Deep in the Heart of Your Brain
20 May – 13 November 2016
Deep in the heart of your brain is a lever/ Deep in the heart of your brain is a switch
Radio Ethiopia, Patti Smith Band, Arista Records 1976
My conversation with Jacqueline Donachie began in 2011, when the gallery was examining questions around health, play and wellbeing. I was open to what the relationship with the artist might be, but interested in the development of her collaborations with scientists and how that informed her work in public spaces or the gallery setting. As our discussions developed it became apparent that there was an excellent opportunity to work with Donachie at the culmination of her PHD where she had spent considerable time reflecting on her practice in this medical and scientific realm, alongside realising ambitious new artworks. Our interest or ‘mutual curiosity’ we had about how artists and art institutions inform research and lead collaborations with medical academics and institutions inspired the thread that runs through the exhibition, the learning programme and the symposium. It is a curiosity that we hoped would engage visitors in the gallery and contribute to a current wider discourse on art and science.
Since 2002, Jacqueline Donachie has worked with a range of scientific and medical professionals in collaborative processes to produce new ideas and artworks. This significant solo show with GoMA, includes sculpture and drawings made in the last five years alongside new commissioned works developed from a period of research with a group of women affected by an inherited genetic condition, made in collaboration with the UK Myotonic Dystrophy Patient Registry at The John Walton Muscular Dystrophy Research Centre in Newcastle.
Central to the exhibition is the new film work Hazel, a powerful three screen installation that directly connects the experiences of the participants – all sister sets, where one sibling has inherited the myotonic dystrophy gene and one has not – to a wider discussion around relationships, age and appearance. Edited from interviews with the siblings, the film doesn’t seek to present a literal case study representing an unknown research question. Instead Donachie asserts the role of artist in the editing the work. The unaffected sister is silent. The women talking discuss different aspects of their lived experiences with myotonic dystrophy. The viewer is drawn into a space where they encounter and listen to these edited interviews, but have more questions provoked than answers provided. Hazel is a portrait, not just of the women portrayed, but also of a wider lived experience we can all relate to through our own experiences of ageing, care and loss.
Artists working with their own lived experiences and relationships in their work is not unusual. Glasgow Museums has significant holdings of work in the collection by Jo Spence, who documented and commented on her relationships with her mother, her own body and experience of breast cancer through her photographs. However, while Donachie is present in her work (Studio 1995 and Pose Work for Sisters) she is also chooses not make herself the subject of the exhibition. The portraits she alludes to in her work are seen in relationship to the urban environment we inhabit and observations of materials and structures we use to navigate that space. Human scale is played with in the drawings (Glimmer I –V) and sculptures (Winter Trees and Headphones, Music, Boats and Trains). The selection of lampposts and streetlights for the drawings is an observation on the urban, everyday object’s elegance and relationship to the human body. They are tall and elegant, echoing the portraits in Studio 1995, where Donachie was posing and photographing herself against a white background (these works were shown photocopied and on billboards). But they equally have kinks and bends which could be a ‘neck not able to hold up or a back trying to straighten’ *. The Glimmer series of drawings and their pose are reflected in the Winter Trees sculpture series, which similarly examine the urban, our human relationship to it and the pose.
The sculptures, stark in their choice of materials: industrial, practical and immovable, have very emotive and poetic titles playing on boundaries between the external public experience and the often internal lived experiences. The Winter Trees title is taken from a Sylvia Plath poem alluding to moments of care when you are awake outside of your normal routine hours and start to see the landscape and environment around you in different ways. Deep in the Heart of Your Brain is a Lever as a title is taken from the lyrics of a Patti Smith song and refers to moments of feeling trapped by life and motherhood, a sentiment reflected in the scale, slick black finish and immovable nature of the sculpture.
For me the reflection on public [urban/industrial] and private [domestic/poetic] runs through Donachie’s work: whether in the materials she uses (scaffolding, aluminium plates, washing lines, repurposed clothing and threads) or the research (scientific findings, published research and personal testimonies). The use of materials and her research are distilled through a particular curiosity in how to present this as artworks in different contexts (parks, streets and galleries). Her railings sculptures have one presence in the public environment, where they are competing with everything around them, which shifts when Nice Style is isolated in the gallery.
Deep in the Heart of Your Brain is at first glance a stark, confident and monochromatic show interrupted by a drawn orange gesture leading, or diverting you, through the space. But spend some time there and viewed through the prism of the works Hazel, Studio 1995 and Pose Work for Sisters it reveals poetic reflections on playfulness, relationships, care and lived experience – when that lever must be applied.
Producer Curator, GoMA
* Interview with the artist May 2016
The ambition of Deep in the Heart of Your Brain benefited from significant funding awarded by the Wellcome Trust in mid July 2015. Further support from Creative Scotland for Donachie has given her the scope to pursue research into the body of work she has developed over the last 15 years and Deep in the Heart of Your Brain is an opportunity to engage that research and practice with a wider audience. We are currently finalising plans for a symposium at PLATFORM on 4 November 2016 and looking forward to a series of workshops, events and talks, including one with Professor Tom Shakespeare on 28 October in Glasgow.