All Visual Arts’ cavernous new Kings Cross space recently played host to two works by different artists, brought together to create a happy yet unsettling dialogue. Alice Anderson’s Fort-Da comprises a towering wooden bobbin wrapped in fist-sized ropes of gleaming red hair, one of which escapes the coil and dangles in the air draped from a ceiling strut. Kate MccGwire’s work Corvid writhes on the floor, a mass of crow feathers tessellated over a smooth muscular body.
Formally the conversation revolves around tangles, curves and abstracted bodily parts. Emotionally these works hum with symbolisms and associations, stirring up discomfort as powerful embodiments of compulsion and repetition.
Both artists are renowned for their repeated, almost obsessive, use of one material. For MccGwire it’s feathers of every shape, colour and size. She uses these to cover the surface of her sculpted forms which typically leap or pour from fireplaces and corners of rooms or are contained, paralysed, in glass vitrines. Her work is instinctive in its play on bodily creases or crevasses, abstracting these to both attract and repulse the viewer. Corvid is a vast version of this. Its intricate and infinite twists and turns
are a perfect combination of the poetic and panic-inducing. Her use of crow feathers, a bird associated in folklore with thievery, renders the work a manifestation of a dark state of mind straight out of Dostoyevsky.
Alice Anderson’s work is intensely autobiographical and her sculptures repeatedly feature red doll’s hair of a shade identical to her own. With this she threads spider webs, models fetishistic dolls, festoons rooms and wraps buildings. Fort-Da has evolved from the story of Freud’s grandson who would play a game with a wooden reel which he would throw over the wall of his cot and pull back in using a still attached thread. In Freud’s view this was a game to allay the anxiety of the absent mother. Anderson played a similar game as a child, and in this version the compulsively wound hair is a way of facing the angst she felt at her own mother’s absence. Anderson was shuttled between parents living separately in France and Algeria.
Both works seem to feed into feminine tropes such as sewing and weaving. These ‘hobbyist’ pursuits, handed down through generations of women, and practiced repetitively, were adopted into psychoanalytic theory by Freud into which Anderson inserts her own story or selfhood. For MccGwire they act as a departure point for distributing formal abstractions which touch on ideas of the ‘uncanny’. Both works are about transformation. For Anderson the transformation is of the body into symbol. McGwire touches on the ancient fascination with winged humans standing between animal
and man, and the contemporary discovery of the chemical keratin which links hair to feather.
This is an imaginatively curated exhibition, in which two artists, both alike in spirit, have been brought together to realise large scale works in tandem. Whilst they may not be speaking entirely the same language, the riff and play of allusions, textures and formal qualities is an aesthetically interesting experience. I look forward to the evolution of their work, especially as these two pieces feel like they may stand at the pinnacle of each artist’s current practice. Natasha Hoare