In the artist’s first exhibition outside London and one of entirely new work, Jessica Rankin threads a needle between serendipitous encounters with artefacts of Greek legend, second-hand book stores and reflections on childhood in a remote Australian landscape.
Opening at Touchstones Rochdale from Sat 21 October 2017, Stone/Folding sets new watercolour, needlework and collage side-by-side to express the artist’s two-year journey into a personal past, the physical and emotional power of art objects, aspects of female relationships and meditations on the nature of collective identity in this era of splintering communities.
Stone/Folding premieres a new series of work, the origins of which can be traced back to Rankin’s encounter with the Parthenon Sculptures during a visit to The British Museum, falling under the spell of one particular piece believed to depict the Greek goddess, Aphrodite and her mother, Dione. Completely captivated by the sensuous nature of the piece, a woman laid across the other’s lap; the artist’s initial assumptions were complicated by the discovery that they were mother and daughter.
It was a fact revealed almost two years later in the legendary New York bookshop, The Strand, as a book, Treasures of the British Museum, opened without persuasion at a double-page photograph of the sculpture. The fortune that linked that moment to her experience in London was not lost on the artist.
Studying the photograph further, the aesthetics of the carved drapery, the folds of fabric that described the reclining women struck Rankin as resembling a landscape.
The interpretation of the bodies as a landscape can be clearly seen in the Rochdale exhibition, both in monochromatic line drawings and embroideries, each open to interpretation as winding, remote paths leading to towering peaks, traces of complex, geological diagrams of charted territories or even traces of constellations of stars in faraway galaxies. Traditionally identified with ‘feminine’ pursuits, Rankin has returned to the needlework skills she’d learned as a child in Australia, engaging in methodical and repetitive tasks that allow her mind to wander and the work emerge as ‘brainscapes’ that recall time, experience and landscape, whether rooted in reality or imagination.
The unplanned encounters that gave rise to the ideas inherent to Stone/Folding not only took Rankin to Athens and the Parthenon itself, but also to further reflect on her relationship with her mother, a poet who passed away when she was a child.
A person who found solace in books in her youth and maintains an unavoidably intimate relationship with literature, Rankin weaves samples of classical Greek texts that reference to Aphrodite – a goddess with two, distinct birth-origins (one of the ocean, the other of a woman) and, as a result, wildly diverse characteristics – poems written by her mother the poet, Jennifer Rankin, and fragments of her own writings into both paper and textile-based works. The work draws further attention to the complexities of femininity, the depiction of women through time and the ties that bind or create division.
Visiting Europe during a period political change and spending time at cultural sites that still claim ownership to treasures acquired during a time of empire and subjugation of native people, Rankin’s work provides pause for thought on colonisation and present day attitudes to borders, nationality and territory, as societies in powerful nations turn away from each other and those considered ‘foreign’.
Mark Doyle, Art Gallery Curator & Collections Manager at Touchstones Rochdale said:
“Jessica’s work in textiles has clear relevance to the North West of England and Rochdale with its own, considerable history of not only industrial production, but the role of women in creating the environment and workforce for the region’s economic success. That Britain required the resources of overseas territories in the growth of cotton and the provision of labour during that time ties into the artist’s comments on empire and the acquisition of property by dominant powers. Such lines of enquiry are timely, with Touchstones separately exhibiting work that focuses on the effects of industrialisation on art, quite specifically the treasures acquired by wealthy merchants from other cultures.
“Not overlooking the fact that Rochdale is a ‘Brexit Constituency’, her work is at once complex, exploring many urgent, local and international themes and yet has extreme grace and tranquillity. Depth is further achieved using a range of materials and techniques, using intricate craft skills at the same time as the dextrous brushwork evident in a series of vivid watercolours.”
Echoing the importance of language in her practice, Rankin has also invited the critically acclaimed poets Amy Key, Sarah Howe and Brenda Shaughnessy to explore and connect with both her work and the Parthenon Sculpture that provided such considerable inspiration.
Their words will form part of the exhibition display and also be performed at a special live event organised in conjunction with the Rochdale Literature & Ideas Festival at Touchstones on Thu 19 October 2017.
Stone/Folding is part of Touchstone Rochdale’s Contemporary Forward programme, is presented in association with White Cube and has been generously supported with funding from Arts Council England and the Friends of Rochdale Art Gallery
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