Mortal Remains Sheffield
Tracey Holland’s recent work relates directly to a long line of collage and assemblage art that stretches from the Dadaist Schwitters through Cornell to Kienholz and Rauschenberg. This is a creative vision made up of discarded oddments, rusted urban detritus and the occasional stuffed,
shrivelled or mouldy remains of wild animal life. Many an art student has gone on expedition round the tips, skips and gutters of the Western world and come up with nothing more than empty mock surreal emulations. Holland in comparison is a rare original. Her show comes across with the arresting force of some unheard-of obsession or embarrasingly wierd perversion. Dead reptiles, dried and faded flowers, a glass eye, old board games, scraps of old books and letters are arranged and photographed to form an enchanting late 20th century revival of memento mori still-life. Somehow Holland manages to imbue every detail with an aura of fetishistic significance.
Evidences of sadistic or ritualistic violence, such as a severed and sliced open pig’s head, are given an extra edge of discomfort by being wreathed in pearls and a delicate mist of red shiffon.
The show has a multi-media installation and several mixed media assemblages in addition to the photographs but the most powerful pieces are often the simplest, those in which the easy charms of collaged clutter are most resisted. Almost anyone else using a photograph of a bat in an artwork today would fall into Hammer horror film cliche. Holland presents a detail of an outstretched bat’s wing and it has all the moody resonance of the Gothic tradition with none of its melodramatic grotesquerie.
Untitled Gallery Sheffield 1992
The Crack magazine
Unlike the heroine of Rohmers movie, Tracey Holland probably does not collect men, she does however, collect everything else! The result of her magpie like activity is Mortal Remains an exhibition of photographs that opens at the Zone Gallery this month. Candles, sheet music, sheep sheers, glass eyes, old clocks and other pieces of human detritus provide the backdrop for the real subject of the images, the dead creatures of various kinds that litter their surfaces. Not that the work is in any way morbid, if anything, through its use of cool lighting and delicate gauze filters, it brings a serenity to this charnel house of amphibians, avians and mammals. Although they do not conform to the conventions of photographic composition (Holland was originally a painter), there is a studied beauty about the images, which belies their content, the content at times being almost lost (at a distance anyway) under an overwhelming abstraction. An installation will also be on show. Tracey Holland’s Mortal Remains (sic!) is showing from September 17 to October 10th at Zone Gallery.
VISUAL ARTS REVIEW
Photographs and Installation Work by Tracey Holland at Zone Gallery, Newcastle until October 24.
Tracey Holland’s collection of Mortal Remains includes dead birds, fish, and reptiles, a fnlit-bat, and assorted animal fragments. Often accompanied by the likes of withered flowers, old clock faces, fish books and scraps of paper, the remains are assembled into tableaux and el1’ectively embalmed by being photographically recorded in large Cibachrome prints.
Superficially, the subject matter suggests links with both the long- standing use of worthless and disagreeable objects as an assault on traditional artistic values, and with the easy sensationalism of recent exhibitions featuring dismembered dogs and lumps of fly – infested meat. But rather than being shocking, cynical or gleefully morbid, Tracey Holland’s images are reverential and poignant, and ultimately have less in common with confrontational art than with traditional painting -particularly still lives.
Chardin’s paintings of dead game are recalled by pheasants hung in a chipped gilt frame, while finches and starlings wreathed by faded petals hint at Greuzian and Victorian sentimentality. Reminiscences of Arcimboldo appear in an assemblage of cod, whitebait and black cord forming a human profile, and the pinkness of a pig’s severed head placed with strings of pearls against a baby blue background, perversely conjures up Boucher’s Rococo nudes.
Art historical associations apart, the evocative richness of the work prompts speculation on a range of issues including our own mortality, attitudes to animals, and to the edible and expendable. Above all though, Tracey Holland’s photographs unite technical excellence, painterly sensitivity to colour and compelling imagination to arrest the natural progression of her subjects towards decay and the dustbin, and to invest them with a paradoxical beauty.
Art’s power to transform is less apparent in the installation incorporating two large assemblages Âtriptychs enclosed by battered window frames. Flattened beneath the glass, pairs of birds’ wings nestle on a background of human hair matted with gobbets of papier mache, glass eyes, rusty hairgrips, keys, cutlery and razor blades. This is a nightmare version of something blocking the sink, and on a more monstrous level, recalls the hangars full of hair and other pathetic gleanings stockpiled in Nazi death camps. Where the photographs’ uniform surface reduces texture to Oat areas of seductive colour, here, the physicality of feathers, hair and other materials is inescapable, and despite the balanced symmetry of the compositions they induce a queasy disorientation.
The cumulative el1’ect of the exhibition shares something with Peter Greenaway’s film The Cook, The Thief etc., where sumptuous banquets, and pantechnicons of putrefying meat and fish alternately arouse appetite and revulsion. Beyond this immediate ability to prod the viewer out of complacency, Tracey Holland’s work leaves a lasting resonance -the product of a genuinely disturbing imagination.