the Record requires the viewer to be equally flexible, nimbly running the eye and mind between works which are rich and varied, bound together with threads of alchemy and uneasiness. Photography is here considered as an extension of the body and used as a tool to imagine it anew.
For the Record
Waterhall, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
27 January – 29 June 2014
Commissioned and published by Photomonitor 21 May 2014