Thursday, March 30, 2006

Essay: Amy Todman, 'Felt Through Thought'

Please be careful: Work is fragile and sharp this one got to my soul

A critical investigation of the exhibition ‘Felt through thought’ by Amy Todman, shown in two parts, as drawings at Brahm Gallery, Headingley, Leeds 9th January to 6th February and an installation at Total Kunst, The Forest, Edinburgh, 21st January to 31st January 2006.

Brahm Gallery and Total Kunst are similar spaces that are completely different. Brahm is an entrance reception hall to a large marketing company in a Leeds suburb, suited business people busy through here, wait here to sign deals or clinch advertising straplines close to their chest. The walls are a restricted site; all hanging must be done from the rail that runs along the ceiling line, the gallery is also a working reception, only open 9-5. Total Kunst is an artist-run space with an evolving committee structure. In fact it seems to be evolving so much that no-one from the gallery is actually in attendance at the space. It is situated on the edge of Edinburgh city-centre, the window in the entrance of The Forest, a co-operatively run autonomous social space where young gothic teenagers play the piano and students surf on the open access wireless internet. There appear to be no restrictions on what is done here, well there is no-one to tell the artist what these restrictions might be anyway.

Both spaces are portals, ways in, what they lead to is a society apart.

Amy is looking for a way in. A way to communicate in these spaces. I think she thinks she has found it at times but at other junctures her quest to create something simple, and to declare to us that, really, it is so simple gets lost in the difficulty of her creation.

Amy is looking for something to hold on to, but these spaces deny that in their very nature, people don’t leave things for you to hold on to in such open passages. These are not safe environs for an artist to work, people can walk through, look in, come in. You can’t shut them out. But they can shut you out.

Brahm stopped the crying for a while. The security of the frames held back the tears. That was needed then, but the Total Kunst show hurts. You can see that in the work and in the artist as she pulls at the space through the installation. The solid ground she is seeking keeps slipping beneath the falling mirrors. It’s a nervous place this; I’m not sure my nerves are up to it. There must be a more comfortable place to spend my Saturday afternoon, but we are here, fretting over the placing of the glass that keeps reflecting me back at myself entangled in this web that Amy is creating.

We look at things but we don’t really look at them because that is not what’s relevant. But these mirrors keep reflecting it all back, and me, or you, within it all. The invite for the show states “There will be mirrors and lots of reflections to reflect on and friendly looking letters and words” but Amy wishes she hadn’t said this now. There’s a lot she wishes she hadn’t stated.

“How does this help anyone else? It’s about me. My mind. Pain”

The letters don’t look particularly friendly or very clear, they are lost in an entanglement that is strangling this space and holding it out of sync. If you’ve ever felt out of place in your own body you might sympathise with this little gallery, in its current state I doubt it feels at ease being caught in the reflexive stares of passers-by.

It is clear that the act of drawing has been cathartic for Amy. There is a sense of calm at the Brahm show, the unruly, un-tethered ravines of vulnerability that course through the Total Kunst installation start to take on order and responsibility when layered on paper. Held firmly in place by the frame and an unexpectedly neat obeisance to the limits and edges of the paper. The drawings seem unwilling to hold a resolved form, layers float across your vision, words emerge and vanish as you flicker from one to the next.

In the invitation she also refers to ‘our’ desire to pin things down through language, to clarify. Even though it is quite clear in the work that the artist has decided that art isn’t going to offer that clarification, that glimpse that there is still something to hold on to, that is precisely where she is digging for it and she is asking us to advance into the resulting debris with her, perhaps we could feel comfortable if we remained observers, but she isn’t allowing that. The shapes that transpire out of the drawings echo our inner organs, manifestations of our emotional innards, put out on display, made external; the installation creeps into our peripheral vision whatever angle we position ourselves, we are reflected within it, are integral, internal to it.

Grief lies stricken across this work as the pain erupts into something no-one could plan.

Text by Lucy Gibson, March 2006

Quotes taken from a conversation between Lucy Gibson and Amy Todman prior to the opening of the Total Kunst exhibition, 21st January 2006.

For further information about Amy please visit her website,

Amy Todman, 'Felt Through Thought', Total Kunst, January 2006