Within which all this is suspended: Acts of betrayal
22 March - 10 April 2021
"Within which all this is suspended: Acts of betrayal" is the title of Holly Graham’s installation at Robert Young Antiques, the ninth in a series of Contemporary Collaborations, showcasing works by emerging artists, exploring relationships between historic and modern works of art.
Nowto find you outto gesture in your directionmake clear what was occludedvisible what is unseennavigatedampened particles
The work takes as its departure point a collection of RYA weathervanes. Holly was drawn to the history and symbolism behind different weathervane motifs – from the trope of the cockerel with its roots in prophetic biblical narrative, to the design of full-sailed galleon ships with their ties to navigating oceans, and to the simple form of the arrow with its links to gesture and direction. As instruments, the weather vanes embody practices of reading across temporalities, charting pasts and predicting futures, signposting, way-finding, and truth-telling – methodologies also employed in attempts to extract and reconcile histories. Holly draws these thematic threads together with lines of existing research and thinking within her practice, to consider ways in which colonial histories puncture through space and time to inform the present.
The title of the work references writer and cultural theorist Christina Sharpe's writing of black life lived in the aftermath of slavery, charting lines between histories of enforced colonial migrations and contemporary structural racism experienced in the present. She frames this through metaphors of ‘the hold’ as the hold of a ship, ‘the wake’ as the path carved out in water by a vessel’s movement, and ‘the weather’ as the environment all this is suspended within – a ‘total environment’ which continues to exist as anti-black. Shapeshifting and amorphous, the weather forms a backdrop, a context. It saturates the air, becomes the air. It circulates, and continues to be part of what we inhale; to then be breathed out again in a slightly different configuration of particles. The weather is often quiet, as atmosphere; nigh imperceptible, as we swim in it. And yet it is forceful, and its effects are displayed in the movement of those it displaces, the silence of those it subdues.
Holly is interested in these signifiers of the weather’s presence, in instances that betray the direction of wind, amplifying the muffled reverberations of violent past events. In a text written for the show, the ‘acts of betrayal’ in the work’s title carry multiple frames of reference – passive and active. They exist simultaneously as performances of incidental truth-telling and involuntary evidencing, as in the pivot of an arrow, or the local Battersea geography with a history of industry and sugar production signposted through street-names; and also as acts of betrayal with intent, as in that signalled by the cock’s crow, and as U-turns in migration policy from ‘Rivers of Blood to Windrush Scandal’.
In the Robert Young Antiques gallery window, the text exists as translucent, floating vinyl on glass; as the negative space of a patinated copper plaque; and as layered hanging prints on silk. The ballad is suspended, etched, and draped among a network of copper pipes, a leaky system plumbed into the space. In the centre stands an arrow form weather vane, pointing to a north wind. Carved from oak, and mounted with copper, the piece employs the use of sturdy and non-ferrous materials, resistant to the elements; historically used for ship-building, and also used for the construction of weather vanes. As part of the commission, Holly has invited her sister – musician, LEYLAH – to develop a responsive audio piece to accompany the visual works, accessed via a QR code on the window. The audio draws together layered vocals, glass singing, samples of water movements, and fragments of the text, conjuring an atmospheric and immersive sonic space, that echoes the questions posed by the visual elements: Amidst a polluted and murky total environment, thick with muted, exploitative, and tangled histories, what testifies to – betrays even – the prior existence and lasting legacy of these events into the present? And what futures are there in such weather systems?
Thenwhat climatewhat atmospherewhat circumstantial frameworkwhat hostile environment
Listen to Holly's Audio Clip Here
Holly Graham is a London-based artist, working predominantly with print and audio. Much of her work looks at ways in which memory and narrative shape collective histories. Holly holds a BFA from Oxford University and an MA in Printmaking from the Royal College of Art. Recent solo projects include commissions with Gaada, Shetland (2020); Goldsmiths CCA, Online (2020); and Southwark Park Galleries, London (2020). Holly is Head of Artist Development at Turf Projects, Croydon, and is Co-Founder of Cypher BILLBOARD, London.