Tintype Gallery 12 March – 19 April
Flora Parrott’s recent practice has been largely informed by an experience during a tour of a cave, where the guide turned off the lights, plunging her into overwhelming darkness. For Parrott the darkness was ‘both suffocating and immensely spacious. When the lights came back on I felt more aware of the structure of the caves and the fragility of my own form within them. I imagined the force of the air inside the outline created by the ancient, thick rock – and the force of that air on the chambers inside my own body.’
As such Parrott has begun to explore in her installations questions of bodily fragility and our relationship with the environment, utilising a multidisciplinary, scientific approach that is at once exacting, unique and beautiful. The present work follows a trip to PETAR, a cave network in Sao Paulo in 2013, following an award from Arts Council/British Council Artists’ International Development Fund. Aspects of this exhibition will then travel back to Sao Paulo later in the year, for Fixed Position’s sister show at Phosphorus gallery.
Fixed Position is a dense, complex installation, incorporating a wide variety of hand crafted materials including photographic imagery, rope, sand and bones. For me her work is a natural heir to Helen Chadwick, exploring the relationship between the body and space, the internal and the external. Whilst Chadwick examined the development of identity, and the body as a gendered site in flux, Parrot reaches for a more universal understanding of the relationship between sensory (or ‘real’) and virtual space. Using the portal as a recurring motif, Parrot attempts to enter both these realms, realising the uncertainty and ambiguity inherent in both.
The portal is literalised at the gallery window, where the glass is painted in expressionistic swirls of black paint, semi obscuring the view into the gallery space. At the centre of this a small rectangular area of glass is kept clear, its shape and clean edges purposefully reminiscent of a digital screen. As we peer through this gap at the works beyond, Parrott emphasises how vision and experience are governed simultaneously by the sensory and the virtual, and how this impacts on us as a physical body. This theme is continued throughout the exhibition, in a series of pieces which are distinct yet part of a seamless whole.
One particularly interesting work is reminiscent of a tribal necklace, formed out of painted rock and carefully carved animal bones. Dangling from a piece of black rope, the sculpture hangs over a ring of photographic prints. These show scans of the bones, revealing simultaneously their internal structure and exterior form. Through this repetition, first as the actual bone then as an image manipulated through technology, Parrott forces us to stop and reconsider our world and our body within it. Other highlights include a stained ladder, that spine-like scales the height of the gallery, its feet surrounded by black sand, and hand braided black ropes that run around the entire installation, acting as a life line connecting the disparate elements. In the photographic elements a repeated theme is hands passing through water, an explicit reminder of the presence of space.
Parrott displays throughout a natural formal ability, seamlessly moving between sculptural and photographic elements, frequently in the same piece. This adeptness can be attributed to her training in printmaking, which by its very nature looks to imprint one image onto another form, and might also account for her versatile use of medium. There is a great economy and refinement to the work, but hand-finished elements – such as the photographs stuck to the floor with tape – prevent it from feeling overly professional. Whilst the understanding of the sensation of the body and its relation to the sensory world comes through strongly, as yet the idea of virtual space is still there to be properly developed in Parrot’s work. Only in the opening portal did this sense of a world defined by technology come through. But I look forward to seeing how these differing ‘Fixed Positions’ come into play as her career progresses and already find a huge amount to be excited by in this exhibition.
- William Summerfield
guest-blogger William Summerfield works as Gallery Administrator for Connaught Brown