Claire Davies: The Valley of Lost Things review

Walking into the exhibition space from behind two angled, billboard-like projection screens, we are funnelled in an eerie green light toward a dismembered head lying in the middle of the gallery’s concrete floor. The head is rubbery, pock-marked and hollow, with golden-brown hair, staring eyes and gently smiling mouth. It is difficult to say whether this object might be made, found, old or relatively new, though without a doubt it sets up an immediate atmosphere of strangeness which is heightened by its green spotlight. The head’s creepy lifelessness is reimagined onscreen as one part of Claire Davies’ new video work, where it is animated via a 3D scan with a series of more comical juddering movements into one of her central motifs.

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Claire Davies, Still from ‘The Valley of Lost Things’, 2018, two channel HD video. Copyright Claire Davies.

Davies’ sculpture and HD video is a new commission from Two Queens for the Nottingham-based artist following her participation in a group exhibition there in 2017. The video follows a dreamlike form in the way it abstracts or clouds aspects of a tale intimately narrated by the artist and focuses in intense detail on others. The story follows the artist’s loss of a front door key while on a park run, a recalled episode that is rather an anxious experience, as the artist tries to remember, visualise and locate the lost key in the grass. She describes the park as closing in on her while simultaneously opening up in an expanse of space like a magic eye image. Resonant connections to digital mapping processes and the ways that multiple spaces are created and reconfigured via our reliance on digital experiences of the physical world are here made clear in the work. But there are also nods to art history – surrealism in particular – in Davies’ use of familiar, loaded and apparently disparate motifs. A 3D render of the silver key features in the video as well as the audio, spinning and receding into the distant ‘space’ of the screen, while close ups of a blinking eye and an open mouth, coloured by the same greenish light, loom large and fill our line of vision.

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Claire Davies, Still from ‘The Valley of Lost Things’, 2018, two channel HD video. Copyright Claire Davies.

One of the most interesting motifs Davies uses is a peach, grey and white amorphous blob. It threads other of the motifs together, adapting its size as it emanates from the eye and the mouth, and travels across the two screens. Its undulating surface is marbled and liquid, moving in and out of reach and apparent perception – a mode of operation that again recalls the process of dreaming and of trying to reconnect to our dreams in an adjustment of sense and focus. The blob makes an appearance in the onscreen hollow head too, acting in this instance almost as a stand-in brain or as a visualisation of memory rather than a memory.

‘The Valley of Lost Things’ is a confusing, beguiling and oddly complex exhibition in which to spend a period of time. The title of the exhibition and of Davies’ commission is a fitting one in this regard, conjuring up various physical or psychological permutations of the valley, from the sheltered spaces between mountains to the ‘uncanny valley’, where the hollow head firmly locates itself, becoming a wider metaphor for making sense of what we see and what we feel.

Claire Davies
The Valley of Lost Things
10 March – 21 April 2018
2 Queens,  Leicester

Commisioned by Photomonitor, published 21 March 2018