For Phillips' inaugural solo show, the artist presented a new body of work which takes its impetus from a building in Bristol, which from 1799-1802 was a medical research facility known as The Pneumatic Institute.
I felt like the sound of a harp
During this time, eminent chemist Humphry Davy (1788-1829) studied the medical effects of recently discovered gases including nitrous oxide, and devised experiments examining the effects of laughing gas on himself and others. The title to the exhibition refers to an anecdote from Davy’s patient whilst under the influence of the drug and his struggle to articulate the new forms of sensation induced by the gas.
Phillip’s work derived from research into The Pneumatic Institute evokes stories and imagery about dissociative states, elements of precarity and invisible forces depicted through a nonlinear auratic story. Phillips draws parallels to Davy’s pursuits to harness and exploit these newly discovered invisible gases, through the use of photochemical processes in a series of fabric banner works and 16mm film.
The soundtrack to the film, comprises snippets of conversations with a pensioner recalling her experiences of living in the house (formerly The Institute) during World War Two; and is collaged with an improvised score from Phillips’ adjunct practice playing as part of the experimental improv ensemble Viridian. The third sound element is a digital field recording from club and rave nights in Bristol; a subculture that has increased nitrous oxide popularity as a recreational choice. A reappearing motif in the work is the ‘damask’ and ‘moire’ patterns, a visual reference point reflecting on visual perception; and is also a nod to The Yellow Wallpaper a short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman about perception, madness and the search for identity.
These layered references alongside methods of collage creates a melancholic narrative that blends both historical time spans and ideas about alternative states of being.
The exhibition was part of the South West Showcase, a recurring open call platform (est 2013), showcasing artists from across the South West region. The showcase aims to support contemporary artists working and living in the South West through a year long programme of mentoring and support with an exhibition outcome; presenting a long-term commitment to profiling and supporting the practices of artists in this region.
Related to I felt like the sound of a harp
I FELT LIKE THE SOUND OF A HARP
On my first meeting with Laura Phillips she invites me to her studio in the centre of Bristol, her hometown.
A SERIES OF HARMONIOUS SEPARATIONS: A REVIEW OF LAURA PHILLIPS' SOLO SHOW
‘I felt like the sound of a harp’ is a bright and sensory exhibition of work by laura phillips. It is made up of lively fabric banners and a three-channel-film that features textures, symbols and historical footage that tells the story of an institute where laughing gas had once been tested.