Signs is the culminating show in a series of three exhibitions entitled Beacons, curated by Rebecca Halliwell-Sutton, at Caustic Coastal. Beacons guides us through the philosophical notion of the shared experience within the framework of cyclical time by utilising empathetic exchanges with objects, emotional archives and artefacts. The broadness of this idea is made more tangible by the compartmentalised exhibitions that act as ‘beacons’ that examine one particular grouping of ideas.
The final exhibition in the series displays work by Verity Birt, Anna Hughes, Nicola Singh, Ayesha Tan Jones and Dominique White who explore ideas surrounding ritual and the mystic; experienced through the body and rooted in feminist legacies. Signs investigates these wider narratives and how we communicate these ideas through symbols, technology, the written and the visual, whilst merging the present, past and future, linking to an overarching sense of cyclical time in the Beacons project.
Nicola Singh directly deals with narrative and the body within her piece ‘I see this feel in the shape of a smile’ (2018). The artist combines drawings and text that recapture sensations in our bodies by preserving intimate observations that describe visceral feelings. Singh’s use of language connects the reader to the body, creating a shared intimate experience, in a process she describes as ‘writing with the body’. Dominique White continues the sense of narrative in her installation ‘J.O.Y (The Last Signal)’ (2018), which explores ‘Kalunga’; a watery boundary between the living and the dead. She uses nautical motifs such as sails and masts with natural material such as shells and palm to convey the story and a sense of the passing of time. White’s approach unlike Singh is to communicate through the visual and the ambiguity of it, letting the viewer interpret the story through their engagement with the piece.
The three remaining artists contemplate the mystic in relation to the natural world. Spanning the length of the first floor gallery space the curation perfectly communicates past, present and futuristic ideas on this subject. Verity Birt enquires about pre-historic sites as potential places of ritual in her installation ‘Deformation Attends Her’ (2017/18). It features a video of the artist dancing within the Northumberland landscape, overlapped with symbols akin to ancient runes that also appear within Perspex pieces suspended by fabric that sit alongside the video itself. The piece explores an Arcadian relationship between body and land that predates patriarchal histories in which the female presence was much more prevalent and revered. Anna Hughes also explores the mystic of the natural world within her work by uncovering hidden metaphysical properties within materials. Her piece ‘7th phase, (sun-gold)’ (2018) contains two concrete and pyrite arches that are situated on the wall behind Birt’s installation. This curation allows the hardness of the concrete to contrast with the fabric’s fluidity, whilst also mirroring the arches of Birt’s Perspex circle and creates a dialogue regarding materiality and form between the two pieces. Ayesha Tan Jones meanwhile explores imagined futures in her video ‘Where is Una Jynxx?’ (2018), which follows the character Una and her rejection of technology, carrying eco-conscious narratives that aim to challenge audiences to think more sustainably and ethnically.
Out of the Beacons series Signs directly narrates the concept of feminist legacies, as the exhibition largely explores the shared female experience whilst also communicating interconnecting threads that connect us to different generations through shared experience. What resonates strongly is the idea of communication and the need to share these legacies; passed down generations through rituals, objects and texts as a way to preserve an idea, concept or belief. In participating in these rituals time becomes cyclical as it links us to past, present and future as we exist in that shared experience that acts as a sign of our collectiveness, leaving the individual to muse on their own temporal idiosyncracies.
Beacons | Signs, Caustic Coastal, Salford.
29 March – 21 April 2018.
Claire Walker is a writer based in Wigan.