Hannah Starkey, celebrated British contemporary, is currently exhibiting a collection of photographs that from the entitling: ’Twenty Nine Pictures,’ would seem fit for a mindless assortment, and yet this retrospective is a highly cohesive, well-formed and prima facie, thematic show of stalwart pictures.
As an important aside, before I launch into an account of the artist’s work viewed at the Mead Gallery, (as I fear I shall never return from the black hole of shear enthusiasm), it is first right that I attribute praise to the curator - Diarmuid Costello, who has laid out a logical and assessable exhibition, with potential to appeal to all….
The work of Hannah Starkey is both charming and thought provoking –something I consider a rare combination. It supersedes contemporary standards for these documentary scenes are neither detached, nor forcefully controversial for the eye. These qualities I find to be the two greatest flaws in work of the moment; that the world can be made to appear utterly hostile via the representation of human indifference, or confrontation. Neither of these properties produces pleasant work, even if they are ‘challenging.’ In opposition, here is a body of work that still oozes intelligence and a newness that contemporary art aims always to achieve.
The twenty-nine pictures are unashamedly composed, expressing the refined beauty and skill the photographer possesses in constructing an aesthetically pleasing, steadfast shot. This is not just the ability to take a striking, accurately focussed picture; it is that which must be held by artists of all descriptions – to lay out colour, line and form across a space in places and of quantities that construct commanding harmony. Starkey introduces patterns into a setting that compliments its reading by the viewer. Primarily these are well-positioned forms that echo shapes throughout - these are highly rhythmic pieces. And in being such, they feel alive, subtracting from them the potentially suppressive atmosphere provoked by her subjects’ melancholy.
In being so formulated, they are playful because close-to all contain artificial subtleties. This becomes a game for the audience – to detect the deceptive element in each photograph by closely observing the patterns weaved into the pieces seen before.
Frequently, Starkey plays with the relationship between the foreground and background, suggesting consequently how the figure feels a part of the natural (of urban) world. This is when a mirror gains creative potential, such as in Untitled, January 2001 and Untitled, September 2008 (seen above.) The detachment is not deep enough to dampen our visual senses - we still feel involved, engaged, interested.
In Untitled, August 1999 (also above) it is a reflection of other sorts – two women stand apart from each other, beneath a spotlight. To their side, a couple of shadowed figures, which appear very similar respectively to the pair, are engaged in friendly conversation. This is to me, a beautifully expressed comment on the pair’s relationship, that is then only further enhanced by the whole photograph being split into two distinct horizontal areas, one sourced by outside light, one lit from the room behind the curtain.
Hannah Starkey’s ‘Twenty-Nine Pictures’ is an effigy to artistic tools used to their greatest potential. She crafts into of a scene: a narrative without saying anything, emotion without attending to the face, and beauty without a banal assemblage of beautiful things.
You’ve just missed the opening! Fortunately this exhibition will be held until 12th March 2011.