Spike Island

Reviewed: The outline seems indelible

A group of Spike Associates travelled to Plymouth earlier this month for the opening of Associate member Hannah James’ solo show, The outline seems indelible at The Gallery, Plymouth College of Art on Wednesday 6 February. Associates coordinator Lucy Drane shares her impressions.

This is the inaugural exhibition to launch the South West Showcase, profiling three artists selected from an open call in the region. Hannah James and Bryony Gillard, both Spike Associates, are two of the three artists selected and were each awarded £2,000 to produce a solo exhibition of their work in the gallery.  

The exhibition opened with an in conversation between Hannah James and writer and curator Isobel Harbison, who Hannah met during her residency at Standpoint Gallery, London in 2011. The title of the show is taken from a passage in La Jalousie, a short novel written in 1957 by French writer and filmmaker Alain Robbe Grillet, that describes the squashing and killing of a centipede. In the novel, the act becomes a repeated motif within a fragmented and anachronistic narrative, re-performed over and over. The imprint that the creature leaves on the wall, after its death, is obsessively depicted for the reader throughout the novel.

On the gallery’s main wall, a striking wall print dominates the length of the room: an ambiguous form in green, the protagonist’s imprint against the surface.

On the opposite wall of the gallery, the artist presents two pairs of framed photographs; to the left, two perspectives of a screen-like structure sit within an interior space, in part both industrial and domestic (Domestic Interior, 2011–2013). To the right are two framed photographs of a Barbara Hepworth sculpture within a domestic garden setting (Barbara Hepworth, Cotham School (2012–2013)). Accompanying these two sets of images is an audio piece played through a radio. The sound piece presents the artist describing her relationship to the images, how they came into being (made and found) and how her perceptions of both the photographs and the experience of them have changed over time. 

A 35mm slide projector sits on the gallery floor to the right, showing twenty slides rotating continually. The images flash up on the wall momentarily, depicting reproductions from books and postcards of seminal 20thcentury paintings. The title of the work, Selected Interiors, Cotham School (2012–2013) suggests the images have been used for educational purposes and an amateur photographic shoot: visible hands hold down pages, a patterned tablecloth as backdrop. 

In the centre of the gallery a pair of tables support two large frames of black and white photographs, 2003, 2008, 2010 (2003–2013). Presented in this way, the images can be read, frustratingly, from any angle resulting in an uncertainty over their desired orientation. Images of a skateboarder overlay or underlay documentation of the artist’s previous sculpture, alongside common scenes of birds in flight, hot air balloons and canoeists on a river. By chance, the same photographic film had been used by three different individuals, including the artist who plays with the outcome of a serendipitous coincidence to address ideas of multiple authorship. 

A second audio work also permeates the space, but is this time placed at the other end of the room in front of the large window looking out over Plymouth’s city centre. The outline seems indelible (2013) again features the artist’s voice, but in this instance she is reading extracts from La Jalousie. The audio removes every section of the novel in which Robbe Grillet describes the centipede, either its killing (through being squashed) or the stain it has left on the bare wall. Like 2003, 2008, 2010, there is an endless sense of frustration in this piece as it repeats and loops continually, seeming to be both somehow the same and different each time.

This thoughtful and introspective exhibition collects the artist’s recent thoughts and resources that she has gathered over time. There’s a confident departure from the formal sculptures of recent years and a more personal narrative than we’ve seen before, a subtle nod to a quiet turn in the work.

The outline seems indelible continues to Friday 1 March.

Hannah James is currently studying on the MA Fine Art course at the Piet Zwart Institute, Rotterdam. She will be presenting new work in a solo exhibition with Cole, London in early 2014 and is represented by CHERT, Berlin.