‘Unreal’ is an exhibition of contemporary photography exploring its uses beyond mere factual documentation, presenting the work of three women artists for whom photography is a tool for imaginative creation: Emily Allchurch, Liane Lang, and Suzanne Moxhay.
Emily Allchurch’s artworks reconstruct historical artworks as collages of thousands of her own photographs. The works in this exhibition come from two different series. One is her latest Tower of Babel, reinterpreting an 1836 painting by the architectural illustrator Joseph Gandy, that visualised the tower as a layering of historical styles: Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Gothic, Persian, South Asian and Chinese. Emily updates this with elements of Art Deco, Neo-Classicism, Palladianism, Greek revivalism, Chinoiserie and Postmodernism photographed around England, retaining the original spirit of Gandy’s creation but with references from our contemporary moment. An accompanying pair of works form part of her Arts Council-funded project ‘Mirrored cities’ which combines imagery from either end of what was the Silk Road, drawing symmetries between ‘West’ and ‘East’. The compositions for Mirrored Cities I & II are inspired by Italo Calvino’s Valdrada in his novel ‘Invisible Cities’, where two cities reflect each other above and below the water. Emily’s mirrored architectural scenes of Venice, and its counterparts in China’s Suzhou and Fenghuang, display the common features of globalisation and mass tourism that bind both ends of the Renaissance trade route.
Liane Lang’s work revisits her series Glorious Oblivion of statues to historic women, using both humour and melancholy to undermine the cool distance and neutral gaze of the white marble monuments. She uses figures she has moulded herself to create a new, more intimate experience of the austere statue. In this exhibition two monochrome works on opalescent paper delve into the collection of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. A phantom hand delicately touches a marble Sappho frozen in contemplation; Penelope sits amidst an array of sirens in the museum store room, the artist proposing an unexpected sisterhood. The large work here, Spectres at the Old Bailey, invents a visual memory of the statue of Queen Mary witnessing the 1973 IRA bomb attack. Hand-painted shards of glass scatter like an imaginary cloud, puncturing the austerity of the building with an image inspired by empathetic projection. The shard is also a feature in Stone Statue (Sarah Siddons) an image of the glamorous actress’s Marylebone effigy printed onto a rough fragment of quarried stone, symbolic of the making and unmaking of memory and legacy.
Suzanne Moxhay’s images present poetic scenes where nature has overrun civilisation. Highly detailed and beautifully lit, each is composed of myriad diverse photographic sources that Suzanne collages to develop her seductive compositions. Within her works there are always hints of its unreality: a mismatched sense of scale, full-grown trees sitting in living room corners, doors ill-fitted to their frames, or interiors overgrown with external flora. And yet, despite it all, the decadence of Suzanne’s scenes makes her viewers complicit in the conceit. This exhibition presents her most ambitious work to date: a deeply intricate woodland scene, burgeoning with palms, fronds, and tree trunks with an air of dense humidity. Leaves fall and moths flutter, suggesting a moment frozen in time that is impossibly lush and eerily quiet. This sense of the uncanny permeates her smaller works, with a dilapidated hallway leading onto an ever expanding forest and a cabin glowing in the dead of night by a lake. Overgrown and uncertain, there is a psychological resonance in her cryptic yet beautiful world: of neglected corners of the mind unvisited, left to the mercy of the elements.