There comes a certain point in one’s life when there is a need to reflect and recount the stories from one’s past. Me & You by Sheila Gaffney and Linda Schwab in the Dean Clough Galleries, Halifax, appears to encapsulate such a moment. The two artists explore memory and childhood, having reached a position of maturity and confidence within their lives and within their creative practices. This is done in a way that is neither maudlin nor sentimental.
Situated opposite the entrance of the building, a small enclosed gallery space has been created and great attention has clearly been given to the presentation of the works on show. The lighting, for example, casts a warm glow that contributes to a very sophisticated, yet subtle, sense of nostalgia. A constructed platform provides an ideal viewing environment for both the objects and the images.
Gaffney’s ‘The Swimmer’ (2018) is a small but incredibly intense sculpture transcribed from family photographs taken when she was six years old. The intriguing addition of a gold wedding band and a silver ring condense and collapse possible meanings as the figure poses erect within a bronze sea.
‘Dressing Table Vanitas’ (2017) evokes a very different feminised time and place. A meticulously bronze cast hand mirror acts as a platform where intimate dramas are performed. The careful placing of spherical forms on the patinated surface creates memories of discarded jewels rolling around alongside powdered makeup and heady perfume bottles. Gaffney works with ‘a register of classed and gendered subjectivity, situation, place and an internalised knowledge’ and this is articulated through sculptural practice and craft.
Shown in close proximity to the sculpture are Schwab’s fine art prints and photographs, made from ‘1969’ negatives that were previously rejected for developing. By revisiting these images, the serendipity of camera shake, poor exposure and lack of focus are newly discovered by artist. ‘Mother and Daughter’ (1969) and ‘Father and Son’ (1969) ask the viewer to contemplate the person taking the pictures as much as their subjects.
Additional wall-based works by the two artists are shown outside the enclosed space, along the walk way towards other exhibiting spaces. Schwab’s watercolours also reference found photographs from another age. Monotone washes and assertive brush strokes act as equivalence to photographic light and tone. It would have been edifying to see these works alongside Gaffney’s sculpture as both bodies of work say something about the class and gendered construction of artistic sensibilities.
The relationship between the two artists appears to be the ‘me’ and ‘you’ referred to in the exhibition’s title. However, this point is not laboured as the viewer moves through the space. In fact, the works sit so comfortably together, it is possible to forget that there are two discreet bodies of work on show. Other dichotomies quickly become apparent: self and other; adult and child; object and subject. Although the exhibition can be interpreted as two personal and intimate journeys, it also reminds us that many of our shared experiences are formed by wider social, temporal and cultural forces.
Me & You, Dean Clough, Halifax, 17 February – 24 May 2018.
Samantha Broadhead is Head of Research at Leeds Arts University with a special interest in widening participation.