Elizabeth Price: New Whitworth Exhibition Creates A Story Within A Dream

‘IN A DREAM YOU SAW A WAY TO SURVIVE AND YOU WERE FULL OF JOY’, the current central exhibition at the Whitworth, Manchester, is Elizabeth Price’s profusely original feat of curatorship. Claiming herself that she approaches the curating of an exhibition in a similar way to which she would create art, this becomes perfectly clear upon visiting her exhibition and reading her elucidations.

Art history, social commentary and aesthetic exploration meet and meld in the new and intriguing exhibition curated by Elizabeth Price. The conflation of ideas and concepts essential to the collection of works mirrors the artist’s approach to her own artworks, which she creates using a combination of sound, text and images that are both moving and static. In this particular exhibition she applies her method of fusion and combination enormously, using ‘objects that manifest a horizontal composition, or express horizontal states’ to create a survey for works that exemplify this broad category, while simultaneously weaving a ‘story’ stemming from the social and creative history of the horizontal within art. The lengthy title, ‘IN A DREAM YOU SAW A WAY TO SURVIVE AND YOU WERE FULL OF JOY’, is indicative of the story-like narrative of the exhibition and again reveals Price’s joined and bonded style as the title is borrowed from the work of Jenny Holzer (which also features in the exhibition). 

Ambitiously, Price does not settle for simply creating a survey that unfurls into a story but also states that one of the overall objectives of the exhibit is that in its entirety it should evoke the effects of a dream. Some might say that pursuit of three objectives within one exhibition has resulted in a confused and muddled result, but the detailed essay provided by Price makes clear that this confusion is more or less intended as the exhibit’s aim is to follow the ‘slippery, 

fugitive logic of dreams’.

The exhibition has been skillfully arranged in a form that resembles a procession through episodes of endurance, resistance and finally joy and exuberance within a dream. The dreamlike quality of the exhibition allow it to escape the monotony of being limited to a survey of horizontal composition as the ‘promiscuous logic’ of the dream permit it to abandon the categorical constraint and allows the exhibition to climax in the theme of dance. Before this culmination however, Price leads the viewer through ‘sleeping’, exploring its implications that range from leisure to vulnerability as well as ‘work and ‘labour’ directly through art mediums and unremittingly austere landscape and before ‘dance’ she explores ‘mourning’ primarily through funerary art. A particular advantage of Price’s hybridist approach to arrangement and collection is that the viewers of the exhibition are exposed to a vast assortment of art that spans over centuries, ranging from the ancient and chilling Sepulchral Effigy of a Lady to the giddiness of The Serpentine Dance by The Lumière brothers. There is a profound dichotomy created by placing such contrasting types of art in such close proximity; The DEMO TOURING TEENAGERS piece by Carter on Saturday’s is a work fundamentally dependent on the playfulness and interaction of children, the sound of children laughing and picking apart the Berber carpet central to Carter’s installation in the same vicinity as hauntingly somber funerary art such as Snowdrift by Edward Onslow Ford creates a disconcerting otherworldly atmosphere.

While it may be easy to pigeonhole Price’s exhibition as merely a innovative but wholly aesthetic exploration of horizontal composition within art, there is definitely a substantial political dimension to the exhibition that is felt more tangibly when visiting the exhibition than when reading the book that accompanies it. The inclusion of YBA artist Gavin Turk’s Nomad, a vagrants sleeping bag cast in bronze and painstakingly painted in extreme detail, powerfully conveys the vulnerability of those who must sleep unprotected by property as the piece occupies the floor space between numerous hung photos of rough sleepers provided by the likes of Yto Barrada and David Goldblatt. Price’s use of these artists’ creations to communicate this uniquely vulnerable but ongoing part of our society is perhaps one of the most politically and emotionally charged parts of the exhibition. New Stone by Katrina Palmer a piece included on the peripheries of the exhibition, and excluded from the book expounds a more broad kind of social commentary. Palmer’s work, a large installation made from writing in marker and chalk is inscribed directly onto the wall of the gallery, indicating that Price’s exhibition has succeeded in dominating the space in which it is displayed not only visually and sonically but also physically. The art itself is simply a long passage, questioning what our society is truly made up of by musing about what would be left in the archeological sense millenniums after our civilizations are gone. Price’s arrangement of works does succeed in subtly holding up a mirror to the viewers own human nature and role in modern society and so there is (to quote the curator herself) an ‘emotional coherence and political purpose’ to the exhibition. 

The largest triumph of Price’s exhibition is its accomplishment in gently pushing the boundaries of what it means to curate as a form of art and not just an arrangement of art. Price within ‘IN A DREAM’ provides a beautiful example for the relatively new denomination of artist-curators to follow by making bold decisions but achieving a subdued effect. One of these ‘bold decisions’ was the pioneering choice to layer art in the same way an artist might layer paint or mediums as she places Carter’s DEMO TOURING TEENAGERS piece on top of Vito Acconci’s sloping piece of architectural carpentry which he entitled Seedbed. The effects of going ahead with this layering are numerous and largely subjective, but the main effect is that two pieces of art are fused and so become an entirely new piece of art that the curator (Price) has in a sense made. The combination of so many similar and contrasting works gives each piece of art a new meaning within the exhibition, allowing each artwork to deliver a new message. This is the true ‘joy’ and success that is to be found in Price’s work, the fact that she has taken a collection of somewhat loosely collected pieces of art and created a way for viewers to see them in an utterly new light. 

Words: Obiora Elliott, member of the Whitworth Young Contemporaries Photo: Elizabeth Price Curates The Whitworth by Michael Pollard 

IN A DREAM YOU SAW A WAY TO SURVIVE AND YOU WERE FULL OF JOY is curated by Turner Prize-winner Elizabeth Price  10 June – 31 October 2016 The Whitworth

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