Hannah James: The Outline is Indelible, Exhibition Talk

Having studied and graduated in recent years in Bristol, Hannah James is a relatively new artist on the contemporary art scene.

James initially worked in sculpture, creating simple structures out of basic materials, with viewer interaction an important element to her creative process.

In her current exhibition ‘The Outline is Indelible’, Hannah James has shifted her artistic inclinations and has resulted in a mixed-media exhibition of print work, photography and audio-work, the latter a medium previously unknown to her.

Writing and thinking are a strong counterpoint to her visual work, very much in the way of photographer Sophie Calle, where the thought processes and journey to a works creation can often out weigh the presented final work. This new disciplinary interest, has lead James to appraise sculpture work in a new light, treating them more as props within a greater scheme of work. James does not present her sculptures, only the documentation of their existence.

It is the process of creating documentation, through photography and sound that has been James’ recent captivation. She is increasingly interested in the way such mediums create a mediation or filter between the viewer and the original subject of the work, one that can be manipulated by the pieces creator. Audio work holds particular interest over the artist for the way it both relates to and documents time.

James presented and discussed the work in the exhibition piece by piece. First for discussion were two small framed photographs with accompanying audio and juxtaposed with a small slide projector, placed understatedly in a nook of the gallery space.
Fig 1. Slide projector, displaying the history of art

This section of the exhibition held the strong presence of the gaze of another,it explored the use of material ‘curated’ by another, namely from a secondary school that James worked in for a short time. She was interested in the obsolete items of a school setting, and retrieved the slides and the projector as well as a photograph of a sculpture by Barbara Hepworth when the school was clearing out. Though the authorship is not known, James guesses they were compiled by a teacher for learning purposes, possibly during a holiday to travels. This to I, as a viewer, makes the ‘filter’ of another all too apparent, and makes strong comment on the changing styles of education, rules and regulations have taken away the personal touch teaching once had, a sentimentality which is certainly seen in the hand collected slideshow.

Displayed next to the Barbara Hepworth photograph was a photograph of James’ own making, of a screen she observed during a residency in London. Though the screen was not of her own creation, it reminded her of work of her own. The piece discusses what it means to own something and how a connection or relationship is struck with an item over time.

The same mantra James’ photograph discusses was put to the test with another of her works, a series of frame photographs laid out flat on a table. (the artist intended to give the piece a sculptural quality) An accident led to a double exposure, with the dual image of James’ documented work and an unrelated skater performing stunts. Frustrated at the unexpected result lead her reject them for several year, but as time passed, she began to appraise the images in a new light. She enjoyed the way in which the skateboarder looked disorientated within the space and the multiple authorships the photographs unintentionally held. Their layout on a table intentionally encourages misreadings as they can be viewed from multiple other angles instead of the one deemed ‘correct’.

Fig 2. Hannah James’ sculptural table work

The third and final ‘section’ of the exhibition was by far the largest and was inspired by the 1957 book, La Jalousie, by Alain Robbe Grillet, which added yet another ‘author’ to the exhibition. The book is strange in construction, it is set in a house and time continuously shifts with out delineation so a sense of time passing is lost. The book is highly descriptive in nature and a particular moment of interest to James was a moment where a centipede was crushed on a wall. Due to the shifts in time within the novel the creature seems to be endlessly resurrected and destroyed.

Fig 3. Large scale wall print, evocative of the centipedes demise

The audio which accompanies the large wall print is James reading each section from the novel pertaining to the centipede. She intentionally place it near the window, as she liked the idea of people zoning in and out of her words and losing track of time themselves. The two audio pieces of the exhibition intertwine within one another, adding texture to the exhibition and giving James’ work much more of a physical presence.

Hannah James has made large scale wall prints of a similar style for some time, causing her to think greatly about the meaning of space, imprinting them directly upon the gallery walls means their lifespan is limited, which again encapsulates an element of time, and lifes temporary state. The markings upon the wall were made via cardboard cut out, and were inspired by the centipede but do not reflect its form directly, James only wished for it to allude to the creature. The size of the print, in a sense gives the work an element of performance, almost as though the viewer is a detective perusing a crime scene.

Overall, having spoken to Hannah James herself, this exhibition was greatly enjoyable. It explored a vast use of medium, and seemed created by an active and engaged artist, filled with curiosity towards the world.

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