An Exhibition at Stills Gallery, Edinburgh by Kate Davis
Kate Davis is an artist with a wide range of skills including drawing, photography and film making, all of which are used in her solo exhibition at Stills Gallery in Edinburgh. She is a feminist and uses many archival images to engage her audience with her ideas. Her website says ‘Davis’ artwork is an attempt to reconsider what certain histories could look, sound and feel like. This has often involved responding to the aesthetic and political ambiguities of historical art works and their reception.’ (Katedavisartist.co.uk, 2017).
The exhibition consists of a space that is divided up by brick walls, which themselves are part of the experience. These are hung with images developed from found photographs that are subversive and also amusing. The first is a nude statue with added glasses. You then enter a space which shows two alternating films, ‘Charity’ and ‘Weight’, and on searching further past another wall more images. The exhibition is accompanied by an essay by Laureen Dyer Amazeen who says ‘As I reflect back on her use of bricks throughout the installation, the brick can be seen of fundamental value. Foundations are built, brick by brick. Metaphorically, the excerpts, references, extracts, snippets of recorded everyday experiences are the bricks though (from) which she builds a premise, a dwelling – a place in the world.’ (Dyer Amazeen, 2017).
Writing for MAP magazine Victoria Horne comments ‘Visitors to Nudes Never Wear Glasses are welcomed by a found photograph of a classical nude statue, to which Davis has added the eponymous glasses, crudely scratched onto the surface. This act of détournement re-presents Spence’s words as visual prank: playfully exposing the contradictions between body and intellect, femininity and rationality, that have underpinned modern art and its institutions. That the statue is clearly located in a pedagogical studio environment adds weight to this critique, intimating by association the educational logic that prohibited women artists from entering the classroom, while glorifying abstract femininity within. The photograph thus establishes key feminist themes that characterise much of Davis’ output, preparing visitors for the witty archival retrievals to follow.’ (Horne, 2017).
‘Weight’ uses a BBC documentary on Barbara Hepworth as a starting point and looks at the perceived roles of woman and how they can be balanced against the intense life of being an artist – or can they? Which is more valuable? Again, in MAP, Horne describes it as ‘Adhering to the leisurely pace and formal conventions of the BBC documentary format, Davis comically undermines this familiar style from the outset. Against the dated sounds of folksy guitar music, Weight’s opening title sequence ambiguously locates the study in ‘1961 or thereabouts’. At the same time a platter of dramatically staged potato peelings revolves on a turnstile, further alerting the audience to the strange reversals to come……One of Weight’s key contributions is to highlight the uneven appreciation of domestic care work in comparison with the solitary, creative pursuits of the artist.’ (Horne, 2016).
‘Weight’ is available to see on BBC iPlayer at:
‘Charity’ is a newly produced film that talks about the work of women in bringing up children, specifically in breastfeeding. It recently won the Margaret Tait award. On receipt of the award Davis said ‘Working with the moving image has become an increasingly important part of my practice in recent years and the Margaret Tait Award will be invaluable in enabling me to realise my most ambitious and experimental moving image work to date. Inspired by the ways in which Margaret Tait’s films invite us to contemplate fundamental emotions and everyday activities that are often overlooked, I propose to investigate how the essential, but largely invisible and unpaid, processes we employ to care for others and ourselves can inform both the subject of my film and the way it is made’ (Glasgow Film Festival, 2016). The film intersperses archival images of painting and statues of breastfeeding women throughout the ages with pictures of ordinary household practices such as washing up. I found it fascinating but difficult to decipher whether it was talking about mothers breastfeeding their own children or wet nurses doing a job. Clearly that was at least part of the point – is looking after your own child a job, should you have a contract and join a union – or is it an expected part of being a woman?
When you turn and leave the exhibition the last image you are confronted with is another altered image. This time of a man, a Minuteman, which has been altered to look as though he is breastfeeding. A final comment on roles – and possible role reversal in the present age.
This is a powerful exhibition, although it does warrant close study. I initially went with my daughter who was too impatient to sit though the films and left wondering what it was about. I then returned with more time to sit and think. This made me realise that so often I just rush though an exhibition – taking in the highlights, missing the subtleties. The use of found and then altered images pointed up how we should/can/might change our viewpoint in life, thinking about gender stereotypes, women as housewives not intellectuals or artists, men as soldiers not carers. It also reminded me of the use of walls, to divide things, to hide things, to separate people. I was recently at Hadrian’s Wall, built by the Romans to separate civilised land from the wild North. One of the exhibitions in Tullie House Museum, Carlisle looked at the theme of walls in present day society (Tullie House, 2017). This exhibition is about walls between men and women, between traditional roles and expanded or reversed roles but a wall remains a wall until it is totally removed.
BBC. (2014). BBC Arts – Weight by Kate Davis – BBC Arts. [online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/4wkNLQBpFhTC8yXyxlZYqJD/weight-by-kate-davis [Accessed 11 Sep. 2017].
Dyer Amazeen, L. (2017). Nudes Never Wear Glasses.
Glasgow Film Festival (2016). Artist Kate Davis Announced as Winner of 2061/17 Margaret Tait Award.
Horne, V. (2016). The Weight of History | MAP Magazine. [online] Mapmagazine.co.uk. Available at: http://mapmagazine.co.uk/9935/weight-history/ [Accessed 11 Sep. 2017].
Horne, V. (2017). Nudes Never Wear Glasses | MAP Magazine. [online] Mapmagazine.co.uk. Available at: http://mapmagazine.co.uk/9991/nudes-never-wear-glasses/ [Accessed 11 Sep. 2017].
Katedavisartist.co.uk. (2017). About: Kate Davis. [online] Available at: http://katedavisartist.co.uk/about/ [Accessed 11 Sep. 2017].
Stills.org. (2017). Kate Davis: ‘Nudes Never Wear Glasses’ | Stills Gallery. [online] Available at: http://www.stills.org/exhibition/current-exhibition/kate-davis-nudes-never-wear-glasses [Accessed 11 Sep. 2017]
Tullie House (2017). Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery | Art – History – Nature of Carlisle, Cumbria. [online] Tulliehouse.co.uk. Available at: http://www.tulliehouse.co.uk/ [Accessed 12 Sep. 2017].