The Degree Show
mother of pearl has been put to work
production line iii
This time, from an offshoot of my dissertation, I have focussed in on the physical agency of the material I had to hand – the pearls, abalone/mother of pearl, shells and tubes and symbolism associated with the material. I have bolstered the reading of the space with moving image and sound from a fixed screen source and a freer projection. I have also infused extra written layers to guide the viewer if they want. Some excerpts of my research are included as a booklet within the space.
The text accompanying the work in the space:
“In pearl farms today, freshwater mussels are put to work by artificial induction. Dead mussel tissue is inserted into the living to produce pearls (involuntary cannibalism?).
The foreign tissue irritates the fleshy mantle of the mussel and incites the creature to release nacre – liquid mother of pearl.
This magical iridescent substance coats the irritant continuously until it sets and hardens to form a pearl. This practice exploits the mussel’s natural immune system and the resulting pearl can be considered to be a beautiful type of scar tissue – evidence of survival.
I have produced a body of work with this in mind and liken the mollusc to systems, cultural behaviours or assumptions relating to the feminine. The work attempts to question the historical associations of the pearl with femininity as well as the commodification of various natural substances, female sexuality and reproduction.
The brutality of the work reflects my own experiences and interpretation of navigating through a male-dominated landscape. It examines the oppression of gender construction, objectification, coercion and control and I’m attempting to interrogate this dynamic that pervades on a personal and societal level”.
A zine for the degree show
There are various components within the installation that I’ve developed:
A doorway with circular cutouts –this imparts a sense of a saloon door – entry into an adult space, suggestive of the explicit, erotic. The cut out convey voyeurism and hopefully invite, intrigue and being to engage the viewer from outside the space. It’s quite interesting to view the elements of the space from outside and through the windows. In case you feel self-conscious about entering – a peep show type feeling. They were developed in case I needed to build my own interactive wall for the show. I abandoned this idea recently as it was restricting my creative process. It felt too tight.
Objects – genuine pearls (‘low quality rejects’ sourced from a Chinese pearl farm) assemblages, latex pearl skin, bagged pearls, shell fragments, tubing, eye pieces and peepholes. The latex skin could reference the internal female flesh or matter. The question I the work is around the meaning of the pearls themselves. are they individuals? Are they by-products? Are they precious? Are they a result of an immune response – formed by invasion of an irritant? Are they eggs? Do they represent fertility? The vagueness leaves the work very open to personal interpretation and the installation can reference or suggest a few different things – reproduction, fertility, exploited feminine, eroticism commodified, abstract production lines.
The Pearl flesh/skin is seen splayed, stretched and at breaking point to suggest exploitation, brutality, forced – the other wall mounted piece is in contrast withered, wrinkled, old and unhealthy looking, spent, worn out and rotten. There is a tube that seems to suggest its leached out the goodness from the sample and its pearls have been collected and harvested in the large glass vessel below. The glass vessel bellows outwards like a pregnant abdomen. Its transparency imparts the intrusive forays into the female reproductive systems. As does the transparency of the tubing that transports and processes the pearl specimens. The pearl skin that has been tied and constricted with a yellow zip tie again suggests asphyxiation, choking, fresh, live export of the pearl flesh. The bagged pearls could reference commodity, sold by the gram, low-quality remnants. The pearls are being harvested and are soon to be judged, valued and superficially labelled. Will they conform? There are also discarded empty shell fragments and used skin remnants on the floor.
The eye piece peephole embedded into the wall shows us a magnified view of the abalone/mother or pearl that I photograph and printed onto the silk fabric in the space. This fabric was filmed floating in the breeze and is projected into the space. The eyepiece invites closer inspection and serves to allow the viewer to discover the connections embedded in the work – to convey a sense that things are being observed, examined, processed into other forms, scrutinised and judged. It suggests lab experiment and this is bolstered by the footage of the Frankenstein-esq creation of the Maria-bot in Metropolis.
Projection – light filling the space and reflected into dark corners to illuminate and highlight certain objects – cast shadows, add depth and subtle extra layers. The projection imagery is free from the screens – it has broken out and is affecting the space in a beautiful, uplifting way. The footage on the projection is the free-floating silk print in nature, being carried and floating on air currents – even though it’s still tethered it has the freedom to be itself to some degree – to be beautiful and exist on its own terms. I have restored the fluidity of the mother of pearl through printing it onto silk and releasing its form to the elements. I have liberated it in some way.
The colour and light of the projection offsets the dark tones of the work and its presence is reassuring and hopeful. Even though we are all trapped within these systems and structures, we can find light, colour and positivity and this can affect and reveal other structures (as emphasised by the reflection of the projection onto the sinister elements on the space). Things are not in the dark – we can challenge and shed light on the exploitation of others. We can protest and enact change.
The Japanese silk digital print. The image printed onto the silk is a macro-photograph I took of the abalone fragment I have. The print has captured the iridescence of the mother of pearl and represents a captured feminine aesthetic that has been emphasised, promoted, used, displayed – in similar ways to animal skins – taken, used for a particular aesthetic. The original abalone fragment is viewable through the eyepiece embedded within the wall of the installation. Again, this represents a captured feminine aspect or beauty and has been forced into compliance- into a hole through the wall – pulled and placed and used. Trapped but silent and graceful.
Infinity egg object. A conceptual piece. The reflection of the infinity illusion penetrates the viewer and imparts a sense of complicity, involvement or inclusion into the work. It could infect the viewer with its imagery, light. I like to think of it as a form of fertility entity. The illusion of infinity, of fertility, of lineage or ancestry – how we fool ourselves into believing the human race is infinite.
Moving image – Video collage – this works on a few levels – there are 3 separate monitors all playing similar but different footage and the duration of each video work is different – this means you never have the same combination of videos playing at the same time – this random/chance element always excites me and I’m happy to have introduced this freer element within the piece.
The clips vary but there are a few examples of appropriated footage from the internet and also the film ‘Metropolis’ – scenes where Maria’s strength and feminine essence is transmitted into a robot. I also used the scene where the Maria robot is performing before a crowd of lustful men – seducing them with her brazen sexuality. I also found footage of a girl receiving a mail order freshwater pearl mussel that she unpacks and brutally breaks open to ravage the pearls within the creature – termed ‘shucking’. I also appropriated footage of an internal camera filming male ejaculation as well as a brief scene from Blade Runner where the Geisha billboard advertises and promotes the contraceptive pill.
The found/appropriated footage reflects the hyper-saturation of the media-driven world and feels apt for the installation. The milky substance viewed on the ejaculation clip could be read as a release of nacre – protective, or sometimes you can read it for what it is – a sexual release. I really enjoy the multiple ways the work can be read, depending on what other clip is playing alongside. The effect is subtle and understated and it requires the viewer to spend quite a bit of time with the work to glean this.
There are clips of myself handling and ‘processing’ pearls that I captured during my time in Back Lane West and pulling the silk fabric through a tight hole. I captured sounds of these moments and they play out in the space. They serve to connect the objects with the video work and infuse a layer of mixed realities – questioning the boundary between real and media mediated life on screen. It reflects the idea of the constructed identities that dominate and influence our behaviour and thinking. The control medium – how we are so comfortable and familiar with the screen and moving image – grown up to trust and gain a sense of normality when we see a screen – it’s weirdly reassuring but when the content is unsettling or incongruous, our readings become skewed.
The audio layers also behave like the video screens – variable with differing combinations of sounds playing out. This random element reflects life where you cannot always recapture moments, relive them, go back. The variation reflects the variation in materials in the space – also between each pearl, humans and cultures. Sometimes the combinations may jar, be incoherent, other times they will seemingly harmonise, and the moment will feel right or make more sense. Again, this aspect reflects how our perceptions can shift depending on certain factors at that moment – blink and you might miss it. The sounds present in the work are quite unsettling – shearing sounds, cutting, impact, brutal, harsh, mournful, melancholic. The serve to imply the inherent darkness in the work
I suppose the viewer is being asked to make associations between the varying moving imagery and the objects within and around the space. I wonder if I’ve expected too much from an audience here. I’ve attempted to punctuate the imagery and sound and have built the installation with an assumption that a viewer may spend anything from 2 to 10 minutes with the work, taking their own interpretation of the space with them. There are a few elements to take in and you can either appreciate the colours, light and aesthetic for what it is or look deeper into reading the objects and draw correlations, links etc.
I have also incorporated aspects of the work spilling out of the white cube space. I would’ve liked to have explored this more and in the future, I would like to play with ideas around containment, entrapment, leakage, infiltration. It can work well with the concept around the irritant – uncontainable, ever present.
This is definitely work in progress and the manifestation of my ideas that I have installed for my degree show really feels like a snapshot of my enquiry. I condensed it and tried to focus on a specific aspect for the sake of installing a more coherent show and to make use of the intriguing materials I’ve accrued over the past few months. My aim was to generate a mood that hovers between sinister, beautiful, uplifting, and dark – to draw a viewer into a fluctuation of responses and curiosity. It can be an active piece, or you can take it superficially for the aesthetic it can generate. It’s not an entirely comfortable piece – the audio prevents this and the darker scenes that interject to offset any ease the viewer may slip into. I like the contrast and the fluidity of the mood on the space. I felt the most successful element is the random combination of moving image and audio – it means there is never the same combination of imagery and the readings can shift from moment to moment. I also find the colour palette settling and calming – soothing – like the feminine – the pinks, green, turquoise, blues. The AV content again offsets this tone as well as the tubing penetrating the walls and suggesting violation.