In Alex Farrar’s solo exhibition Fall, slump, drop on a bedside cabinet in water with behavioural residue (painted violet) […], an overwhelming melancholia permeates the Bloc Projects space. The exhibition is fundamentally an exploration of how trauma is experienced through the body. Farrar’s ‘sweat paintings’ (2019) are hung alongside the lead casts of chewed off fingernails, while sandbags in faceless human form slump over domestic furniture in a gallery space flooded with water.
The exhibition is framed by a text written by curator and writer George Vasey, which introduces the crisis of the Welsh village Fairbourne as the context for the work. Fairbourne is being reclaimed by rising sea levels, making its residents the first official UK climate refugees. Here, as Vasey writes, ‘Deep ecological time collides with human time.’ The stillness of the scene created by the static installation is in stark contrast to the accelerating catastrophe that it depicts. Images of the everyday – loungewear material, furniture – merge violently with the deep ecological time of the climate crisis, and we are faced with the inevitability of its intrusion upon our lives.
Entering the gallery I am met with three of Farrar’s ‘sweat paintings’, created by pouring silicone onto satin and cotton to imitate sweat patches. The paintings invoke the past presence of ghostly bodies, suggesting an encounter between material and skin. In the stillness of the gallery, I imagine moments fraught with anxiety; sweat transferred from the body in a fleeting moment of terror that is now fixed in time. The ‘sweat paintings’ are presented on clean, taut canvases, and there is a tension between their subject matter and the formal method of display.
In the main part of the gallery, Farrar’s sandbag sculptures droop off the sides of furniture found on the streets – homeless debris which floats on a thin layer of water that fills the room. The gallery is quiet, and as I walk across the water the sound of my footsteps splashing resonates through the space. There is the feeling of being in a derelict building. Everything seems to have a dampness to it; the fingernail sculptures in their lurid purple and yellow glisten as if covered in a layer of sweat themselves, or as if they are made of moss or fungi, growing out of ruined walls.
Some bodies cling to furniture, while others lie on the floor against the wall, the water nearly lapping at them. Boundaries seem to be dissolving between the bodies and their environment, as they melt downwards into the inevitably rising water, which is beginning to creep up the material of their sleeves. The expanse of space that has been left between works creates an air of loneliness, and though the bodies are sometimes piled on top of each other there is no comfort in their connection. In their facelessness, they become representative of a collective experience, cyphers for a society divided by individualism and fear.
Farrar’s work is a stark portrayal of the quiet dread of our collective climate grief, played out through the internal spaces of the body and the domestic setting. The overall feeling of the show is one of sadness, evoking the present trauma of others, and reminding us of the disasters that we will all face in the near future – a certainty that is becoming impossible to ignore. The full title of the exhibition is is Fall, slump, drop on a bedside cabinet in water with behavioural residue (painted violet) and collapse, slide, bottom-out beside low on a bookshelf, with sag on a folding table and slip on a bedside cabinet -both- in water before behavioural residue (painted chartreuse), downswing under a broken curtain rail, and dip, crash, flat on a chest of drawers partially in water
Fall, slump, drop on a bedside cabinet in water […] is at Bloc Projects, Sheffield, from 14 September 2019 – 12 October 2019.
Jessica Piette is a writer and curator.