(selected by Sean Edwards)
Screen #3 (super 8), 2010
Artist Sean Edwards describes his encounter with Hannah James’s installations, which use minimal forms to explore space and how we approach and inhabit it.
The sculptures of Hannah James could be seen to function not as finite sculptural objects but rather as propositions of potentiality. Initially presenting themselves graphically and formally to the viewer, perhaps they could be seen as propositions towards an image.
The central concerns for James are not only of space, that of the object and the viewer, but of the image in opposition to the object. She has cited that the desire is to play the image and object against each other as antagonists, the one consistently undermining the other, through our understanding of each in space. The image construction that James sets up becomes ‘compromised’ as we shift our position, the sculptures oscillating between image and object, two dimensions and three.
An overriding concern in the practice seems to stem from an exploration of ‘front’ and ‘back’ and what exactly this means to sculpture. The front, often a hand-painted graphic or a casually printed ink-block image, pertains to the landscape/cityscape, whilst the verso offers up the image’s construction, whether it be from an ‘A’ board, an old table or sheets of plywood. When glimpsing an early work like ‘Triangle’ (2007) from behind it is hard to tell whether the image’s support is found or made. Certainly the smaller piece that holds the dishevelled checkerboard graphic, its varnish having yellowed with time, seems to belong to some previous existence as part of an ‘A’ board. Understanding of the sculptures comes through a negotiation of/with them.
The strength in the sculptures comes from James' generosity in the reliance on the viewer to activate them. In fact, it is in this process of negotiation where the ‘work’ itself lies. In the installation ‘Screen #1’, 2009 at Chert, Berlin, we enter onto what appears to be the back stage. We see a screen, constructed from thin sheets of ply, the large structure resembling that of a dressing screen that forms a barrier to the rest of the space. Light is glimpsed above and through the joins in the screen, flickering as we move around it to reveal a space beyond. Curls of peach paper hang from the top as if discarded clothing.
In the second room of the gallery we see what lies beyond, another screen made from the same sheets of peach paper, this time suspended from the ceiling. The sheets casually fall together to present the hand-printed forms of a mountainscape, receding into the distance, creating a graphical representation of three dimensions.
The former screen now stands behind us on an elevated platform appearing like a stage. Yet the front of this first structure presents the same as the back, the discarded sheets hanging over once again. Having positioned us between both screens, between the object and the image, and uncertain as to the front or back, James creates a place of uncertainty: a place of potential.
Since this work the primary output of James's sculptures has been entitled ‘Screen’. The most recent is a 35mm slide projection showing 10 cropped viewpoints of a large wooden structure. A choreographed journey starts behind, moves towards, around and finally in front of the structure, where we see an abstract ink-block image on the plywood face. It is the stillness captured in each image of ‘Screen #3 (Slide)’, 2010, combined with the lost peripheral information which we would normally gain in the navigation from one viewpoint to the next, that directs our reading of the architecture of the sculpture to the architecture of the space, as we attempt to gain a sense of the three dimensional. The bare floorboards of the space direct our attention through and invisibly beyond the cylindrical screen that stands before us. In another image we glimpse the recurring triangle prop that turns a freestanding sheet into a picture plane. Triangles of light pierce through the structure in the next image, and the next reveals a dark printed mass on the opposite side of the boards. On the penultimate slide, that presents our step from the back to the front, we catch sight of a black cat moving between the structure, caught in time crossing this threshold as ourselves. This small moment of action disappears in the next and final slide as we face the structure’s Rorschach test-like printed surface. We are finally held in front of the ‘stage’ awaiting, or perhaps instigating, the next piece of action.
Sean Edwards, July 2010
Hannah James (b. 1985, Nottingham) studied BA Art and Visual Culture at the University of the West of England, Bristol (2004-07). Alongside her practice as an artist, James is involved in curating, collaborating and writing, as well as organising exhibitions and events, both in the UK and abroad, and working with a broad range of practitioners.
Recent curatorial projects include Rhys and Hannah Present, a nine-month artist-led project housed within a Victorian Arcade in Bristol’s Broadmead Shopping area, hosting a series of exhibitions, events and residencies with Rhys Coren in 2008, as well as Central Reservation, a collaborative project with Lucy Drane and Jane Porter, which made use of 10,000 square feet of space available in a disused motorbike showroom located in Bristol's Stokes Croft. During the four month programme over nineteen exhibitions, events and performances took place, ending in July 2010.
Selected recent exhibitions include Artissima Art Fair, Turin, Italy; Drinnin and Draussen, Chert, Berlin; ‘The decade 2010-2020’ – The museum as hostage to fortune, curated by Endless Supply, a group show including John Baldessari, Simon & Tom Bloor and Will Holder, The Pigeon Wing, London; Curtain Show, curated by Gavin Wade and Celine Condorelli, a group show including Tacita Dean, Douglas Gordon and Lilly Riech, Eastside Projects, Birmingham (all 2010); Screen, Chert, Berlin (Solo); Spacioux, group show including Gerwald Rockenschaub and Cady Noland, Lambretto Art Project, Milan; For Real, Commissioning Bay, Spike Island, Bristol; Poster Show, Tulips & Roses/Chert, Vilinus, Switzerland; SALE, The Royal Standard, Liverpool (all 2009); Cloud, Beechcroft Space, Bristol (Solo); The lamb’s mother in the crèche?, Chert, Berlin; OPENENDED, Rogue Studios, Manchester (all 2008); Build me a monument, Jamaica Street, Bristol; Bloomberg New Contemporaries, The New Art Gallery Walsall, Club Row, London, Cornerhouse, Manchester (all 2007).
Upcoming shows include OPEN/CLOSE, Cardiff, and a solo show at Chert, Berlin in early 2011.
Hannah James is based in Bristol, and is represented by Chert, Berlin.