Claire Harvey [UK]

Then and again

location: hall 90 b, shipyard

On long daily commutes to/from her school in London, British artist Claire Harvey would translate curiosity about fellow commuters into quiet, reticent portraits drawn upon small glass slides. These drawings have since migrated across equally fragile ground (such as scotch tape, sugar cubes, post-it notes and mylar transparencies), but her figurative language continues to be intimate, anonymous and searching. As her imagined characters perform activities that are alternately ordinary and extraordinary – often with little to no context outside a cast shadow – Harvey explains, “I’m interested in the construction of micro-narratives and how they provide portals through which we can peer into a complex world.” Yet at the same time Harvey draws us into the confines of her enchanted microcosm, she lays bare the architecture of her illusion – allowing seams to show, cords to collect, and machinery exposed. The multiplied usage of said material/s as practical agent, conceptual support and compositional element has become characteristic of her work – translating “low-tech,” transient surfaces into a fleeting reflection of the lives they hold. Like the film stills and newspaper clippings from which the majority of her characters (and scenes) are now derived, she elaborates, “I’m following ideas that are ephemeral…actions that have passed…moments that have gone and the accumulation of particular acts.” The works that follow are subtle, partial and whispered – immersed in small, seemingly insignificant moments that linger on the horizon of meaning and memory.

With every new inhabitant and event, the silent, cumulative archive of built space adds new spirits and stories to its collection. In Hall 90B of the Gdansk Shipyard, one can feel, if not necessarily see/hear the many indelible moments (i.e. Walesa scaling the perimeter wall) when man collaborated with architecture in the manufacture of history; where space became both the conspirator and composer of memory’s sculpture. This particular hall lingers in an in-between, post-Communist state: renovated and updated from its industrial beginnings, but still carrying the air of the workers (and the name of Lenin) that once lived these walls. Harvey’s site-specific installation marrying images and overhead projectors seeks to unearth those whispers – translating her small drawn figures into life-scale (and beyond) apparitions. Orchestrating light and shadow to stage their settings (and suggest motion), she skillfully transforms dull “relic” projectors of a pre-digital age into evocative magic lanterns. Like a cinematic excavation this work is silent movie and stage set at once, employing a myriad of walls, columns, boards and surplus construction material as her makeshift screen/s. The piecemeal nature of the ensuing composition/community speaks to process and contingency, turning the geometries of construction into the frames of nascent storyboarding. Akin to peering into the windows of an apartment block – or (re)arranging the pages of a disheveled book – Harvey imagines enigmatic, but no less intriguing scenarios of an ephemeral place that shimmers hauntingly in its reflection of ours.

Moreover, we become part of this parallel universe as our shadows move through the space and comingle with its characters – enacting a fragile animation with no discrete frame. Without clear narrative orientation, in the complex relationship between shared space, physical proximity and chronological distance, Harvey cobbles a meditation on our elusive relationship with history. It is simultaneously near and far, familiar and foreign, close enough to touch, yet forever outside our grasp. Walking through this arena of manifest memory and phantom strangers, our connection with the past becomes more immersive than informational; more experiential than directional; more felt than known.