Leeds Art Gallery
curated by Sarah Brown
review written by Chris Fite-Wassilak
for Art Monthly Dec-Jan 2014-15
‘I sing the body electric’, Walt Whitman wrote in his untitled 1855 poem, revelling in the wonders and glories of the human form. He lists all the parts of the body, calling on each in turn before concluding enthusiastically, ‘I say now these are the soul !’ What’s interesting is the way in which he talks of the ‘meat of the body’ before making his claim, that it needs his somewhat distanced stock-taking list of our physical lives before nominating it as ‘sacred’. His florid language almost hides the Frankenstein-like idea that lurks behind the poem, which casts us as flesh puppets animated by some sort of divine projection. The argument could be made that a projection of this order takes place any time we engage with a work of art, investing and imbuing it with our own schemes, and three shows in Leeds, Sheffield and Wakefield share a preoccupation with mapping out what happens when we try, as it were, to make bodies sing.
In Elin Jakobsdottir’s ‘Crude Thoughts’ series of collage drawings at Leeds Art Gallery, paper silhouettes of heads, intestines and kidneys float among strands of bright red and splotches of bilious orange. In Body Chop, 2014, a lower intestine spouts from the moth of an outlined head, while a dark yellow stain sits like a brooding thought cloudier what might be a pair of red ovaries. In these whimsical light drawings, our body parts are all thinking, speaking and spewing. Her accompanying silent Super8 film, Eyes Cast, 2014, reaches into the city’s collection to reanimate two bronze busts by Jacob Epstein. She sets up a slow, stop-motion waltz between the stern, cross-armed Bust of George Black 1942, facing off and slowly dancing around the brighter, more vivacious First Portrait of Deirdre, 1941, her hands poised delicately in front of her mid-gesture as if about to thrower arms wide. It is an awkward and stubborn dance until eventually, face to face, the film uses Hollywood- style editing to portray the statues in an intense conversation : a medium two-shot of the busts facing off, over the shoulder point-of-view shots, alternating close-ups of their eyes - his hollowed-out and hers protruding - on his cruel smirk and on her gentle smile. The tension and narrative dissolve as the film meanders to focus on the leaf-ornamented ceramic tiles that decorate the lower floors of the gallery, receding further to dwell on sun-speckled plants and wrought iron fences in an outdoor cemetery. This wandering eye is telling: Jakobsdottir seems eager to find associations and to make these stored-away sculptures speak, but is too impatient to let it happen.What happens instead is a mime act, imagining a place where bronze busts and internal organs can speak, without developing a language to enable them to do so.