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Where's the frame

Maribelle Bierens & Bella Bonner-Evans

March 6, 2023 5:43 PM


SKIN DEEP, opening at STUDIO WEST this Friday, explores a new way of looking at the body in contemporary art. It examines the body as a vessel through which we experience the external world and also as a blank slate into which all our experiences are inscribed. The exhibited works offer glimpses into the artists' personal experiences and psychological states while exploring the potential for emotional catharsis through creative practice.

Serpil Mavi Üstün, Screen Time I, 2022, Oil on Canvas, 80 x 60cm. © Courtesy of the Artist and STUDIO WEST

The exhibition presents a visual extension of the age-old psychotherapeutic talking method - a notion predicated on the idea that to name one’s trauma is to heal it. Revisiting this historic approach to treatment, the exhibition contends that through painting rather than telling their experiences, the artists may find routes to healing. In addition, through grouping together a range of figurative paintings, the exhibition begins to tell a myriad of personal stories in dialogue with one other. The narrative becomes less about the individual and instead the story forms in the connections between the works. Collectively, the works on show paint a complex picture of modern life, complete with its many physical and mental hardships.

Alice Miller, Blue Like Fire, 2021, Oil on Wood, 8 x 6cm. © Courtesy of the Artist and STUDIO WEST

Looking at two pieces of literature, the exhibition connects Bessel van der Kolk's 'The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma' to Melissa Febos' book 'Body Work: The Radical Power of Personal Narrative'. Van der Kolk posits that our bodies are the key to getting better: they can carry with them the tales and changes of our past. The politics of remembering is written on our skin, filled with demands from our family and the things we have received from them. In her book, Febos questions how much an artist should reveal of their own personal feelings and emotions in their art, who benefits from their story, and who owns it. 

Naila Hazell, Holding Vitality, 2022, Oil and Acrylic on Wooden Panel, 95 x 125cm. © Courtesy of the Artist and STUDIO WEST

Eliciting a visceral response, the eleven exhibited emerging artists all approach this theme in a different way. For these artists, the body - in whatever way it is represented in the art - becomes a way to explore and make sense of personal pain. The exhibition strongly focuses on this idea, with the artworks repeating this message and giving the viewer a sense of life coming from the pictures.

Nina Baxter, Can We Bridge This Chasm (Part I), 2021, Oil on Canvas, 50 x 60cm. © Courtesy of the Artist and STUDIO WEST

The exhibition seeks to question how much we can know or understand about another. It allows us to be a part of someone's personal story and recognise the emotion, hurt and uncertainty involved in our daily lives. It encourages us to connect on a deeper level with the artists on show, allowing us glimpses into moments of turmoil, trauma, vulnerability, and doubt. The exhibited artists re-claim their authority by presenting their stories in their own voices. By transforming the self outside of the self in their creative practices, the artists reveal the potential for art to alter both their own perception of themselves, and our collective perceptions of one-another.

Participating artists: Ada Bond, Alice Miller, C Lucy R Whitehead, Iga Bielawska, Ki Yoong, Moussa David Saleh, Naila Hazell, Nina Baxter, Preslav Kostov, Serpil Mavi Üstün, and Sophie Milner. 

Cover image: Alice Miller, Blue Like Fire, 2021, Oil on Wood, 8 x 6cm. © Courtesy of the Artist and STUDIO WEST

SKIN DEEP is on view from the 11th of March from 6.30pm (PV at the 10th) until 5 April 2023. For more information visit Studio West’s website

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