The Contemporary Art Society recently purchased a moving image work, Bore Song (2011) by British artist Louisa Fairclough for Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum. It relates to a spectacular Gloucestershire phenomenon called ‘The Severn Bore’, a tidal wave that surges up the River Severn. Through the medium of film, Bore Song attempts to describe distance, time and emotion in physical terms. Framed by water, a young woman kneels at the edge of the river. As the tidal wave reaches her, she opens her mouth to sing, turning away as the wave pulls across the water’s surface, swallowing her reflection. Her voice holds a single piercing note that rises over the sound of the wave.
Bore Song is a fragment from a body of work made by Fairclough along the banks of the Severn over a three year period. It sits closely with two other works made in the same year: the film Song of Grief and sound recording Body of Water. They take inspiration from Alice Oswald’s two collections of poetry: A Sleepwalk on the Severn (2009), a meditation on moonlight; and Dart (2002), where the poems have been composed of notes and reflections from those who have encountered the River Dart creating a soundmap or songline of the river. Mirroring Oswald’s poetic elegy, Fairclough takes the river to represent ideas of locality and journeying. She often cycles by moonlight to the Severn and sleeps along the riverbank. This journeying becomes both gesture and sustenance for the drawings, field recordings and performance films that follow, where the river comes to function as a metaphor for grief.
The installation of Bore Song, where the 16mm film loops beyond the projector, forefronts the sculptural aspect of the work, which carries with it a precarious and contingent value. Likewise, the drawings suggest fragility by being both absent and present, like stains or residual marks. Made at night in Fairclough’s studio using spit, watercolour and pencil onto gesso boards they depict tents, stuff bags, and other unidentifiable corporeal forms. In some cases the drawings are worked into repeatedly, others are more instinctive. In his new text about Fairclough’s drawings, writer Colin Glen suggests they ‘betray an ineluctable compulsion to connect to the solidity of things’. These transportable objects, all the same size, have a white background and muted appearance presenting striking connections to old overexposed photographs, where the previous image is implied by a fragment of form from the layers beneath.
The collection at Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum is rooted in the town’s history and the wider Gloucestershire context. Throughout the museum galleries, the life and landscapes of Gloucestershire, from pre-history to modern times, are recurring themes. Highlights from the 18th century are the panoramic paintings of Gloucestershire, depicting locations Rodborough Fort, Dixton Manor and Charlton Park. Providing an international context are two paintings by the 18th century Ventian painter Francesco Guardi: Looking towards Santa Maria degli Scalzi and Santa Lucia which was donated through from collection of Lord Northwick, and The Grand Canal, gifted by a local collector in 2004. The theme – Gloucestershire life and landscape – continues into the 20th and 21st centuries reflecting the lively art scene in the county. An important work is Village Gossips by Stanley Spencer, painted during his stay in Leonard Stanley in Gloucestershire in 1939-40 and gifted through the Contemporary Art Society. More recently, in 2012, the gallery commissioned landscape artists Neville and Joan Gabie to create work in response to their Antarctic collections dedicated to explorer Edward Wilson and the Wilson Family archive.
Bore Song was selected by Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum for its connection to the idea of landscape, as both an internal and external territory, as well as to the specific topography of Gloucestershire. We are delighted that the artist has donated three drawings, Refuge and Protect (shown as a pair, both 2004) and Refuge (2011) to accompany the film.
Biography – Louisa Fairclough
Louisa Fairclough was born in 1972, and lives and works in Bristol. She studied at the Slade School of Fine Art, graduating in 2000. Shows include Ground Truth, a solo show at Danielle Arnaud, London (Nov/Dec 2011) which then went onto Ha gamle prestegard, Norway (Jun-Aug 2012); Song of Grief – a residency at Meantime Project Space, Cheltenham (Feb/May 2011), Jerwood Drawing Prize 2011, Jerwood Space, London, Sleeping on the Severn selected by Tom Trevor for the Darbyshire Award Show, Stroud (2010); Super 8 Station at the Arnolfini, Bristol (2010), New Work UK: The Sensible Stage at the Whitechapel Gallery, London (2008); Meet, produced by Picture This and shown at ROOM, Bristol and Bath Film Festival (2006). She has also received numerous awards, including UK Film Council, Elephant Trust and Arts Council funding (2006/7); Sugarhouse Studio Residency awarded by ACME Studios (2002), Boise Travel Scholarship (2002), Prospects 2001 London Regional Winner selected by Sacha Craddock (2001), Slade Duveen Travel Award (2001), ACAVA First Base Studio Award (2000). Bore Song was supported by Danielle Arnaud.
A companion work by Louisa Fairclough, Song of Grief (2011), was on display in Film in Space: An exhibition of film and expanded cinema selected by Guy Sherwin at Camden Arts Centre from 5 – 24 February 2013.