Sunday, 23 March 2014

'DISTURBING THE UNIVERSE': GILL HOBSON, LIGHTLINES@ABBEY WALK GALLERY



Lightstain 3 - Gill Hobson 2014


Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

T S Eliot, The Love Song of Alfred J Prufrock

‘You’re looking for a place to live, a new home. You write down a list of the things you need – the essentials mainly, then the things you’d like. You see a few places, none of which fit the bill. Reluctantly, you agree to view a house which, on paper, has none of the things you wanted. The moment you walk in, you feel you know this place and it knows you. It’s like an embrace. There is an instinctive sense that speaks of home.’
 
Lightlines, Gill Hobson’s new exhibition, sets out to explore the intuitive resonances at play between us and the spaces we live in. Developed from a project comprising more than 5,000 photographs of her own home taken over a three-year period, Lightlines includes photographic, film and installation approaches which tease out some of the complexities of our relationships with our spaces of dwelling. The work is profoundly affecting, and as unsettling as it is thought-provoking. The works, says Gill, ‘are about making the familiar strange’.

In the world of the Lightlines images, light is dark and darkness becomes light. A towel hangs drying across a radiator. A shadow filters from beneath a door. Someone was here and we walk a voyeuristic path through that person’s home, sensing their absence, feeling the space not as they have felt it, but in our own way. The scenes are not staged: beds aren’t made; cushions are un-plumped. This is, above all, a lived-in domestic space.

I found myself drawn to odd angles, juxtapositions of doors, mirrors, stairwells and reverse light coincidences – sinister splashes of red in a glass door pane are heavy with a sense of foreboding, suggesting some kind of twisted noir dénouement waiting to happen. But that’s just me. Gill recognises the images are open to different readings. ‘It's not always apparent what is happening; there's an intellectual uncertainty at work that invites the viewer to explore and draw their own conclusions. Sometimes an image suggests a link with something or triggers a half-remembered recollection. They have this capacity to transport the viewer to other times and places.’

That’s not to say all the images are open to such literal narrative interpretation. Some wilfully refuse to give up their secrets without close attention. ‘They’re less readable, more abstracted, playing with ideas of how we read space, and provoking notions of the canny and the uncanny, the homely and unhomely.’ In that, they are seductive, a little weird, and quite beautiful.

There’s also something hauntingly poetic about them. In Eliot’s often quoted sense that ‘genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood’, you become involved on an instinctive level before coming close to any sort of understanding. And even then, these ordinary, domestic, compellingly other-worldly photographs make meaning elusive. You establish a connection, only for it to be undone when a shadow or a corner of the image reveals itself to the eye.
Lightstain 9 - Gill Hobson 2014
 


In examining how the strange becomes familiar and familiar can become strange in our own living environments, Gill talks about the influence of Walter Benjamin’s ideas of the optical unconscious. ‘We believe that our eyes capture reality, that what we see is what there is, but it’s more information than our perception can process (and we choose the way we wish to see things anyway). The photograph captures more than the eye can see automatically, without filtering out the parts it doesn't care for, so when the eye looks at a photograph, so much more is revealed. It's as if we see the scene anew and in doing so consciously find echoes of what we had unconsciously seen.’

It’s a quality equally present in the installation piece Mnemonic. Gill says, ‘In the moving image work, still images are mirrored, layered and cut through, referencing each other in a kind of feedback loop that suggests different associations, different configurations. Flickering references disrupt the ease of viewing, bringing moments of uncertainty and placing the work in direct dialogue with the stills. Our recollection of the static image becomes absorbed into a new way of seeing and remembering which combines what we know and what we are still discovering. A mnemonic is a device which helps a person remember something. The work plays with this idea by proposing new memory configurations: the viewer becomes the third point in a triangulation, a call and response between artworks, moving image and themselves. When we encounter space we’re constantly in this feedback loop, Mnemonic plays with ideas that these resonances are in motion, either coming into being or dissipating to create new configurations of memory.’

Memory and recollection are intimately bound up with photography and Lightlines possesses a haunting elegiac quality. A reminder that living spaces surrendered to the must-have tech and décor desirables of our age are now places from which we explore other dimensions. Homes are reduced to vessels of connectivity. We sleep, we eat, we hook up. In that sense, the collection is a frozen moment, connecting it to the history of photography and technology. ‘The scenes in The Lightstain Series are purposefully empty of people,’ Gill says, ‘they look a little like stage sets and could be read like narrative scenes. Similar to Atget's photographs of Paris streets, there is a forensic quality: we see the scene more clearly for not being in it, and it becomes a setting where something has or is about to happen - the photograph is a suspended moment which represents the particular conditions of where life takes place.’

I suggest it would be interesting to see the still images on a larger scale. For Gill, there’s something about the intensity of the smaller image. ‘Scale is an important dynamic: the size affects how the image may be read. The increased scale and manipulation of the moving image work proposes a more theatrical reading – like a staged backdrop to activity. It speaks of a more constructed visual idea, and allows the images to operate in different ways. Through the smaller size, the intensity of the images is enhanced; they speak of intimacy. Using the imagery at different scales sets up different dialogues.’ The framing too acts to domesticate these striking images: each frame has been individually selected and painted to compliment the particular image. Their separation from the moving image work and from each other makes each a discreet and particular statement in direct contrast to the multiple and layered imagery of Mnemonic.

What is certain is that the works which comprise Lightlines document a way of living. Intensely personal, yet commonplace enough to propose ideas about our own living spaces and the feelings they generate, replete with all that entails.

With plans to show Lightlines at Red Gallery in Hull, 20:21 Gallery in Scunthorpe and The Ropewalk in Barton over the next year at an advanced stage, Gill is certain the work will develop and change. She’ll also be setting up discussions and developing a publication for the project.  ‘I want to look at different ways these ideas can be mobilised with other people, other places, that’s why I’ve developed it in this particular way, about one person, one place. To research and make art about environment in this way allows you as an artist to experiment, to take risks, to elaborate in personal ways. It sets up ways to explore the capacities for action available to the individual free from considerations of wider cultural space. Traditional conceptions of home, with its’ ideas of safety, of privacy, of retreat is being re-configured, eroded at an astonishing rate by technologies of communication and surveillance. Lightlines is a contemplation of creativity and agency in the increasing time–space compression of the everyday.’

I came home to my own familiar space and caught myself glancing at corners of rooms, the unstuck curl of a wallpaper edge, the way the light fell and cast shadows. Lightlines has a remarkable capacity to make us think about the way we perceive our living spaces. To notice and re-notice the traces and reminders. As Philip Larkin wrote, ‘Home is so sad. It stays as it was left/shaped in the comfort of the last to go/as if to win them back.’ But the more you find yourself drawn into these images and the ideas that underpin them, the greater the realisation of how little we know of what ‘home’ in the 21st century genuinely means.

Lightlines@Abbey Walk Gallery previews on 25 March. The exhibition is open to the public 26 March – 4 May, Gallery opening times: Tuesday to Saturday 9-5pm. For further information about Gill Hobson and her work: www.gillhobson.com

 

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