Two summers ago, I was sat at a table in a Sea Cadet hall on the Kent coast, sharing bread and wine with friends and strangers. The moment was memorable for being both strongly immediate and simultaneously somehow timeless. Tonight there is also bread and wine, faces familiar and new, but the setting and context is different: a wet winter night, a gallery space, a vitrine filled with a clay landscape strewn with bone, shells, leaves, and incense sticks. Both occasions were instigated by the artist Hannah Lees.
Hearing Hannah talk about the red wine sediment she used as paint on the gallery’s white walls, or the bones found in the Thames and used as vases in the vitrine, gets me thinking about how rare it is to come across someone so vested in and attentive to materials, to texture, viscosity, density, colour, and flavour, as well as historical association and symbolic potential.
Rare too is the opportunity to experience an artwork with roots in performance or in the organisation of a shared temporal space for a second time. Memory and recurrence, perhaps already latent in the work as enablers of reference and style, become explicit and thematic. Time is drained like a glass of wine, but the important things keep returning to the surface, and the sediment and the detritus are put to new uses.
Hannah Lees is hosted by Grand Union in Birmingham from 12-15 January 2016 at the invitation of Recent Activity (Andrew Gillespie and Andrew Lacon), as part of their project Nomadic Vitrine.