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The Comedy of Errors

Elizabeth Price: FELT TIP at The Nottingham Contemporary

20 March 19 words: Dan Welton

A spectre is haunting Nottingham Contemporary… After weeks of technical difficulties, Elizabeth Price’s new solo show FELT TIP is finally open to the public in its entirety. Our writer Daniel Welton shares his thoughts...

Sustaining Elizabeth Price's long engagement with mixed media, FELT TIP combines video installations, architectural interventions, and enlarged pinhole photographs to produce a disquieting reflection upon commodities and labour within contemporary society. Utilising archival materials, Price scrutinises various commodities to reveal their iconographic rise over their producers, leaving behind a wasteland of late-capitalism.

The exhibition begins with the installations, The GOVERNING BODY (2019); a stark grey concertina structure commands the centre of the gallery, with hundreds of A4 sheets of paper scattered across the floor with the words “GIVE PRISONERS THE VOTE” emblazoned across them. The walls are filled with a series of huge black and white pinhole photographs of dresses from 1970s fashion magazines. Within each photo, the models have been blotted out, animating the dresses with a spectral life of their own; any tangible human presence has been extinguished from these images which, alongside the motive of dispossessed prisoners, fills the room with a feeling of despair. As I walked past the attendant, who must have been sitting within this sombre scene for hours, I could only offer them a consolatory smile.

Two video installations make up the work of the adjoining gallery, the first of which is KOHL (2018). Projected across four separate screens, this work examines the legacy of British coal mining through a fictitious inky liquid which has begun bubbling up in abandoned mine shafts and seeping into various urban business developments. The narrative is directed by a conversation between four invisible narrators who appear as digitally typed words upon each screen. These conversations feature numerous references to the sordid working conditions endured by miners whilst inverted negative photographs of mining headstocks taken by Albert Walker in the 1980s border the tops of each screen. There are many enigmatic moments within this work, but the pervasive black liquid which anchors the narrative is an unmistakable expression of seething anger amongst men who toiled for the prosperity of their nation, only to be forsaken and denied “the dignity of work” by the ruling class.

As KOHL ends, FELT TIP (2018) begins. This work is projected on two large, portrait screens to the right of KOHL, forming a monolithic video which towers over its audience. It is set within a dystopian future in which workers have been degraded to the position of data mules for big businesses, storing vast quantities of digital information within their DNA. The narrator of the work is a female member of this exploited, ambiguously robotic, class, who delves into her own digital cache to offer a social history of business attire, in particular neckties. As the work develops, neckties become the focal point of the narrative and are exposed as an embodiment of the enclosed patriarchy of the workplace. FELT TIP describes the struggle to reappropriate this motif of masculine power as a symbol of feminist rebellion.

Yet this revolt is only sustained within the physicality of the tie; as the workers’ humanity is made indistinguishable from technology, it is the inorganic commodity which shows the most life. In producing an exhibition so utterly bereft of human corporeality, Price has captured the precarious position in which mankind finds itself today, as objects and technology threaten a total eclipse.

FELT TIP is on show at The Contemporary until May 6th 2019. More information here

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