So Cheerio for Now / Reviewed by Jessica Ziskind / 23.11.17
The title of Sally Waterman and Jacqueline Butler’s joint exhibition at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery, So Cheerio for Now, fittingly encapsulates how the show examines the otherwise somber concepts of familial loss and the fragility of relationships with the capacity for lightheartedness. As co-ordinators of The Family Ties Network, a research group of artists who work around the complexities of this theme, Waterman and Butler are in a constant state of exploration with their roots. The works in the show are unified through their reflections on the aftermath of death, love and a return to ancestral homes on, respectively, the Isle of Wight and Glasgow.
In the lower gallery space the viewer is enveloped by three video works from Waterman. February, presents vignettes of choppy waters set to the music of Donna McKevitt and the words of Derek Jarman. There is a pervading sorrow that this mix of visuals and sound imparts, and rightly so, as it depicts a catamaran journey back to the Island after the death of a close family friend. From Bas Jan Ader’s attempt to sail across the Atlantic to the mythical River Styx, water has always played an important role in conveying journeys and transitions.
The video projection from which the exhibition gets its name, So Cheerio for Now starts with a departure—this time leaving her home by boat, guided by the words of Sylvia Plath. Waterman has long employed literary sources in her work, both a legacy of her English degree and for their autobiographical resonance. Voiceover fragments from Plath’s diaries and letters to her mother during her college years which communicate the anxieties of student life are interposed among domestic scenes and typed extracts from letters received from the artist’s grandparents written whilst she was also away at university in the early 1990s. Extending over a period of a few years, their prose is affectionate and quintessentially British. As the seasons change and the video unfolds, the letters reveal the loss of her grandmother whilst retaining their inherent optimism.
Her final video is the split screen projection Keep Smiling that embraces similar themes of love, loss and perseverance. Personal analogue photographs are re-photographed digitally and joined with close-ups of handwritten letters from Waterman’s grandparents, together with those from past boyfriends also during her university years. The viewer gets glimpses of text that shed light onto this period of transition and heartbreak. Yet her family’s advice to ‘keep smiling’ and ‘don’t work too hard’ stand out.
In the wake of her father’s passing in Scotland, Jacqueline Butler’s body of work in the upper gallery space uses the juxtaposition of dusk and dawn to navigate the period of bereavement. Her photographs form a cohesive patchwork, ranging from a humble shelf display depicting the view from the hospital window the eve before his death, to a vertical triptych of the landscapes Butler witnessed on her final trips home, to a grid of lumens prints on antique paper that references back to her father’s own days of experimenting with photography as a young man. The latter, which are of dried petals, are arranged in a vitrine and were made largely outside of the darkroom, where she created a makeshift studio in her garden, allowing the natural light to develop the image and even leave vestiges of pollen and dust on their surface. Medium format prints of bouquets received after his death, taken in the same garden, are a powerful presence in the room, making the wilting flowers monumental in a surprisingly intimate way. The resulting unexpected colour palette of cerulean blue and phosphorescent green as well as the leaves’ sense of motion transform these works into a memento mori for modern times. The piece around which everything else seems to orbit is a living bouquet encased in glass, which will take its course during the duration of the exhibition. Halfway through, however, it seems to be standing with more resilience than expected, an unanticipated, but beautifully hopeful metaphor.
– reviewed for Photomonitor by Jessica Ziskind
For further viewing:
10 Stockwell St, London SE10 9BD