By Meike Brunkhorst
The latest edition of the London Art Fair’s annual photo exhibition was guest-curated by Laura Noble who runs L A Noble Gallery in London and who is a champion for contemporary photography in general and women artists in particular. ‘Occupy the Void’ interrogates the physical, psychological and ephemeral nature of space and our experience of existing within it, both during our lives and after death through the work of ten contemporary female artists.
In defiance of the sensory overload of an art fair environment, Laura Noble has succeeded in turning a rather difficult space in the rafters of the Business Design Centre into a stand-alone exhibition space. The curation takes the viewer on a journey of ten artists’ photographic explorations of ‘space’, from the distant exteriors of urban architecture to the intimate interiors of living spaces, from distanced observations of the people who inhabit these to personal reflections on specific moments, before ending on more abstract explorations of the cycle of life.
By the time I had made it up the stairs to ‘Occupy the Void’ I had forgotten everything I’d read about this year’s theme for Photo50 and in particular that all photographs included in the exhibition were by women aged over 50. The works withstand any prejudices viewers may hold in terms of gender or age and confidently occupy the exhibition space.
With the exceptions of Miranda Gavin’s powerful series ‘Home Discomforts’ in which the artist reclaims the now-deserted home that bore witness to her experience of sexual abuse; and Samantha Brown who adopts a deliberate female gaze in ‘Botany of Silence’ by obliterating men from documentary photographs of a former shoe factory to highlight the collective memories of the women workers; the works in the exhibition are not obviously gender-specific.
The references to the perceived invisibility of middle-age are subtle but this notion undoubtedly played a part in Laura Noble’s curation. A sense of nostalgia and fading beauty threads through the exhibition and is particularly prevalent in Danielle Peck’s series of photographs taken in Margate prior to the town’s recent redevelopment; while Wendy Aldiss and Rosy Martin each take a very different approach to dealing with personal loss and our attachment to objects as tokens of absent presence.
Kim Shaw’s shoebox gallery was initially conceived as a direct response to the artist’s disappointment at being rejected by established institutions, an experience shared by many contemporary artists. A collection of her Lilliputian galleries is shown alongside the rejected landscapes that inspired the series.
They provide a striking contrast to Sandra Jordan’s stark photographs of anonymous urban facades so easily overlooked despite their imposing size.
Humans and bricks become one in Elizabeth Heyert’s striking amalgamation of the space we inherit while we sleep and the perished glory of ancient ruins that act as a screen for her ‘Sleepers’ – human vulnerability immortalised in stone.
The journey ends with photographic abstractions by Elaine Duigenan and Mercedes Parodi. The former captures the transient existence of bubbles by casting them in wax, thus destroying and preserving them at the same time. Finally, Parodi presents sculptural spheres on uncluttered oblong voids that invite meditations on the traces that we leave behind on our passage through time and space.
A compelling exhibition that grants visitors a welcome escape from the fair buzz while providing its participants with a much needed platform within the commercial realm.
While greatly outnumbering their male counterparts at art school, until recently women have been mostly overlooked by museums, galleries and collectors. The discrepancy is even greater in the photography segment where women account for a mere 15% of the industry. With London Art Fair the latest art fair to hand over a section to women artists, ‘Occupy the Void’ is an important contribution towards more equal representation of women in the contemporary art market, and I can’t wait for the next chapter.
Meike Brunkhorst runs factor-m, a consultancy providing essential guidance and strategic support for artists seeking to improve efficiency and to achieve set goals.