taking time to think: thoughts on ‘meditations on leslie hill’
Kendra Reynolds responds to the ‘Meditations on Leslie Hill’ exhibition by Derek Simpson, currently on display in our Keady Gallery until 23 August, as part of our Youth Writing Panel Initiative.
In the Artist’s Statement for his photography exhibition, Meditations on Leslie Hill, Derek Simpson outlined time as one of the raw materials essential in a piece’s production. It is thus fitting that his main gadget was the aptly named ‘clockwork camera’ which ‘takes no blame’ for any errors: for as the artist points out, ‘a failed photograph is not a waste of time’. Thus, the materials of time and light embody the most pervasive themes within this exhibition: taking time to think (meditation) and enlightening us from our culture’s tendency towards limited vision.
Therefore, I decided to take up the lessons that this exhibition offers, simply allowing myself the time to think and allowing my own creative interpretations of the pictures to have full reign. It must be acknowledged that the richness of this artwork cannot be captured fully within one article, but I hope to instill a sense of the deceptive simplicity of Simpson’s work, which must be seen in order to be fully appreciated.
Simpson stressed to me a very important message: ‘Apart from visual space I am intrigued by a new appreciation of the time between pictures. It is a sad fact that most gallery pictures are viewed on average for thirty seconds … Time to reflect is important – a generation is growing up with computer game hysteria – excitement by the millisecond’.
The Keady gallery, as Simpson pointed out to me, provides extra breathing space in order for each photograph to receive adequate perusal. The exhibition itself reflects this need to pause for thought.
For example, the piece titled ‘Timepiece’, features a spade and its shadow. The object and its reflection appear to me as the hands of a clock (and the title itself would hint at this), with the shadow also alluding perhaps to solar time. The motif of circles and wheels is recurrent in the exhibition with another work, ‘Nylon Chord’, depicting the wheel of an old bicycle whose rust suggests stasis – for me the circular wheel and the two arms of its frame are symbols of a clock, whilst the cobwebs and rust brilliantly suggest that time is standing still – the hands/wheel are stationary.
Simpson himself found the process therapeutic and I would argue that the exhibition itself allows the viewer to share in this, the artist explaining: ‘One can meditate to Gregorian Chant or burning candles or Yogic breathing: for me the ritual of setting lenses, loading film, measuring light all achieve something similar: they ready my brain to absorb; to give my hands and eyes freedom; and to realize’. It is hoped that I will reach some of my fellow young people and communicate the joys of meditation and stillness that this exhibition supplies so beautifully, for as Simpson remarked about our thrill-a-minute culture: ‘I don’t think that is sustainable over a lifetime – perhaps that’s what a lifetime is for?’.
Seeing Instead of Looking
‘Latch’ starts our journey through the meditations, symbolically reminding us that our minds must be unlocked in order to appreciate fully Lesley Hill at it’s deepest levels. The place clearly embodies a great significance for Simpson who remarked that it was ‘a personal project’ in which ‘I was constantly reminded of my own roots’, and ‘I decided to allocate time to exploring ever smaller details of the place’.
The abstraction of the first photograph creates the effect of peering through a murky window (windows being a recurrent element in the exhibition), with the vividness of the gate’s detail and solidity providing a window frame – the effect hints at a need to open the latch onto a plane of deeper ‘seeing’ in order to gain insight into the yet undefined building which only provides a white canvas for the latch in the foreground.
Our limited way of looking at things is something which this exhibition challenges, the artist mirroring our limited vision from the outside of the gate in ‘Latch': ‘to pick on particular details whilst throwing other areas out of focus – known as “selective focus”. Our eyes do this all the time but our brains compensate so the effect is interesting’ (Simpson).
This ‘seeing’ instead of mere ‘looking’ was highlighted by the artist himself when he stressed the importance ‘to sit still and just look. We are all liable to interpreting what we see instead of looking. As children the world is labeled – door, mammy, dog, ball, tractor and so on. None of these labels actually explains anything’. This also accounts for the artist’s use of black and white which he stresses is not utilized for a period feel, and certainly, upon viewing the pictures, one immediately gets the sense of a very modern exhibition.
As Simpson surmises, ‘Black and white is a very graphic medium. It forces an observer to see a photograph for what it is – not a house or a horse – but a geometry of light patterns in a flat square of paper. It breaks the comfortable step which says – ‘that’s an old bicycle’ or ‘that’s a gate’ which is an excuse really for not looking: the brain is always apt to apply a label and get back to its comfort zone. The very slight unreality of black and white unsettles’.
‘Latch’, certainly supports the artist’s claim that: ‘the most successful photographs approach abstraction – the eye sends a small puzzle to the brain’. Simpson himself, as a sports photographer, highlighted to me the need to push ourselves beyond the safe and mundane (one of the reasons he gives for this new venture), emphasizing that ‘it’s always dangerous to be caught in a rut: a rut can become comfortable’.
Instead, these photographs invite us to unlock the often unused areas of our minds and vision in order to appreciate what has always been there in front of us but that has been overlooked. For example, one of my favorite pieces, ‘Droplet’, captures water sliding down the side of a wall in straight lines which go right to the ground. However, upon closer inspection, one tiny drop is falling in mid-flight, a beautiful stilling of the moment, and a great example of things we often fail to see. From this angle the mini waterfalls appear to be like icicles and the space between the building and the ground takes on the persona of the entrance to a dark cave.
Again, the perspective of the picture allows something so simple to embody a host of interpretations, whilst titles such as ‘Seedbed’ provide benchmarks for our journey through the exhibition: the former signifies the potential for creating new ways of seeing and the latter encompasses solid farming tools, a concrete picture rather like the brick wall in ‘Landing Pad’ that provides a solid base for the mind before contemplating the more abstract pieces.
Closing the Scroll
As a student of literature, viewing these pictures was a pleasant change and permitted me to see the significance of what cannot be written down. Sometimes seeing cannot be replaced by written descriptions and this review certainly cannot encapsulate the full scope of this exhibition’s richness and complexity. As Simpson himself stated, ‘If I could say what I mean I wouldn’t take pictures’.
It is quite fitting then that the final piece entitled ‘Scroll’ depicts the gate’s shadow producing ‘writing’ on the pillar – the photograph itself seems to write its meaning, with the scrolled letter ‘L’ announcing that we have now discovered the real Lesley Hill in all its beauty. Or from another point of view it looks like an ‘e’, which would be equally fitting in marking the ‘end’ of the narrative the pictures have told us.
This exhibition is therefore not limited to those of a particular field or craft – it is a very universal art form – we all have eyes and we all have a creative side. As Simpson poetically surmised, ‘I find the world quite wonderful enough as it is and the more one looks the more wonderful it appears’.
Most importantly, the Artist’s Statement itself declares, ‘A photograph does not exist until it is seen’ – so get down to see it!
This entry was posted on August 8th, 2013 at 2:39 pm by Desima