George’s Perec’s 1976 text Reading: A Socio-Physiological Outline marks out two distinctive acts that take place when reading. One is the extraction of information from the text on an intellectual level. The other, and what he emphasises here, is the physical act of reading – what our body does in time and space. Visiting Dafna Talmor and Hannah Hughes’ duo show, Glossaries, offers the viewer a similar experience. This is an exhibition where two artists meet at the intersection of a language, but with an emphasis on how the body navigates space, where the tangible becomes intangible, material immaterial and how this physical self-awareness is instilled within an audience. An impressive and complimentary presentation of two artists interrogating the medium of photography, Glossaries reveals how Hannah Hughes and Dafna Talmor are always looking towards the edges, knowing that this is where, for them, everything happens.
The opening work to this exhibition, and namesake of the show, Glossaries takes the form of a three-rowed series of photograms constructed from cut-out extracts of both artists’ works. With Hannah Hughes’ bulbous and shapely forms contrasting with the wiry, animated, shapes of Dafna Talmor’s negative fragments, Glossaries is a scripture embodied in light and shadow, an index. Caught between connotations of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs and the modern medium of photography, it would be easy to lean into clichés of photography’s etymological origins of “light-writing”. Instead, Glossaries demonstrates early on the physical approach both artists take with their practices, cutting and slicing the photographic image, reconstructing it anew, and giving negative space a new form of agency.
Glossaries an exhibition where two artists meet at the intersection of a language, but with an emphasis on how the body navigates space, where the tangible becomes intangible, material immaterial and how this physical self-awareness is instilled within an audience.
Hannah Hughes’ C-Type collages included at Sid Motion Gallery are the realisation of a new form of image production for her. Photographing museum textiles (some of which become integral to her sculptural displays), re-photographing cut magazine fragments from her archive, and altering them by the projection of shadows, these new works are aesthetically similar to her previous work. The viewer’s perceptions of weight and mass are challenged, with Hughes’ imagery disclosing no immediate sense of size and scale. Instead we are left with a dissonance between images that appear to represent structures akin to Neolithic standing stones, but that later reveal themselves as self-aware physical constructs consisting of photographic paper. Her collages are caught between wrestling themselves from the image plane and whilst her new collages still exist in this state of flux they also harness a new and additional potential: that of the artist’s choice in scale. With her new working process, the edges, tucks and overlapping of collaged images are no longer the only boundaries of her works charged with energy. It is now also at the perimeter of her pieces that the potential builds, where the small paper constructions could just as easily be colossal structures.
With Constructed Landscapes, Dafna Talmor’s images have long been subject to another kind of pressure. These works, with their redaction of any human place markers, suggest an overarching deep time, one in which we are witnessing the tectonic shifts of the Earth itself. This movement (seemingly taking place below the picture’s surface) results in trace imagery colliding, overlapping or, alternatively, retreating and opening deep ravines of impenetrable darkness between these photographic continents. Talmor’s Constructed Landscapes are works that envelop the viewer in much the same way as recalling a landscape traversed. As images, they not only seek an honest depiction of landscape in its immersive entirety, but they also act as a rendition of memory itself. Emerging out of nothing, one fleeting moment can bring forth a dozen other recollections, all of which are disjointed but inevitably merged into a singular experience.
Glossaries is not only a presentation of both these artists’ collages. Both also present sculptural works that become object lessons in positive and negative space, blurring the boundaries and definitions of photography and sculpture. These are reflexive objects, assemblages that are just as much physical works in space as they are cues that awaken a self-awareness in the viewer.
Untitled (CO- 161616161616161616-1), whilst bold and dominating, hovers between the picture plane and sculptural minimalism. Carrying the imagery of her collages, this is not a placid sculpture that allows the viewer endless perspectives whilst they circumnavigate it – rather, it is sculpture that dictates the body’s position. Charles Baudelaire famously refuted sculpture as being “boring”, arguing that it presented too many variables in viewer position without ever deciding on an ideal angle. Surely this would be the piece to contest his argument then. This image-object hybrid moves the viewer between one vantage point and another, seeking the best position for which to view each individual component. At rare moments the eye wanders, and is permitted a glimpse of how this sculptural construction seems to become a landscape in itself. Rocky cliff edges and undulations in terrain are distilled and rendered in angular black paneling. Untitled (CO- 161616161616161616-1) brings the viewer closer than ever to what Talmor’s physical experience of landscape must be like, how her body passes through a time and place, immersed in an all-encompassing sensory experience that dictates her very own movements to frame a scene.
Untitled (CO- 161616161616161616-1) is punctuated by small screw holes, subtly revealing its own construction, and mirroring that of her Studies that hang nearby. Talmor reveals with honesty the construction and process of her artistic practice, a testament to photography’s history as a medium of experimentation and continuing innovation.
Glossaries is not only a presentation of both these artists’ collages. Both also present sculptural works that become object lessons in positive and negative space, blurring the boundaries and definitions of photography and sculpture.
Contrasting with Talmor’s sculpture are Hannah Hughes’ ceramic and paper porcelain pieces. Small and delicate in comparison, these constructions remain close to the walls, sitting atop thin wire supports, lying flat, or staged on ceramic sets that, at times, feel reminiscent of a painted scene by de Chirico. These works fluctuate between the sculptural, the pictorial, and the written. Originating from cardboard packaging designed to protect goods from impact, these forms are the embodiment of negative space rendered positive. However, it is their positioning that ties them beyond the mode of simple sculpture. Some lie supine, suggesting artifacts to be studied, or perhaps a form of text. Meanwhile, other sculptures seem more at home in the image world; much like her collages, they suggest full circumnavigation without allowing it, peeling and lifting from the apparent picture plane, offering viewers an experience somewhere between the two dimensional and three dimensional. In much the same way that we become self-aware when viewing Talmor’s sculpture, we identify in ourselves our own physicality in relation to these pieces. Our changes in body position when attempting to gain a more comprehensive view of the works turns the focus onto our own movements.
Glossaries opened with a series of Glyphs illustrating the meeting point between two artists’ works, and whilst this language is the crux of their collaboration, I can’t help but feel much of this exhibition is beyond words, beyond my capacity to describe or translate it. Instead, it’s a show that requires a physical co-presence with the work, to see it in situ and to allow your body to experience as much as the eye does.
Glossaries at Sid Motion Gallery, Penarth Centre, 24a Hatcham Rd, London SE15 1TR
2 December 2022 – 11 February 2023
All installation images courtesy of Elliot Mickleburgh.