Elizabeth Price’s curatorial project IN A DREAM YOU SAW A WAY TO SURVIVE AND YOU WERE FULL OF JOY establishes a range of topics between diverse artefacts in a similar manner to how she juxtaposes footage in her films. Her Turner Prize-winning work, ‘The Woolworths Choir of 1979’ (2012), for instance, examines formats of information exchange in order to develop thematic associations between seemingly disparate footage – lectures on architecture, pop music videos and news footage of a notorious fire in the Manchester branch of Woolworths. The current curatorial project, then, comprises imbricated documents, artefacts and artworks that loosely subdivide into four sections (‘Sleeping’, ‘Working’, ‘Mourning’ and ‘Dancing’), and it develops this methodology on the larger scale of a museum exhibition. Price engenders connections between works through their proximity within the gallery. Film projections share the floor with marble statues, and photographs, paintings and prints interact on the walls. As a result, I experienced the exhibition as a sequence of groupings throughout which themes recurred and were displaced, relative to my positioning.
In the section ‘Sleep’, I looked at a photograph of displaced people in a park in Morocco, and then, turning, I approached a painted bronze sculpture of a figure lying in a sleeping bag. On the wall I saw a drawing of people sheltering through the night on underground platforms, and looking behind me, I noticed a stone head on its side through which I saw and heard a passage of film I recognised as Charles Laughton’s ‘Night of the Hunter’ (1955). In the section ‘Mourning’, I looked at Becky Beasley photographs and then down at a fashion spread on Balenciaga dress designs shot by David Bailey. Alone, these would each speak to the different worlds of art and fashion, but here they build a narrative of covering over/up, which is then situated more overtly within the context of mourning by the death shrouds represented in nearby prints, and, finally, with a documentary photograph of a funeral march to mark the passing of Kasimir Malevich.
This cumulative effect of historical and spatial juxtaposition makes literal the principle of laterality that Price discusses in her text ’Introduction’ (2016), which appears in the book that accompanies the exhibition. In this text she describes the exhibition as simultaneously a survey of ‘images and objects that manifest a horizontal composition’, and a ‘supplementary narrative […] proposed in the associative connections of all of these objects and images’. The exhibition surveys an array of events, and, as audience members plot their own path through the space, presentations of work, rest, joy, exuberance, sadness and loss connect in sequence. My encounter with the exhibition had a quality of drift, similar to the thought processes Price relates, in her text, to a state of rest in a lateral position – the overview of reflection and the convergence of unlike images in dreams.
In 1972, Leo Steinberg wrote about another mode of laterality in artistic production: ‘the flatbed picture plane’. Steinberg noted a common process of meaning making between Robert Rauschenberg’s arrangements of imagery, which the artist described as ‘combines’, and newspaper front pages and noticeboards. Each configured different images and texts within these locations, yet by virtue of their resulting proximity associations between the configured images and texts would begin to emerge. Likewise, this premise underpins Price’s fascination with the interplay of information technologies that in turn inform contemporary processes of meaning-making. With IN A DREAM YOU SAW A WAY TO SURVIVE AND YOU WERE FULL OF JOY, Price expands this understanding onto a curatorial scale.
Andy Broadey is an artist based in Manchester and lecturer in Contemporary Art, History and Theory at University of Central Lancashire.
Image courtesy Andy Broadey and The Whitworth.
Elizabeth Price Curates: IN A DREAM YOU SAW A WAY TO SURVIVE AND YOU WERE FULL OF JOY, The Whitworth, Manchester.
10 June – 30 October 2016.