The Duration

22 Newport Street
SE11 6AY

30 October – 1 December 2019

‘Erika Winstone combines drawn-paintings and gestural video in a newly commissioned installation of work spanning a decade. Her marks transitively capture the music, actions and communications of others in a body of work that includes performance, film and the medieval practice of drawing with metal point.’

The Duration: Erika Winstone at Beaconsfield Gallery
by Jillian Knipe, 28 November 2019

The painting title Daughters and Mothers (2019), reverses a common reference which, like “fathers and sons”, is normally voiced with a sigh and an eyeroll. The original saying portrays righteous parent as number one and problematic child as secondary, both embroiled in an unavoidable and competitive generational struggle. In contrast, Erika’s title pulls it away from the cliché by decisively projecting “daughter” as first and foremost. It becomes a story of future, not combat. And it welcomes us to Erika’s practice as she explores relationships and possibilities across the passing of time.

Enter The Duration exhibition on a bright morning and the metal point drawings read gently in the light before they grey and disappear as the day draws on. By this time the films, largely unseen earlier, become the dominant work in the gallery space. Glass panels and etched works, coloured paintings and projections play the same game of coming into view and dissolving, emphasising how the whole is only ever a perceived construction as we witness and compile its participating fragments.

Erika: I’m really interested in performance that happens in the moment, which is why I don’t like doing lots and lots of camera takes of the same thing. I want it to be fairly spontaneous or a gesture from the memory of the original reference piece1.

The only way to make absolute sense of Erika’s work is to consider it as ever evolving like a life that is continually taking shape, learning from its past, standing in the present and exploring its future prospects. A glass fragment which appears on its own in one instance, might find itself fronting a film projection in another. Though, it is not simply about re-arranging. Connections between one work and another lead to reconfigurations which underline the artist’s preoccupation with interrelated gestures and performance.

Erika (to Anna): In Le Pont du Nord, I really like the fact that Pascale and Bulle helped improvise and develop the scenes with Jacques Rivette. So they were having a real input into what happened in the same way that you and Mark and I also did1.

Take La Duree, 2019 for instance. Erika explained to me the interconnected set up for this piece began somewhere around viewing the 1981 film Le Pont du Nord. (I say “somewhere” because it is quite difficult to locate the precise starting point of Erika’s work.) Directed by Jacques Rivette, the film starred real life mother and daughter Bulle and Pascale Ogier. So here we have a mother and daughter connection. The daughter Pascale died of a heart attack, aged 25, shortly after, as a result of her heart murmur mixed with drug usage. In Erika’s film she re-enacts the mother’s role alongside her own real life daughter and independent performer, Anna Dean. Anna connects with Erika in the same way Pascale connects with Bulle, while each daughter and mother partnership identifies with the other. Similarly, Director Jacques Rivette links with artist Mark Dean who is Erika’s husband and Anna’s father, and was behind the camera in some scenes, making brief appearances in others. Particularly touching and repeated in both films is the older woman feeling faint who is then cared for by the younger woman. It is a moving role reversal and another pivotal connection.

Anna: A lot of people who work with existing film or existing material seem to work in a more fixed, exclusive way.
Erika: I’m really interested in everyday movements and giving those the same importance as the original film source1.

Interconnections within the work are not only inherent in Erika’s complex set up and her improvised method of display, they also echo the source of her motivation. She explained to me how she is trying to hold onto something unattainable; a momentary gesture; the energy of here and now. It’s as if La Duree, the artwork which informs the title of the show, is in conversation with the source film, improvised 35 years after the original in the same locations. It’s as if Erika is re-igniting gestures of the past to become energies of the present. Arguably, it also reinvigorates something of Jackson Pollock’s gestural paintings, while also recalling the opening to T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets (1943), which were described by writer and critic, C.K. Stead, as being structured around ‘the movement of time in which brief moments of eternity are caught’.

Erika: The sense of time passing and lasting is very much present in the work.
Anna: I also remember you saying something about the relationship between time in terms of mediums of film and silver point and there’s a connection there as well.
Erika: Yes, the way that silver point is affected by time and light as it tarnishes and shimmers in the same way that film is very affected by light1.

An artist’s practice develops over time as it converses with what we know of art history. In a critical moment of development some years ago, Erika began her residency at Central Space London with silver point on canvas. This utilised the process derived from a popular Renaissance drawing technique which dates back to medieval scribes. Canvases were hung on the walls, then slowly replaced over the course of six weeks with carvings into the wall surfaces. Recalling to mind early cave paintings, Erika traced the activity in the space. Her young daughter Anna’s playfulness and movements of her meandering cats were etched into the walls, thereby exposing various paint layers of the past, like concentric circles of a tree trunk which relay the history of change and development, allowing us gauge multiple ideas of presence in the one moment.

This excavation has found its way onto coloured works on board. Erika begins with text, builds up layers of paint, then carves back into the surface some of the original text along with film still images. Pride (2018), along with the other paintings, acts as a title piece to the films from which it is drawn and which all connect with one another in some way. Pride refers to gay rights. It connects with Pride (2014) which was partly filmed on the artist’s street. This, in turn, connects with Small Axe, a series yet to be released, which artist and director Steve McQueen, filmed on the other side of the street. The series is named after the Jamaican saying “if you are the big tree, we are the small axe”, meaning that small voices of dissent can come together and successfully challenge the more powerful ones, immortalised by Bob Marley’s song of the same title. Small Axe is also the name of a 2019 film by Erika which includes a group of wild horses drawn to a crossroad after an electric storm in the New Forest area. She explained how they were standing very still, transfixed despite halting traffic and efforts to move them, as if an inner strength banded them together.

The conundrum of integrating gesture, connections and time, acts as the underpinning of Erika’s art practice and fuels her drive to unravel the paradox. References ripple on throughout her practice, both in the preparation and the making process, as she bridges aspects of relationships – trust, fear, loss, hope, protest and generational change – from the most intimate to how we connect with the world around us. As she delves into practices from the earliest of times – etching into walls and metal point engravings – to the edge of current technology with her split screen films, we can wonder at how our self-made concepts of time and change, hold us together while keeping us mystified. We can wonder if the language around these same concepts shuts down possibilities while art, in its finer moments, pursues an openness and fluidity of understanding. Erika Winstone’s The Duration is surely one of these finer moments.

Erika Winstone’s solo exhibition ‘The Duration’ is at Beaconsfield Gallery Vauxhall until 1 December 2019. It is a Beaconsfield Gallery commission, thanks to Arts Council England.

1 From a discussion between Erika Winstone and her daughter Anna Dean recorded July 2017.