"a series of harmonious separations" a review of Laura Phillips' solo show
‘I felt like the sound of a harp’ is a bright and sensory exhibition of work by Laura Phillips. It is made up of lively fabric banners and a three-channel-film that features textures, symbols and historical footage that tells the story of an institute where laughing gas had once been tested.
Three fabric banners emulate a path that takes us from the entrance of the gallery to the centre of the work. It is here that ten fabric banners stretch out from floor to ceiling, with a series of three-channel 16mm videos. Each banner is the unique outcome of collaged printing and dyeing processes, where scissors, wheels and abstract patterns are awash with buoyant blues, greens and yellows. The banners billow and overshadow with their grandiose stature and energetic colour; the response to which seems to be both perplexity and excitement.
Phillips’ work provokes some audible responses questioning her printing techniques and the work invites glances back-and-forth from film to fabric. The simultaneous coordination and fragmentation of the work make it feel like a series of harmonious separations. The fabric banners compliment one another with subtle nuances of colour and symbol, and the mixture of old and new within the film has a dream-like, non-linear beauty. The banners stand apart, polarized, and the three-channel-videos display a similar distance. The screens are separated not only in space but in synchronisation; one screen plays the voice of an elderly woman over an image of rotating scissors and the other, a deep orchestral noise that is accompanied by a damask balloon. Here, physical space and unpredictability deny any sense of wholeness and instead, the work inspires a response of disconnection and of awe; confirmed by some of the quizzical and dazzled responses around the room.
One banner in the left corner stands out. It is the furthest from the other work and looks bluer and more vibrant than the other pieces. The fabric is mottled with shades of deep, bright and aquatic blue and printed with moire patterns, wheels and slivers. At the bottom corner sits an X-ray-like handprint which feels like a touch of individuality among odd shapes and symbols. The handprint re-appears on several banners, chopping up the sense of individuality it first gave off and dividing it between each piece. It also has a synesthetic quality that tangles touch with colour and sound. It seems somewhere along the lines of how the person who ‘felt like the sound of a harp’ may have felt.
Turning the heads of the room, a high-pitched “ooh-ing” sound emits from a speaker as if demanding the attention of the room. Suddenly, each screen synchronises to show a dwindling human figure, obscured by ethereal pinks and blues and whites. The harmonious, soft-hued glow that leaves each screen deviates from the otherwise dark and fragmented series of clips. The blues match with the fabric banners and it feels like the climax of the film, as if everything is being pieced together.
Of course, the image of the human figure fades and the screens return to fragments of scissors and wheels and raves but this does not stop the moment from feeling profound. And as the final piece of pink and blue-hued footage fades, with a teasingly brief moment of harmony and familiarity, Phillips sends out a gentle reminder of the precariousness of life and of our identities.