A Review of Uni-Verse by Anouska Beckwith at Palm Tree Gallery, Kensington
Widespread utopian ardour came into play after the atrocities in the First World War and with it, the belief that the human condition could be restored by new approaches to art and design – more spiritual, more sensual, more balanced. Today with power plays and unforeseen terror, the search for paradise opposing these perceived evils has not lost significance. Last Friday saw the opening of photographer and multidisciplinary artist, Anouska Beckwith’s first London solo show, showcasing her own imagined Uni ~ Verse. It is refreshing to encounter photographers functioning outside the mainstream art world where volatile influences - aesthetic and political - are too often accepted.
Held at the Palm Tree Gallery on Portobello Road, the exhibition came after Beckwith’s 2015 New York solo debut Transcendence, in addition to recent group shows in London, Paris and Switzerland. Inside the gallery was an immersive organic installation of moss, shrubbery and branches set to ‘encourage gratitude and respect for the natural environment’ amongst the audience. Immersive environments are usually met with a degree of skepticism as they can too often sit between gimmicky and ostentatious, however it was pulled off surprisingly well. If not aided by Beckwith’s talented friend and singer, Flo Morrissey who played later in the evening, I fear that the setting could have potentially undermined the work.
With a total of fourteen photographs on show, femininity and mysticism were prominent themes. The works combined Beckwith interests in ancient mythologies with an investigation into how the female position in the world has been appropriated throughout history; a narrative that ran throughout the images and the space. For example, Mists of Avalon, 2016 instantly felt cinematic with flashes of the girl in the red dress in Nicolas Roeg’s 1973 film, Don’t Look Now coming to mind. The image isn’t necessarily dark but it does keep the audience inquisitorial – what does the red indicate? How about the water? – there is a great sense of storytelling present.
The photographs that were taken in settings across Ibiza, gardens near Paris and the south of France aim to create specific situations for her subjects to lose themselves in the moment. The female body and nature shared equal billing, with nubile skin occasionally eclipsed by forests and imposing rock formations as seen in Writhe, 2016 and Reach For The Sky, 2016. These images were particularly striking and highlight Beckwith’s competence with analogue film. The choice of sepia is more effective than the black and white in Let Go, 2016 as it softens the skin.
I was also told by Beckwith that her subjects are frequently like-minded spiritual individuals, and that the women featured in Uni - Verse included a yoga teacher, a healer and another woman who she met through being involved in similar shamanic ceremonies. The practices of the women are significant to the show as the exhibition concerns our connection with ecology and Earth. It is evident that the subjects embrace nature as a site of freedom with Beckwith capturing this sense of buoyancy and release.
The images on show are a combination of film and digital with some pieces entirely digital and others analogue but layered with digital edits. From embroidery to digital-manipulation, the mix of media is illustrative of a bourgeoning artist and Beckwith has successfully produced a dreamland within her explorations. What perhaps could be improved is the scale in which Beckwith works. Bigger does not mean better but in this instance, a larger format could help elevate the images to further enhance the viewing experience.
Uni-verse aims to position its viewers as, "part of one universal song whose melody looks set to be quickly silenced by the impending end of the Earth." And as aforementioned, the live performance of Flo Morrissey brought this element into play with ethereal sounds reverberating the immediate images. Across the exhibition, image, mixed media, text and song are interwoven, floating together to tell an enigmatic, utopian tale.
Anouska Beckwith at Palm Tree Gallery, Kensington from 16th September – 23rd October 2016
Written by Eloise Showering, a contributor to Arteviste.com