Category: Writer in Residence - Published: 2015-05-29

Writer in Residence:
Heather Phillipson (Part 1)

An introduction to Heather Phillipson, the Whitechapel Gallery’s 2015 Writer in Residence, by Antonia Blocker, Curator: Public Programmes.

sub-fusc love-feast, installation view at Dundee Contemporary Arts, 2014

sub-fusc love-feast, installation view at Dundee Contemporary Arts, 2014

Language and writing is fundamental to our experience and understanding of visual art – how we look at it, research it, communicate it, critique it, and translate it, not to mention the written word’s tendency to slip into artistic practice, whether through the page, the canvas, or the screen.

Whitechapel Gallery’s Writer in Residence programme seeks to engage with practices for which writing is an important element, yet one that might get eclipsed by the more visual aspects of an artist’s work. The aim is to tease out this process and practice of writing and reflect on the related activities of reading and listening.

“The residency is an opportunity to collaborate, over a period of six months, with an artist who uses language not only to talk about their work, but as an essential and tangible material for its production.”

Antonia Blocker, Whitechapel Gallery

 

A WHOLE LOT OF NOTHINGNESS, artist's sketch for Extinction Marathon stage at Serpentine Gallery, 2014

A WHOLE LOT OF NOTHINGNESS, artist’s sketch for Extinction Marathon stage at Serpentine Gallery, 2014

The residency is an opportunity to collaborate, over a period of six months, with an artist who uses language not only to talk about their work, but as an essential and tangible material for its production. Rather than adopting the format of a traditional residency, which might provide a physical space in which to work, the space we offer is our public programme, and our website. There is no prescribed outcome, but instead a series of opportunities to make this exploration visible to our audience.

For the next six months, we are very excited to host as Writer in Residence Heather Phillipson, who works across video, sculpture, music, drawing, text and live events. Variously described as an artist and a poet, the printed pages of Phillipson’s poetry – black letters on white – seem at odds with the neon forms that manifest in her installations. The optical rush of Phillipson’s work could temporarily disguise the importance of the written word, which traverses her practice from the page of a book to the screen of a digital commission.

“The syncopated environments [Heather Phillipson] creates demand her viewer, her reader, to sit up and pay attention. The lesser-discussed and underexposed aspects of life, such as the experience of a routine smear test, become something to bare one’s teeth at and confront.”

Antonia Blocker, Whitechapel Gallery

 

Yet Phillipson employs words, just as she does the ambush of colour and the collaging of objects and image cut-outs in space, to perform a staging of a contemporary experience, sometimes literally. The syncopated environments she creates demand her viewer, her reader, to sit up and pay attention. The lesser-discussed and underexposed aspects of life, such as the experience of a routine smear test, become something to bare one’s teeth at and confront. A hurried scrawl of words is a declaration, a call to arms against letting the everyday pass by unnoticed and unquestioned.

The breadth of Philipson’s practice allows much room for experimentation within the confines of this residency. She will begin with this space – the blog – plumbing the depths of what a post might contain. As the six months unfold, she will connect to other projects she is working on, organise an event and perhaps realise other things that are not yet decided.

Heather Phillipson’s work refuses to be quiet; it is a guttural and joyous shout that ricochets through the world we live in. Bouncing off the fragmented planes of cities, spaces, bodies, products and emotions, her voice creates a chaotic yet vibrant echo of puns and sly self-reflexive interrogations. We look forward to listening.

Read part two of the Writer in Residence blog here.


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