In clicking through the online exhibition pages of Summer 2020 I am encouraged by the imaginations of this graduating cohort in picturing new worlds and creating paths to find them. Here I’m looking at three of the many inspiring projects.
Tayo Adekunle reworks representations of Black women’s bodies depicted in ethnographic images, challenging the colonial mindset which created them. In the Artefact works, sepia toned images of the photographer's full-length body are overlaid to scale on top of unidentified ethnographic portraits of naked Black women, framed as exoticised spectacle for Western consumption. In each new photograph Adekunle stands with an unnamed woman in an act of historical solidarity against the ways they have been dehumanised in the original images; isolated for inspection and framed as other for spectacle. Adekunle—as both photographer and subject—approximates the stance of each woman. The discomfort felt from their body language is doubled through Adekunle’s re-enactment, deepening the tension pictured.
Adekunle’s gesture of embedding her self-image within these scenes—heavy with the degradation of misrepresentation—fuses the past to her present and highlights the continued affects these images have on the ways Black identity is represented by media, shaped in culture and experienced daily by individuals and communities. The works demonstrate the power dynamic within the original images, asking who made them and to what end? In questioning this situation viewers confront the colonial imagination that seeks to inspect and extract from people it sees as other. Adekunle’s photographs beam a recent past forward, insisting on those looking to face the history of colonialism, its afterlife and their position in relation to it. By engaging with this past and re-framing its stories, Adekunle stands in solidarity creating new images counter to the originals, conceived of and seen through her humanising lens.
Molly Kent’s works repurpose the tools of rug manufacture to produce amorphous abstract tufted textile works. These works hold a frantic speed embedded from their process of making. Bursts of contrasting colour scoot across the textile works that hang, slump and orbit each other on the wall. Heady colours drawn from a digital palate—acid yellows and greens, deep reds, bright oranges and pinks—form islands and pathways across the textile surfaces creating erratic and absorbing surfaces.
In looking at these works there is a compelling sense to retrace their making. To follow the artist through the process of colliding contrasting colours and combining pom pom lumps, wavy stripes, and slumped tufted mounds to form wiggly, blob-shaped textile artworks. There is a confidence in bringing together this appearingly spontaneous web of complexity to create coherent and highly personal forms. This ability to work boldly with textures, shapes and colours is often learned over time spent making with materials. In contrast, phases stating causes for uncertainty are spelled out across the works’ surfaces. Reading the doubt woven into these pieces provides cause to re-think assumptions. Made in response to the artist’s C-PTSD, these pieces combine the complexity of personal experience with the deftness of experienced tactile making. In holding the artist’s feelings of doubt in their weave, these textiles show how doubt and a learned confidence in making can co-exist; emphasising that people are often many things at once and that making can be a strategy to gain insight into self-experience.
Eleanor Beale’s projects create multi-sensory listening experiences; setting-up environments in which to hear sound and consider the ways the visual and tactile impact on the auditory.
In the installation Found Across Other Ebbs, soil is brought into a gallery space and piled into mounds with green plant shoots growing across its surface. Speakers are submerged in the earth playing a low-level soundscape into the room, composed of field recordings, bodily sounds, digital effects, audio reversals, recordings of instruments, breaths, murmurings and rumblings of water. These sensual and fragmentary sounds housed within the crumbling soil signal a parallel to the process of compositing where various organic materials otherwise regarded as waste join together, decay and break down to produce new fertile material ready for future growth.
Beale’s soundscape similarly brings together and breaks down disparate sounds, fragmenting them into a new layer, embedded and played out in an environment signalling growth. Relatable sounds conjuring past memories are overlaid with unfamiliar sounds sparking connections and taking listeners elsewhere. The installation creates space to gather with others and the senses; feeling dirt underfoot, smelling the earth and seeing green growth experienced concurrently with dreamy contemplative sounds amplified from the ground. The associations reverberating from the sounds and soil offer paths into Beale’s newly formed terrain; a landscape primed for introspective and collective dreaming.
Peter Amoore is an artist and Curatorial Assistant at Cooper Gallery, DJCAD, Dundee.