Completing The Gallery at Plymouth College of Art’s South West Showcase 2018/19, artist Laura Phillip’s new exhibition, ‘I felt like the sound of a harp’, explores the link between the discovery of nitrous oxide and its influence on Bristol’s rave culture. The results, which incorporate film, soundscapes, printed textiles and performance, can be seen in The Gallery at Plymouth College of Art from 29 November until 19 January 2019.
The title to the exhibition refers to an anecdote from a patient of chemist and medical experimenter Humphry Davy (1788-1829), who struggled to articulate the new forms of sensation induced by the gas, whilst under the influence of the recently discovered nitrous oxide.
Phillips’ artwork is derived from research into Davy’s work, and evokes stories and imagery about dissociative states, elements of precarity and invisible forces. Mimicking Davy’s pursuits to harness and exploit these newly discovered invisible gases, through her use of photochemical processes in a series of fabric banners and 16mm film.
Based in Bristol, Laura grew up in the South-West, and since studying for her BA in Fine Art and Visual Culture at the University of the West of England, her practice has been informed through collaboration with other creatives. ‘I felt like the sound of a harp’ features new work, commissioned by The Gallery at Plymouth College of Art as part of South West Showcase 2018/19, a recurring open call platform that began in 2013, showcasing and celebrating contemporary artists from across the South West via the production of two solo exhibitions.
Artist Laura Phillips said, “This will be my first solo show, and I am delighted to present a film that explores the different histories and rising effects of gentrification on Bristol, the city in which I work and live.
“The South West Showcase commission has enabled me to develop new skills and produce a body of work that contains a mixture of media in film; including 16mm and animation, as well as cyanotype print, screen printing and dyeing of the fabric banners. This layering process of different media relates polyphonic sensibilities to material; and addresses recurring questions about obsolescence and technology within my work.”
This new body of work takes its impetus from a building in Bristol, which from 1799 to 1802 was a medical research facility known as The Pneumatic Institute. During this time, chemist Humphry Davy studied the medical effects of recently discovered gases, including nitrous oxide, and devised experiments examining the effects of laughing gas on himself and others.
The soundtrack to the film, comprises snippets of conversations with a pensioner recalling her experiences of living in the house (formerly The Institute) during World War Two; and is collaged with an improvised score from Phillips’ adjunct practice playing as part of the experimental improv ensemble Viridian. The third sound element is a digital field recording from club and rave nights in Bristol; a subculture that has increased nitrous oxide popularity as a recreational choice. A reappearing motif in the work is the ‘damask’ and ‘moire’ patterns, a visual reference point reflecting on visual perception; and is also a nod to ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ a short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman about perception, madness and the search for identity.
Laura said, “I’m interested in the paradoxical viewpoints such as Autoscopy, the experience in which an individual perceives the surrounding environment from a position outside of his or her own body, as well as working with stories from the past to talk about current political, or socio-economic situations.
“Often these stories center around dissociative states, elements of precarity and invisible forces; it is these spaces of liminality that educe altered perceptions and can be a catalyst to affect change.”
Hannah Rose, Exhibitions Coordinator for The Gallery at Plymouth College of Art, said: “We are really excited to see the results of Laura’s inaugural solo exhibition, made possible through the South West Showcase initiative. Laura’s practice has primarily occupied gig and event culture rather than traditional gallery spaces, and it’s great that Laura has now demonstrated how well her work sits in a contemporary gallery space. I would really like to see this work shown in many other galleries and for this opportunity to bring others with it.”
Laura’s recent performances include supporting HARRGA at Wysing Polyphonic Festival, Sept 2018, Visions at the Nunnery, Bow Arts, London, Nov 2016. Her film work Geoluread &Genie, 2017, was purchased as part of the Arts Council Collection in 2018. Laura also performs with improvised musical ensemble Viridian, in which she plays the ethereal and haunting sounds of the waterphone. Recent performances include Witch Please, SHAME, Cube Microplex in July 2018, Hello Goodbye Dexter Bentley Radio show, Resonance FM in February 2018, London and Bristol’s Spike Island café in July 2018.
SOUTH WEST SHOWCASE SEASON OF EVENTS IN THE GALLERY
Autoscopic Pneumatic Therapy – Screening event
Weds 5th Dec / 5.30-7pm / Studio Theatre
Laura Phillips presents a screening of artists films which extends ideas addressed in Phillips’ inaugural solo show ‘I felt like the sound of a harp’. This programme includes works that have influenced Phillips’ practice and question ideas of subjectivity, subcultures and dissociative states.
Phillips’ work investigates obsolescence and precarity as narrative devices. Questions about how we come to know an object; its temperament, texture, colour, hue and smell. The work aims to explore the complexity of resonance and incongruence between sound/image, often using a mixture of photochemical processes, found sounds and digital imagery. Recent performances include live editing of her video and 16mm prints in a dialogical performance with the musicians Viridian. Key structures to the work include improvisation, polyphony, and collaboration.
Performance – Viridian
Weds 9th Jan / 7.30-8.30pm / The Gallery
Join us for a special performance by the improvised ensemble Viridian.
Viridian is an ethereal blend of image, voice, cello and double bass which re-imagines folkloric forms and tropes of femininity. Improvisation of both sound and image (digital & analogue) produce a dialogic blend of textural depths. Dissociative states, keening, and the supernatural inspirit the ensemble; each performance evokes utterances, nonsensical languages, and trans species forms of communication through collective rhythm, tone and resonance.
Performance by Dali De Saint Paul (Vocal), Liz Muir (cello), Esme Betamax (percussion), Caitlin Alais Callahan (double bass) and Laura Phillips (waterphone, 16mm films & sound responsive digital projections).