Eli Acheson-Elmassry’s recent exhibition is entitled ‘Family’ and represents a stunning visual manifestation with three dimensional forms and paintings exploring the theme of the family with an uncomplicated and thoughtful installation. The gallery has a theatrical feel with lighting from stage halogens spotlighting the forms dispersed across the space. The works are fragile skin-like latex forms that seemed to drift and glide, evoking previous incarnations and leaving fragmented moulds in marvellous hues of green, purple, yellow and orange. These are fragmentary cut-outs, torn and broken, creating memories of previous people and places; parents, home, growing up, all features of the life cycle reincarnated as spectacle.
These fragmented skins are essentially floor bound, spreading perhaps like seaweed across the high-tide beach but also raising themselves spectre like to evoke their original state. The ladder is leaning against the wall and the wheel barrow almost back to being a container; the workbench is upright, a ghostly illusion of itself. The paradox is the absence of the object. The very thing we are contemplating is not there; it can only really be imagined as part of an unreal scenario. Like a dream, the work is out of kilter with reality and the poetic oddities and dilapidations register with force through collective presence.
The suspension of the fragments of objects is integral to the meaning; the ascension of the past life and the necessary redefinition of the memories. The fragile latex forms are reinvented in the space exploring the interplay between actual mass and perceived weightlessness. They have a ghostly and dreamlike quality emphasised by the opaque soft latex and as apparitions from the perhaps uneasy subject matter of family, collectively shrug off self indulgence with straightforward humour and directness.
Acheson-Elmassry is skilful in creating a psychological space for the work that permeates the spectator's perception. This is done by activating the space with collective form. Muñoz and Abakanowicz, both figurative sculptors that Acheson-Elmassry references, explored the space around groups of figures and the collective figurative form. Juan Muñoz has described the importance of place and floor, the architecture behaving as a backdrop to the figures. Acheson-Elmassry cites Anthony Gormley's 'Field' and Cornelia Parker’s ‘Cold Dark Matter’ as seminal individual influences. Perhaps other contemporary artists to mention here are Laure Prouvost who references her fictional grandfather to create scenario and Rachel Whiteread, working on a formal level, with the space around the object. With this series, Acheson-Elmassry talked about again considering the work of Louise Nevelson whilst working on the moulds of domestic objects and describes the importance of revisiting and redefining influences.
It is impossible to look at these works and not imagine the tool or the loaf of bread and reflect on someone’s home; in this case the objects are from Acheson-Elmassry’s family home on Anglesey. The installation is a collective form creating a chapel-like experience, spiritual and ceremonial.
The soft ghostly forms are a metaphor for the cycle of life. They are recognisable as familiar things, tangible within the mundane world and transcendental of the physical. These forms have at their centre a void, an object of the imagination; we as viewer are left to reconstruct the situations. The work is more than physical presence, it operates with different connections and meanings as we are able to engage with poetic traces, illuminated and suspended in the space like a specific moment akin to the action in a photo or painting being stopped, frozen in time.
We discussed the object and the absence of object, the use of moulds and looking at them separately but also looking at them as a collective form because they are traces of things, they are recognisable forms but at the centre the object is not present.
In de-solidifying the object because they are now gone or going, they are traces, memories, and spirits. The de-solidifying involves the process of taking a mould of the original object. In taking a mould of the piano for example, many hours are taken to remove the rich dense kelp coloured skin. The pigment runs right through the latex and is an essential part of the opacity and feel of the delicate skin-like forms. The colours of the original object are referenced, but colour is also symbolic, as in the yellow table. It then dries.
There is strong engagement with materials evident in the work and the visibility in the installation of the process of making. As such the use of latex references a contextual realm of contemporary practitioners ubiquitous with the dialogue of materials taking prominence and moreover with artists that have integrated the singularity of such materials into their final pieces. The material latex draws comparison with Hesse’s use of tensile material and Bourgeois’s mouldings for sculpture and garments.
Similar to Hesse and Bourgeois, Acheson-Elmassry’s work has to be disassembled and reassembled for exhibitions anew reinforcing the importance of the process of its making.
The objects are selected as necessary players in the journey unfolding; a transformative episode in a stage of life. Shifting through objects Acheson-Elmassry carefully selects those items with specific meaning and metaphor. The meaning is in relation to the artist and those close in the present and those separated and gone, particularly the parents whose house the artist now lives in. Our identity, she reasserts, is through relations to others present and absent and the objects that fill our time and space become points of reference and measurements of our life cycle.
The piano can be discarded after the mould has been taken; it has reached its zenith and from now on exists as part of the art form, the stuff of recollection and reconstruction. We are left with a narrative of the original form, a recreation of a personal dialogue with objects. Recognisable but enigmatic, Acheson-Elmassry leads us to a different reality, a surrealist place that is richly enticing yet unsettling. The object traces are not alone there is the figure that grips and moves defiantly over the relics and traces of memories.
Bold and forthright the figure is reminiscent of figures familiar from ancient Egyptian murals and reliefs. Acheson-Elmassry is familiar with Egyptian contemporary and ancient visual art. These influences have fed into the work and informed the stances. in some of the work. It is a forthright metaphoric figure; it climbs the ladder, watching over the transformative nature of the life cycle. The figure is also autobiographical, it expels the unwanted, pushing the white garden chairs away forever.
The figure, Acheson-Elmassry insists, is both he and she, a metaphor for the person of the moment. Interacting, sitting and moving, in and around each work this small, out-of-scale figure conducts us through this story of life. At times the figure is both child, even baby - like in the birth channel - like wheel barrow, and a powerful adult pushing the white metal garden chairs away into the final sea of memories. The figure, our symbolic narrator takes us through the story of life and is ultimately the residual survivor amongst the weightless sea of relics. But these are not traces of objects drifting dislocated in time and memory, these are now players in a narrative, a story of the present and the future.
Autobiography drives the work. But there is a difference between autobiography as content and as a force for motivation. ’Family’ offers up a tension between chaos and order, rationality and irrationality. The forms reference objects and function through collective installation. They work like paintings, the medium Acheson-Elmassry also uses. The forms have a fragility and poetry that operates as a composition across the space of the gallery. There is a graceful order in the visibility of the process: organisation and orchestration: rationality competes with irrationality in the evocation of the family.
Talking About ‘Family’:
Acheson-Elmassry at the Ucheldre Centre, Wales.
Solo Exhibition November 2013
Andrew Smith, Bangor University.