The Twelve Keys - Brochure Text

Tracey Holland

Crossley Gallery, Dean Clough, Halifax
25th November 1995- 7th January 1996

Photography steals the soul of its subject. Our photo self-image always enigmatically gazes back as our younger double. A photograph is the picture of what once was. It freezes time, but time moves inexorably on. So photography is transience fixed. Since it is made with light, it can never appear dead. Yet light is the most ethereal of life-giving substances. Some still say photography never lies. It is true to life. Of course, the fact of life it is true to is that of mortality. After all, a photograph is true to death.

Whilst fine artists everywhere are turning to photo-art, I can think of few who evoke photography’s innate nature so stunningly as does Tracey Holland. Her memento mori tableaux are simply beautiful. The installation here presents windows onto a special world. We gaze into this series of backlit magic-lantern images and sense the existence of things enchanted. The viewer is seduced beyond interpretive ponderings on symbolisms and metaphors and systems of possible meaning beyond self-conscious art historical comparisons and assessments. The desired response is one of sheer wonderment. This art, which initially might appear to so focus in on death, is, through Holland’s exquisite technical skills and sometimes near aching sensitivity, transformed into an art of redemption. A celebration of all gentle things, all small and ephemeral things, all creation. What other artist so convincingly changes such base matter into something we could say, without a trace of embarrassment, approaches a spiritual glimmer?

The window-frames themselves, along with many of Holland’s photographic subjects, were found by the artist in Truro Works, at the time a derelict cutlery factory, now poshly refurbished as student accommodation, a few doors down from Holland’s studio in down town Sheffield. The glass still bares the grime of factory air and, here and there, the pitted textures caused by air-borne buffing stone. Dead birds, some skeletal, others still infested by maggots, are juxtaposed with weights and fly-fishing quills. Tiny arrowhead watch hands point to time transfixed into a poignant dream-space of colour seepings and various driftings, in and out of ambiguity. Pages from the Truro Works ledgers and draughtsman’s drawings are waxed into translucence. One precise drawing illustrates an ‘Assembly of 300 amp FLP Circuit Breaker Box To Spec 60204A Cols A & B’ just as a miniature lucky imp levitates past. A silhouetted frog leapfrogs. Another mimics a black comedy crucifixion. Strands of jet black horsehair introduce a gentle linear rhythm against bunches of old keys that just hang there and rust. So I guess the last and ultimate door has been opened? False eyeballs, a beached plastic goldfish and shelves full of empty medicine bottles -Holland gives a home to things lost, obsolete, forgotten, lonely.

The accompanying twelve wall-hung photographs evoke perhaps a slightly more pastoral world. Completed one a month, through one year, they each lyrically suggest the passing of seasonal time. The artist talks touchingly of taking her new born daughter. Maria, for walks in her pram and coming across the various leaves and berries that are photographically interspersed with her more usual cast of animal protagonists (including here a nice neat row of squid, salted into a quite ghostly whiteness).

I think you, having seen this recent work by Tracey Holland, have experienced something very unusual. The exercise of an authentic, up­-to-the-minute individual vision of something timeless. The negatives of death are after all, transparent. Life goes on.

Robert Clark
Artist and Arts Correspondent, The Guardian