Thinking of the Outside was an exhibition of ambitious new art works presented in unusual sites across Bristol’s historic city centre in association with Bristol City Council and Picture This.
Thinking of the Outside was an exhibition of ambitious new art works presented in unusual sites across Bristol’s historic city centre in association with Bristol City Council and Picture This. Featuring moving image installations, painting, sculpture and live events Thinking of the Outside offered an intriguing route through the Old City, exploring the relationships between insider and outsider. The education programme was co-ordinated by Arnolfini.
Kathleen Herbert, Grande Spagna, 2005 (video installation)
Co-commissioned as part of Thinking of the Outside by Picture This, Bristol and Bristol Legible City, ‘Grande Spagna’ (2005/6) is one of Herbert’s most recent projects. It takes the form of an 8 monitor DVD installation featuring a series of details recorded during a three-day voyage aboard a cargo ship travelling between Antwerp and Bristol. The artist was accompanied by 28 crew members, gaining a rare insight into the realities of contemporary seafaring.
Herbert combined her observations of the voyage with a period of research at the Seafarers’ Mission in Avonmouth. In an interview with Claire Doherty, Herbert describes how the project began as research without any fixed agenda, ‘I didn’t really ask too many questions, nor have a plan of action. Through the initial conversations, I learnt about the difficulties that a contemporary seafarer faces in a highly technologised industry where increases in efficiency have meant reduced time spent in port and reduced crew numbers’. The resulting work doesn’t include these initial dialogues, but Herbert explores the issues they raised during her time on board ship.
‘Grande Spagna’ describes the solitude and sense of disorientation that seafarers suffer during periods at sea. The edited footage is devoid of human presence save for the figure of a man struggling to hoist a flag on deck; when figures are captured on film, their presence is only fleeting and distant. Reflecting on the sense of alienation experienced during the journey Herbert states ‘although there were 28 crew we must have seen only half of them during our time on board; it was like a ghost ship’ (1). The shot of the crew-member battling against the wind portrays the impotency of the individual within this highly technologised environment (even the ship runs on auto-pilot when out at sea), dwarfed by the immense scale of the vessel and the vast expanse of the sea.
Apart from this solitary portrait, Herbert records the imprint of the individual through their surrounding environment: a table tennis bat and breakfast table, the synchronisation of the giant windscreen wipes and the labyrinth of ship’s corridors. She describes how ‘the experiences of isolation felt by many seafarers seemed to manifest themselves through the architecture and technology of the ship. The continual humming and reverberations of the ship’s engine, making items on the breakfast table quiver gently and lights flicker, created a sense that you were part of a machine or system’ (2).
The final work was shown on edit monitors, selected for their association with their industrial and production-based aesthetic. The monitors were of different sizes which allowed the artist to use intimate shots alongside more expansive footage and to reflect the compartmentalisation of the ship’s environment. Herbert worked with Duncan Speakman on the sound for the exhibition, using the ship’s air conditioning system, the constant monotone engine noise, and occasional beeps form the navigation systems to try and recreate the artists experience on board and the sense of ‘being inside a machine’ (3).
Kathleen Herbert’s work has encompassed sculpture, video and installation, investigating history and social politics through the details of individual experience and the everyday. She allows the viewer a glimpse of an intimate moment or object, which might at first appear to be rather ordinary. Her work draws on the conventions of documentary and film to build a series of narratives. Often by redefining location and scale, or through layering of details, Herbert creates a sense of intrigue, never quite exposing the full extent of the situation or story that she is telling. (Claire Doherty, 2006)
Kathleen Herbert Born in Watford in 1973 and lives and works in London. She has received several major awards from the Arts Council England South West, British Council and Bristol O’Porto Association. In 2005 she was nominated for the Becks Futures Award and has recently been awarded a development bursary from Film & Video Umbrella. She has exhibited both nationally and internationally, including Sint Lukas Gallery, Brussels 2008; Auckland Triennial 2004; Out of Site, Arnolfini 2004; Time & Again, Crawford Gallery, Cork 2003; The Heimlich/Unheimlich, RMIT Gallery, Melbourne 2002; SCAPE, Art & Industry Biennial, Christchurch 2002; BOP, Gallery Caldeira 213, Porto 2001 and The Silk Purse Procedure, Arnolfini & Spike Island, Bristol 2001.
Kathleen Herbert is represented by Danielle Arnaud contemporary art, London.
Situations is an art commissioning and research programme which operates from a University base, but produces artworks, events and publications outside the academic context. The programme was initiated in October 2003 by Claire Doherty, who is Senior Research Fellow in Fine Art at the University of the West of England, Bristol. From the start, the programme’s guiding principles were to combine the ambition of a commissioning agency model with the critical rigiour of an academic research centre. We believe that artists have the capacity to bring something we might never have imagined to a particular place and we are committed to realising those dreams. Curating is far more than project management to us. It is a creative, critical and often passionate undertaking where we seek to understand the best possible means through which to support an artist to make an outstanding work of art in response to a specific situation.