‘Six new photographic works for the U.K. Year of Photography and the Electronic Image’ 1999

It is difficult to reproduce Tracey Holland’s seductive installation Vessel, to render it 20, on the pages of a book. Light and sensory perceptions are integral to both the execution and presentation of this work. Vessel is concerned with growth. It looks at the creative potential of human life in biological, histological and emotional terms. We walk into a totally blacked out room to be faced, at eye level, with two linear rows of colour photographic images centrally lit by twenty specific light sources. The overall effect is that of a bizarre aquarium; the flora and fauna mimicking that of the alchemist’s laboratory II The imagery and symbolism draws on, amongst others, the normally hidden but fascinating microscopic world of cell growth and division. Scientific tools of the trade; ­pipettes, test tubes, bell jars are embedded alongside biological transmutations; red blood corpuscles, amoebas and tadpoles appear as if in a world of coloured, suspended animation. Holland draws heavily on biology and mythology to create her own personal visual language. Made up of twenty component images incorporating photographic still lifes, montages, collages, photograms and sandwiched between glass, Vessel communicates and translates difficult conceptual material into mesmerising and appealing aesthetics.

The overall effect of these translucent images in various hues from purples to cobalt blues to autumnal yellows and oranges, brings to mind the inherent decaying process of leaves and plants. As Holland herself says, creative potential is symbolised by the biological term anglae. Back in the darkened room the light draws us to specific details within the installation. Eggs; insects wings, feather like and fragile; hooks; clocks and imperial scales, rusting and rotting, they are all subtley highlighted to provide clues and references. Allegorical allusions weave through Holland’s work: the heart, the most vital organ and sustainer of life, appears broken and punctured. Anubis, the jackal-headed son of Osiris is conjured up. The heart is rendered useless, defunct, save its weight ( Hollands ‘Vessel’ … exquisite, combinations of lyrical beauty and decom­posing beasties… beautiful mementoes of morality. A photo-installation replete with a menagerie of dead bats, squashed frogs and all things that squeak and croak at night. Mad, moody and quite pretty really’ Guardian Guide, October 1998).
In an ethereal, fantastical and illusory creation Holland has revolutionised basic biological subjects (from spermotozoa cell reproduction through to death itself), mixed this with mythological tales, added a touch of sixteenth century alchemy and has rendered visible the unseen world of the body that refers to an inner emotional life. She has produced work which acts as a metaphorical x-ray vision of the body.

Anne McNeil