Elizabeth Price: FELT TIP Review

Elizabeth Price’s architectural intervention THE GOVERNING BODY (2019), a giant zig-zagging sculpture much like a visualisation of a soundwave, introduces some of the principle concerns of her exhibition FELT TIP. The exhibition playfully utilises scale, sound and language as mechanisms to probe class structures, technologies and gender politics through a variety of historical and forward-looking perspectives.

Elizabeth Price, FELT TIP, 2019, installation view of Nottingham Contemporary. Photo: Stuart Whipps.

Encircling the sculpture are a series of monochrome pin hole photographs of women’s dresses. Blown up to fill the walls of Nottingham Contemporary, these black and white visions without bodies are by turns spectral and monumental; dancing, floating, looming. Accompanied by posters scattered on the floor printed with “Give prisoners the vote”, the photographs are tethered to the histories of suffrage and suffocating domesticity that many women remain all too familiar with.

THE GOVERNING BODY is strangely muted, however, while the staccato clacking of a computer keyboard and 1980s-inspired synths and drum beats bleed in from the adjacent gallery. These soundtracks are taken from two interrelated, overlapping multi-channel videos, KOHL (2018) and FELT TIP(2018), which consider the mining of coal, and the mining and storage of electronic data that might be encoded within our bodies in a perhaps not-so-distant future world.

 is structured through four screens that show inverted photographs of Nottinghamshire colliery machinery, their towers penetrating the ground and screen in an echo of the mine shaft. Below, typed text builds a strange, non-linear narrative concerning mine water – ground water which seeps into abandoned mines – that transforms seams and fields of coal into networks, and acts as a medium for transmitting sound across distance. A somewhat jovial anecdote on the phenomenon is offset by allusions to the water as a more haunting ‘medium’ for substances or visitants.

Elizabeth Price, FELT TIP (still), 2018. Commissioned by the Walker Art Center, Film and Video Umbrella and Nottingham Contemporary, with support from Arts Council England.

On the right, two-channel video FELT TIP considers technologies of the body. Taking the neck tie as its central motif, the six-metre-high projection explores possibilities for dealing with data. Multiple narrators with unshaven legs and wearing high heeled shoes, described by Price as “probably female”, explain that class, privilege, gender and authoritarian symbolism are encoded in the tie’s form, construction and surface patterning. Parallels are drawn between the tie and technological storage solutions which might find future form in the body – in chips in the tips of our fingers and within our very DNA. While more commonly associated with childhood creative play, “Any digital files of high value, great size or in current circulation,” a narrator continues, “will be located in soft drives known locally as felt tips.”

Permutations of meaning are unfolded and refolded throughout the exhibition: felt tips are conflated with fingertips, coal with kohl, and mine water with ink, while neck ties are reformed into DNA double helixes and wagging tongues. Ideas from one video cleverly spill over on to screens used for the other, and it is in these deliberate overlapping edits of sound and image that Price skilfully forges links between material and digital technologies, coaxing language, writing and mark making into acts of data collection, storage and dissemination.

Commissioned and published by Photomonitor, 15 April 2019.

Elizabeth Price: FELT TIP 
Nottingham Contemporary 
16 February – 6 May 2019