Hand to Mouth
Sarah Brown’s research into informal and subsistence economies forms the basis of this new body of work, Hand to Mouth. With a particular sensitivity to the historical relationship between the production of perishable textiles and invisible digital code, Browne’s point of departure is a series of iconic images of early 20th century women from the Shetland Islands, knitting as they walk, carrying baskets of turf on their backs. These photographs are an unexpected antecedent to contemporary images of the multitasking, precarious labourer: hands knitting are now typically replaced by fingers typing or swiping touchscreens of mobile devices; surplus time is ruthlessly exploited, mentally and physically.
Using a smartphone as a kind of ‘participant-observer’ filming device, Browne worked in Shetland with cinematographer Kate McCullough and choreographer Fearghus Ó Conchúir to explore these ideas with a selection of women who work on the islands now. This film, titled Something from nothing, forms the central focus of the exhibition and features a number of women, including a knitter (the fastest in the world), a photographer, a sex worker, a member of the youth parliament and the artist herself. The soundtrack to the film, composed by Alma Kelliher, uses techniques of pouring and knitting different sounds together to create the embodied rhythm of a contemporary ‘work song’.
Other works in the exhibition are made with a comparable modesty of means, including Hand to Mouth, a series of woven laser prints that materially combine archival images with online stock photographs, generating glitchy herringbone patterns. Reproductions are a new group of sculptural works, all of which involve latex casts of the walls, floor and cracks of the artist’s studio. These latex skins are peeled off and mounted on simple steel armatures, recalling washing lines, drying racks or stretchers. The uncanny materiality of these works implicitly evokes a connection or an equivalence between artistic and bodily (re)production.
To read more about her process filming in the Shetland Islands in preparation for the show visit Sarah Browne’s blog.