Holly Antrum, A Diffuse Citizen

‘Do you want me to read you another one?’ asks Jennifer Pike.

‘Keep going, that’s lovely,’ replies another voice.

Holly Antrum started a conversation with 93-year-old artist Jennifer Pike. Her first solo exhibition ‘A Diffuse Citizen’ at Grand Union in Birmingham is a filmic realisation of this collaborative relationship called ‘Catalogue’ (2013). Filmed in Pike’s home and at Camden Arts Centre, it comprises a single large projection bound within the confines of an intimate curtained space.

Antrum describes the documentary-style film as being made with Pike rather than about her. It shows Pike reading from a book of poetry written by her late husband Bob Cobbing. Pike recites examples of Cobbing’s concrete poems such as ‘ABC by Sound’ (1964) in a voice that moves between being authoritative and confident, knowingly playful and almost wavering. His experiments in sound and language are newly moulded by the grain of Pike’s voice. ‘Catalogue’ also features details of the older artist’s home and studio: plates drying in the kitchen, her office chair and the jpeg drawings Pike now makes filmed directly from her computer screen. In one section of the film Pike playfully moves a large transparent corrugated plastic circle across her face, almost as if looking into a mirror. Antrum makes a similar gesture by placing a piece of yellow plastic in front of one of Pike’s paintings that bathes the shot with the golden light of a fond memory. These paintings are partially filmed through the eye holes of a mask too, to reinforce the importance of her perspective as well as Antrum’s vision.

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Photograph by Stuart Whipps

The film is surrounded by a utilitarian grey floor-length curtain screen that creates an enclosed space for the viewer’s experience, but it is more significant than that. The curtains gently sway with the breeze from the gallery’s open windows, breathing. Sunlight casts a red glow through the fabric that can be seen from the inside. There is something about the interior of this room within a room that recalls folds of skin and supports the intimacy of this portrait of Pike. The viewer is enfolded within her mind and within this relationship between the two artists.

Combining both digital and analogue processes, the work incorporates contemporary editing techniques and subtle effects with 16mm film. During the opening of the exhibition, Antrum recorded new sound and footage, and this material will be used to create new work in this ongoing vein. The layering and re-working of footage echoes Antrum’s wider practice in printmaking, and several of her prints and drawings are exhibited in Grand Union also.

‘Catalogue’ reconsiders memory, the role of the artist growing older, and more broadly the legacy of a lifetime’s work. Further than this, the film is a touching, humorous and highly animated portrait of Pike and her relationship with Antrum.

In the film, Pike continues, ‘This is just the tail-end of the one before…’

Holly Antrum: A Diffuse Citizen
Grand Union, Birmingham
7 June – 26 July 2014

Published by this is tomorrow 18 June 2014

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