EXHIBITION REVIEW: ESTRON
by Alice Oliver
It was over thirty years ago now, that the theorist Donna Haraway defined a cyborg as “a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction.” The future Haraway envisaged in her Cyborg Manifesto has emerged in the last few years, propelled by the global pandemic’s forced isolation and a general increase in the use of technology. A world in constant metamorphosis, one that, in a matter of weeks, had to be totally reshaped; once familiar but now alien.
The pandemic not only saw a shift within our socio-political climate but also within the ways in which we make and view art. The final year photography students of the University of Wales Trinity St David were only a few months into their course when the world began to shut down, and the past two years saw a shift out of the studios to making art at home and receiving lectures through a screen. But it is clear that this cohort used these unprecedented circumstances as a catalyst for reflection, adaptation, and transformation within their photographic practice.
Last week, I had the pleasure of seeing their degree show, Estron, at Copeland Gallery in Peckham, London. The word Estron is derived from Welsh, meaning alien or foreign, a name that seems fitting for the foreign experience of attending art school throughout the pandemic, predominately online and then planning a physical exhibition after years of restrictions. The reinforced concrete, industrial structure of Copeland gallery suited the themes discussed within this exhibition. An impressive space that merges the traditional white gallery wall with the original structures, cracked and marked, showing traces of the past. In a subtle way, these slightly post-apocalyptic bunker vibes lend themselves beautifully to the context.
The first work you see when you enter the space is the encapsulating work of Laurentina Miksys. 7 Cycles of Life: Moth Philosophy is a beautiful investigation into the transformation of humans, both physically and spiritually. By turning the camera to those closest to her, Laurentina uses the symbolism of the butterfly cycle as a depiction of life itself. This poetic and intimate body of work culminates in a series of black and white prints, alongside an immersive publication and box frame containing a cocoon and moth specimen, interestingly placed over a large fracture in the wall, perhaps a metaphor for something deeper.
As you move further into and around the space, you'll end up in the heart of the gallery. At the far end of this atrium, you are faced with Dione Jones' work, The Divine Anima, a shrine-like installation made up of a combination of prints and glass boxes filled with soil on plinths of various heights. The Divine Anima is an investigation into the Cartesian dualist view that the mind exists outside of the body. Dione's work examines representations of the female form, often portrayed as excessive, destructive and eruptive to the mind. By reflecting on both death and life, the mind and body, Dione's work unravels the unease of the mind and the decay of our material form. Dione describes this work as a ceremonial burial of the burden the body can be on the mind. The use of soil alongside the tall plinths that resemble headstones links the ideas of nature, erosion and ultimately, life and death.
On the adjacent wall is the work of Jack Winbow. A series of large-scale self-portraits that aim to transcend the restrictive boundaries of gender, by referencing mainstream media's representation of women and confronting the media's toxic homogeneity. These life-size portraits are an extremely powerful comment on these contemporary issues, and Jack's choice to mirror the traditional sexualised poses that the media has used to idealise and represent women, highlights the standards that not only women have been expected to adhere to but also anyone who seeks validation for their femininity. Within this exhibition, which was largely made up of female artists, Jack's work successfully and critically challenges our heteronormative society that has reinforced the unrealistic standards of western beauty for decades.
Moving into the next space you are faced with two more fascinating bodies of work, the first being Emily Sullivan's Biophilia, an examination of her deep connections to the natural forms and textures of our landscapes. By using sustainable techniques and materials, Emily explores the impermanence of nature through a geological and environmental lens. The installation element of this piece really lent itself to the images. The folds in the prints alongside the distribution and height differences in which these were hung really resembled a rock face similar to the ones in the images, the angles and edges formed made me think I could scale the wall.
The final piece of work that I am going to mention from this exhibition might well be my favourite (if I'm allowed favourites) and that is the work of Ada Marino. Ada's captivating practice focuses on the recollection of memories and trauma, manifesting a perplexing surrealism. Her images teeter on the edge of disturbing and can't-look-away fascinating, subverting the norm and our expectations of the photograph whilst celebrating the truth and the imperfections of fragmented life. Like Jack's work, Ada's Paterfamilias examines the roles of gender but within the domestic sphere, exposing the oppression and consequences of the deterioration of relationships in a male-dominated household. I particularly love Ada's choice to use floral wallpaper as part of her installation, it successfully brings in a feminine domestic element that breaks up the space in a really interesting way, but also beautifully contrasts with the dark, surreal and slightly absurd photography. Her use of scale within this installation is incredibly effective, from the large piece of wallpaper to the smaller prints that draw you right in, to the plait of hair hung on the wall, right down to the tiny rim of wallpaper around the electrical socket. Safe to say I am totally obsessed!