the exhibitionist magazine
April -June 2001
flowers from the dustbin
portrait; Tracey Holland
TRACEY HOLLAND appears to have a fetish for soap As she shows me a flourishing collection -a plate of half-used bars in various states of decomposition -I picture her in ladies toilets, scouring the sink-tops for ripe specimens In fact, her interest in soap is a wider reflection of a theme that permeates her photographic work to date Using mainly found objects as subject matter, the items she puts together have a past life, which becomes the starting point for development by a very particular method of photography The attraction, she explains, is to “objects which have a history etched into them in some way; warn down, marked or broken; that can be made to communicate something else”.
Holland’s workshop is evocative of afternoons spent rummaging through the contents of a curiosity shop, surrounded by old bottles, stones and insect collections. Masses of trinkets fill the shelves, whilst plastic bags hanging from the ceiling protect perishable items such as frogs, pigs’ ears and braids of hair At first glance it resembles evidence from a surreal crime scene;
“I’ve always collected things,” she tells me. “It’s fascinated me in the same way that snake skins and fish scales do; they grow, are shed and become a unique indicator of growth and the passing of time”
Once assembled, she photographs objects through glass, using different degrees of translucency and light to adjust the shadows and colours, a technique that enables her to “make mundane things look completely different” Printed onto transparent acetate and lit from behind, it is hard not to sense an ethereal presence.
When she began her career, working with paint, paper pulp, print and encaustic (melted bees-wax) to create imprints in the pliant surface, Tracey felt she would always be a painter. However, a gradual move towards collage, assemblage and installation work ensued. Eventually, the proceeds from a commercial project allowed her to buy enough photographic equipment to begin fully experimenting with the treasure she had been gathering. This process is one to which she feels a strong sense of kinship, a vocational calling that has produced a highly respectable list of gallery credits in the UK and France.
Much has been written about Tracey Holland’s use of dead animals The images she creates using the remains of birds, snakes and fish are extremely alluring, not remotely disturbing as one might expect. Looking out over the built-up centre of Sheffield, she muses,
“You only ever get to see birds up close when they’re dead. To me they have the same other worldly quality as fish’. She feels that there should be no difference between these and the other props on display, only that less eyebrows are raised delving into a box of junk at Chesterfield Market than picking up a bird from a roadside.
A disused factory provided the material for earlier work of this nature and she explains how she used to go into look around; “In amongst all the mess and dirt there were all
these dead birds on the floor, in various stages of decay The whole scene was so beautiful,
some would be perfect white, others skeletal, and the contrast between dirt, death and purity was so striking, that I started to collect them’.
The animals feature less and less in her work these days, superseded by human characters, which are partly the result of a collaborative venture with a local theatre company. Watching actors performing against a projected backdrop of her work has led to experiments with the idea of creating a scene within a scene. Layering the transparent photographic images, she overlaps strands of the visual story, a development that is clearly visible in her latest work.
As with her use of animals, much inspiration comes from the world around her. She cites a four year spell working as a theatre usher as a major factor in her exploration of lighting and staging techniques, particularly in the use of stage lighting to obscure, to shift the narrative and change a mood. Re-reading the tales collected by the Brothers Grimm has led to her most recent work, unearthing the sub-text, which she believes is often lost on young children, to expose the macabre and magic reality submerged beneath basic moral codes The art canon does not figure highly on her list of reference points, at least not when seeking subject material, preferring as she does, to use “un-processed ideas”, wherever possible.
In a throwaway world, it is reassuring to meet someone with a genuine lust for recycling. So as not to appear somewhat odd, Holland justifies her interest in collecting soap “It’s something which has a record of the dirt on someone’s hand, a dripping tap has worn a hole in it, it dries out and then it cracks I don’t know what to do with them yet, there’s just something about them I’m drawn to”
On the way out I make a mental note to see if there is any soap
in the toilet. There isn’t.
Magic,Murder and The Weather by Tracey Holland is at LMU Gallery
Between 27 April and June 2001
The Guardian – The guide
Sat April 28-Friday May 4
Tracey Holland and Penny McCarthy
A pairing of two irrepressible melancholic enchantresses. Tracey Holland’s show entitled ‘Magic, Murder and the Weather’, promises to further develop her broodily illuminated photo-tableaux in which dead animals dance around and rusty keys fail to open rusty locks. A past expert at combating accusations of morbidity with achingly beautiful theatrical conceits, Holland here explores the often perverse imagery of children’s fairy stories.
Leeds Metropolitan University Gallery, until June 6
(Extract from review)
Wednesday May 2nd 2001
Leeds Metropolitan University Gallery
Some art makes life seem a bigger thing. Tracey Holland in Magic, Murder and the Weather, and Penny McCarthy in now Wait for Last Year attempt that kind of art: making the light brighter, making the dark more obscure. For visitors familiar with their past work, there will be few surprises here. But for newcomers the response may well be a muted wow of astonishment.
Holland makes oblique reference to rather sinister fairy stories: ‘…and to kill me you must dash the egg against my head’ …’ so the silly girl cut her great toe off and squeezed the shoe on’. Her large photographic transparencies, suspended form the gallery ceiling and starkly back-lit by bare light-bulbs, are all sepia shadows and smears of grim red. There’s her otherworldly cast of rusty keys, playing cards, fish hooks, squashed frogs and assorted slaughterhouse paraphernalia. A naked silhouette stalks through the scenes wielding a scythe.
Holland is obviously half in love with the stuff of death and junk shops, but her work tends to be redeemed from gothic cliche by an immaculate technical orchestration of mood and atmosphere. As with all good fairy stories, you are taken in by a cocktail of enchantment and dread, of awful predictabilities and seductive uncertainties.
(Extract from review)
newspaper Thursday May 3rd 2001
magic, murder and the weather/now wait for last year
Until Jun 2, Leeds Metropolitan
University Gallery; Woodhouse Lane, Leeds, Mon to Sat 11am to 5pm, Wed 11am to7pm, free. Tel: 01132835998
In our computer-crazed world, the absorption of information and the discovery of truth is becoming ever harder. This new double show investigates the way human beings understand fact and fantasy.
Penny McCarthy’s work in Now Wait For Last Year is more obviously traditional. But within her beautifully crafted drawings there’s a host of material that drags the viewer into strange and wonderful by-ways of history, biology, geography and geology. Her best work throws together anatomical drawings with archaeological finds, written notes that draw comparisons between seemingly unconnected items, making allusions to strange and possibly fantastic events and circumstances.
In Magic, Murder And The Weather, Tracey Holland similarly throws together symbols, stories and circumstances. Her three sets of back-lit transparencies (pictured), arranged in front of that classic of Gothic horror, the naked light-bulb, invite the viewer into a world of fairy tale and myth.
These images are assemblages of found objects -shoes, keys, animal parts ~ drenched in colour. They bring together symbols of tales from the Brothers Grimm -that stand for life, death, marriage and betrayal.
Through rather different methods and media, both Holland and McCarthy explore the way we learn about the world, opening up a sense of wonder for the viewer.