Rosalind Davis at John Jones Projection Space, London
31 July - 24 August 2009
Reviewed by: Andrew Bryant
In her recent exhibition at John Jones' Projection Space, Rosalind Davis reveals herself to be a visionary artist of sensitivity and complexity. Her mixed media paintings of dystopian landscapes incorporate embroidery and floral-print textiles from the 1970s. Both Oedipal and phallic, they conjure up a claustrophobic world of the uncanny.
Davis sources her images cycling around run down urban areas with a camera, photographing post-war social housing. The failure of social housing projects is the failure of modernity. This decaying architecture once signified a phallic phantasy of ascension; the sky is the limit for a technologised world. But our masculinity led us astray here, and we are now only too familiar with the consequences.
In these paintings it is not just the masculine that gets conflated with the failure of the modern project. Davis transposes her photographic images, via paint and embroidery, onto vintage floral-print textiles so that what was once inside – curtains and upholstery, the maternal and domestic – gets turned outward. Garish floral prints infect the sky, sickly blooms of Oedipal desire colonising everything, creating a claustrophobia born of nightmares. That these fabrics were originally intended to ‘cover’ items of furniture or shut out the light is significant as now they cover the sky, and what they ‘shut out’ is the potential for any desire other than that sanctioned by mother.
But the colonisation starts further back than this. Fashion, as Herbert Marcuse has indicated, is propaganda for the capitalist world and these fabrics are already an industrial interpretation, an appropriation of femininity and motherhood for the mass market. Indeed it is only through the process of painting and embroidery that Davis offers a glimmer of hope. Granted, painting has long been part of the commoditisation of art, but the stuff itself – paint – remains what it has always been: coloured mud, and an engagement with it as a painter is an engagement with irrational, irreducible otherness, that which resists colonisation and interpolation.
Embroidery has a complex history. A handicraft, it has connotations of femininity, domesticity but also of reparation. Historically, women used embroidery to commemorate death. Images of the deceased, dried flowers and embroidery were combined in a kind of collage. If painting resists the aggressive colonisation of modernity, could it be that embroidery represents a desire to repair the damage, to ‘make do and mend’?
Artist and freelance editor living in London
John Jones Projection Space
4 Morris Place, off Stroud Green Road, Finsbury Park, London N4 3JG