The fourteen photographs comprising Eileen Quinlan’s new work are displayed in two rows on the back wall of the Campoli Presti gallery in London. Closely grouped instead of being spread out in the large space, the photographs act like visual magnets. I am therefore drawn into the dark compositions. Once I have reached and faced the work, I look around, and I am relieved that the wall behind me has not been covered by other pieces. This feels already too overwhelming in its simplicity, beauty and abstraction. Beyond the aesthetic of Quinlan’s work, the narrative of the process increases my curiosity and interest.
The artist shoots deliberately under the constraints of her studio. This new work contains some of the nudes she has been creating since 2014, after she became consumed by time and space as she knuckled down to the realities of motherhood. The scenes of the photographs have been set-up in the intimacy of her own bathroom. Another relevant back story helps place the viewer in a detailed setting. The content reflects the novel Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe, in which a man ends up being trapped in a sand pit, under a dune. This notion of being fearlessly confined, fuelled by the obsession to escape is inherent to Quinlan’s set-up. She has gathered her own body pressed up behind the glass of a shower wall, wild nature, thunders, the galaxy, and the sand as clues to decipher her art.
The basic, black and white shots strike me with their bold simplicity yet the suggestive movement inhabiting each of them invite the viewer into a meaningful conversation. Seemingly, the ambition of Quinlan is to aim the viewer’s tactile senses which are being forsaken to the detriment of phone screens, images, and virtual information. Is it possible to trigger a sense by activating another sense, in this case touch by sight? The artist attempts this process by utilizing photography. By entering the surface, and engaging with the content of each photograph I can plunge myself into my own vision of the story related by Quinlan. Some of the forms I see and envision are redundant and can be grouped according to similar perception. There is the body, circles and waves. My imagination is manipulated to keep still in a defined perimeter, some will appreciate such a constraint, while others might find it oppressive. Two photographs share a common theme: an obvious motion which has become chaotic. The rendering resembles a film with fingerprints and traces of sand grains dragged in muddy water.
In the end, the exhibition is reminiscent of a puzzle. Each piece gravitates around a shape, a sentiment, and therefore if identified correctly, the wall of images eventually leads to this deeper level, where touch and sight merge. I would like to be able to dig my hand into the sand and reproduce the waves. Will this aspiration become reality? Probably not. If I am still contemplating physical contact on a virtual level, I am conscious that touch is lacking my real life. How do I bring it back?
Dune Woman: Eileen Quinlan at Campoli Presti (1 June – 22 July 2017)