Field Studies of Touch
Gallery North, Northumbria University
28 Sep - 21 Oct 2017
Field Studies of Touch comprises a series of speculative works extending the artist’s ongoing interest in the associations between landscape and the body. Taking a long view on history, cultural anthropologist’s investigations into prehistoric sexuality and matriarchal communities have proposed that the agricultural revolution and evolution of land ownership brought about comparable restrictions in how our own bodies are controlled, governed and owned. Over time, as settlements have grown and stabilised their existence, the associated decline of itinerant hunter gather communities can be seen to have made way for increasingly patriarchal practices and radical shifts in the perceptions of what is perceived ‘natural’ or acceptable. This perceived interconnectivity between restricted bodily autonomy and land ownership is something that is both echoed and skewed through Haliwell-Sutton’s sculptural processes and the works in this exhibition.
Through placing her own body in the material, literally lying in wet concrete, the sculptures become moulds of the body holding and supporting traces of its presence. In formal terms this cradling suggests ideas of nurture and care, and yet the surfaces of the concrete sculptures are scarred, marked and forever transformed by the visible traces of human touch. As physical traces of the artist’s body solidify into these landscape-like forms there are clear visible associations with aerial topographic images, yet there is also an inversion of this idea of the changing landscapes dominant impression on the governance of self. As concrete attempts to imitate the patina of marble, the material reveals a hierarchy between faux and real, and references the problematic idea of what is ‘natural’. Furthermore it opens up a relationship with time – stone and marble have a deep history that contrasts with concrete, which takes just hours to imitate the former.
Halliwell-Sutton is herself greatly influenced by the idea of non-linear time, a proposition which positions our existence at the center of circles rather than at points on a line; it is about perceiving the universe in ways that are tangible, cyclical and forever link back to the present condition opening up the possibility for conversations to extend across and beyond generations. Ideas of old and new are thus brought into question, to an extent become redundant, rather past, present and future coexist, occupy the same space and learn and share from one another. Installed within the window, the collection of Ferns reference this idea of the continued mobility of time. Some species of the plants such as Osmunda Claytoniana have existed for 180 million years without evolutionary change. In an ever-changing world they have remained constant, their history is their present and their future.