Can You Hear Me Now?
Stephen Carley and Anna Mawby at Derby Museums and Art Gallery
This newly commissioned installation takes as its starting point the contributions of hundreds of people. Their words, emotional, confessional and confrontational, form the basis of a museum, a material collection realised by Stephen Carley and Anna Mawby. The first piece of work to greet the visitor is a large sign made from blackboard with ‘When people politely lie’ written on in chalk. The title, sadness, indicates an element of confrontation and hints towards the interactive element that implicates us as a viewer. The names of the artists are written on the wall as well as ‘and you’, engaging us as a collaborator and reminds us that you only get back what you put in.
The public submitted a range of responses to a set of words; sadness, fear, guilt, delight, anger and disgust each becoming a theme or point of departure. While the themes are not restricted to each room, there is a feeling of being at a fairground; the work leads you on through each emotion. For Carley guilt involves dirty sheets or shopping at John Lewis and of course desire is just out of reach. Mawby expresses anger, with sunken paper boats, the word repression just visible between its folds. Her pierced bottles, showing loss, have water flowing out from tiny piercings that spell out statements of sadness. A hidden mechanism keeps the bottled topped up suggesting no end to the tears.
On a notice board in the first room visitors are invited to deposit their unwanted emotions (like baggage at the door, as it were), setting the tone for a confessional journey. This kind of engagement invites an exploration of the personal experience. It is the visitor who takes on the role of confessor. While we are used to public confession, internal and private lives being exposed to us every-day, the intention here seems to be to provoke or antagonise us daring us to respond, or question our own relationship to the range of emotive issues explored.
There are points of recognition to be found as one moves along, however most of the work is open ended, so we are left hovering between material, text and signifiers. Disembodied statements, like snippets from a diary, are drawn, carved or sewn onto everyday objects, reflecting our urge to project onto things, or give things material form. The pairing together of text and object has implications, a mattress, a record player or cracked mirror can be read in a variety of ways. Thoughts, feelings and ideas are displayed, bottled, or left as traces in salt. The pleasure is gained from translating these messages.
The element of collaboration is clearly evident, and while each artist has a distinct voice, not just in the use of separate fonts, all the work suggests something alchemical has gone on. Carley’s take is somewhat edgy; life on a roll of toilet-paper, seems to be a waste of life, yet the text is written in gold. Mawby’s pieces are fairly primal, using light, salt and flowing water, the movement of materials transfers the meanings of the text. For both artists, words are incantations; materials are connected to memory, sometimes even nostalgia. Through juxtaposition and contradiction they create magic.
The best pieces offer up alternate readings, being ambiguous enough to allow the viewer’s imagination to read between the lines or enable a number of different interpretations. It might be argued that we are offered too much information, however, the feeling of overload easily fits in with frustrations and difficulty of the subject matter, i.e. emotional expression. In this regard the show is asking ‘can you hear me NOW?’, and the answer has to be ‘yes’.