You Get What You’re Given is a 3-day exhibition taking place under the Hoxton arches on Cremer Street. The space is intimate and is shared by three artists, Catherine Borowski, Olivia Hegarty and Lee Baker. Two of them, Hegarty and Baker, are present and open to discuss their work, answer any questions, and reflect on the interpretation one might have whilst viewing their work.
The arches make the space warm and cozy despite the cold hurling from outside. As I walk towards to first set of Baker’s paintings I get warmed up by the tonality of rose, blue, and ochre. They are small squares hung on the wall and framed in an unexpected manner. Oversized white borders frame each painting, leaving an extra space of 5cm around its edges. The pieces depict decrepit wall-paper hanging from brick walls, and every two pieces a clean brick wall which stands out from the rest.
I have the feeling these dilapidated landscapes could symbolize a state of mind, the snapshot of difficult times. Perhaps the clean, pure, untouched brick wall is reminiscent of a past life that is now gone? Or maybe it represents a life that is yet to come? The duality between the old and the new, the past and the future sparse with melancholia, is ubiquitous and speaks loudly.
We feel trapped in the frame, at times caught by a glimpse of hope when we encounter a window and stairs. Broken and half-drawn, disillusion arises, as both lead nowhere. The feeling, even more palpable in the following installation, of being lost in time is anchored in the pieces and reflected in ourselves.
A used mattress hangs off from a wall along with crates, plastic bags, and used fabric. The painted flower on the mattress addresses the notion of aliveness. Nothing is totally lost and there’s hope, even in precarious moment. I wonder if the mattress was used by the artist. Luckily he is present, so I can ask him this very question. The answer is yes. This mattress, an everyday item now immortalized by Baker, used to be slept on by himself and the wife he left.
We pursue a conversation about the following series of paintings. Some of them use the same kind of flower as the one on the mattress. The artist references as a spiritual inspiration the Japanese aesthetic of “Mono No Aware”, the celebration of impermanence of beauty. A concept which implores us to understand the transitory nature of things with a sense of beauty and finiteness. The paintings depict glowing flowers laid on faux-concrete canvases. Baker explains that he is fascinated by what can be transformed from found objects. The “canvases” are the product of his imagination and creativity. This adds a deeper dimension to the pieces which are already filled with dark colors. Sections on the surface appear to have been burned and contrast with the presence of the flowers.
One painting in particular holds my attention. In “Setsunai”, a pale rosey flower faces the burned part of the faux-canvas. Immersed in greys, the landscape feels at first sad and doomed to destruction and ashes. A strong symbolic emerges: the one that life can be facing death and still shine, hope, and breathe.
In the middle of the room stands a massive number of pylons next to a woman’s wardrobe. These are Catherine Borowski’s installations behind which hides a breathtaking story. The one of her mother, a Muslim woman who recently passed away during a pilgrimage to Mecca. Her mother’s body remains in Saudi Arabia in a cemetery only accessible to Muslims. Borowski, not being Muslim herself, has no right to visit her mother, nor were she able to attend the funeral. She will never be able to physically feel her mother’s presence again.
The grieving process the artist had to endure, seems to have been dismantled. Yet, Borowski is able to reconnect with her mother’s wardrobe and the last items she used before leaving. Upon seeing the wardrobe and the garments it contains, I feel that I have gotten closer to Borowski’s mother. I try to imagine who this woman is, without even knowing either herself or her daughter. The link between the two souls appears powerful and frail. It is strong in space and time, and fragile in reality.
Does getting close to the body of a departed loved one is as important as getting close spiritually, owning thoughts, and cherish memories? These are the questions that come to my mind. From a couple of clothing pieces hanging from the rack, a whole other perspective has now opened.
Moving back inside the Hoxton arches, I cannot hide my admiration for the work of Olivia Hagerty. A multitude of forms made of filo paste hang from the ceiling. Some of them have crashed and now lay on the floor. What could have possibility turned perfect fragile shapes into crumpled remains? The artist is here, fixing some of them. She is in the middle of the battlefield. As I wasn’t certain, I ask her if people are able to walk around. She says yes, that’s why so many of the forms are destroyed.
We talk about the implication of such an installation. Hegarty raises the question of the individual facing the collective, and the interaction between one another. The theme of the exhibition was also a reflection matter: how can we change what has been given? How do we make into something else? During a recent trip to a refugee camp, she says she felt astonished by the similarities strangers who don’t share the same customs, culture, and religion were able to express with one another. Her background as a menswear designer handling fabric enables Hegarty to drape her thoughts and beliefs into unexpected and spirited humane experience.
The artists, who as I understood, all know each other quite well, inspire change; whether within oneself, towards another human being or a collective of undefinable individuals. Borowski, Baker and Hagerty lead in their own way, whoever is willing to question and defy what has originally been given to them.
You Get What You’re Given underneath the Hoxton Arches (Nov 17th-20th 2016)