A massive piece of chalk occupies the kerbside immediately outside the gallery door. Across three of its planes is carved the title of this exhibition of new work by long-term collaborative duo Heather and Ivan Morison at WORKS|PROJECTS until 15 March. The Bristol rain has softened the chalk’s surface, but still it bears the scars of the heavy machinery by which it was rent from the earth, along with rust-stains left by the chains that brought it here.
The violence of the act of removing stone from the ground is brought sharply into focus by the rest of the work, inside the gallery. Here, we find two figures carved out of trunks of chestnut six feet tall: to the right, a man’s face; the gaze of his single red eye fixed across the room towards his opposite on our left: a girl with her hands behind her back. Each figure is scorched black – the scent of which is just about still present – and each features a donut, carved from chalk and dipped in wax. For him, the donut forms an eye: for her it is a silencing tool, a gag forced into her mouth, presumably by the same oppressor that bound her hands.
Between these two sits a third figure: a mother – the titular knife. The artists have denied her human form; a single mahogany eye looks out from a shapeless hunk of chalk, only slightly smaller than the one outside. We know her identity from titbits and the title of the piece, When she touches her hair she is thinking about the other men in her life. She is a rock with a black eye.
The audience walk in on a jealous father, a redundant but stoical mother, and a dutiful child whom we are instructed, by her title, to think of as a spoon; daughters are spoons, sometimes they grow into knives. This three-way stand-off is framed by a series of paired photographic prints, their angular framing evoking a slashing motion. More violence. The images provide locations, sinister and mundane: a man’s shoes and walking stick wait outside a boarded up building; a run-down bungalow; urban foliage. Of each pair, one part is almost completely obscured by a blood-red filter.
The sculptures and the imagery, combined with their titles, form a narrative dominated by the father’s fantasies, inside he imagines his wife and daughter, what-might-have-been, He dreams of a chicken farm, out in the country, and the looming threat of physical violence. Fragmentary existence is a recurring theme in recent WORKS|PROJECTS exhibitions. In comparison to the gallery’s previous exhibition, GLEN by David Wojtowycz, Knives are Mothers leans less heavily on its exhibition text to lead us into the narrative, and for that the discovery the viewer makes on time spent piecing the story together is all the more rewarding.
Heather and Ivan Morison: Knives are Mothers, until 15 March, WORKS|PROJECTS, Sydney Row, Bristol, BS1 6UU.
Trevor H Smith
1. Knives are mothers, 2014, Chalk, 93 x 150 x 178cm, Unique.