As the first part of the 2020 South West Showcase in The Gallery at Plymouth College of Art, Eleanor Duffin presents ‘A Phantom Limb’, a new exhibition featuring sculptural objects and sound-based work by the Bristol-based contemporary visual artist as part of her ongoing project ‘Phantoms of Form’. The exhibition runs until Thursday 9 April 2020.
Inspired by the concept of the “other” woman, the overall ‘Phantoms of Form’ project is based on a female protagonist who is occupied with material investigation and acts as a composite of a number of historical female artists and designers. Combining the lives and designs of these women from history with the artist’s own original work, the exhibition oscillates between autobiographical and fanfiction. It captures Eleanor’s ideas about the “other” woman who takes on the role of a ghost, there but not present.
‘A Phantom Limb’ focuses on a series of letters written by Eleanor to the artist Barbara Hepworth, following a visit to Hepworth’s studio in October 2018. Preoccupied with the garden planted by Hepworth at the studio, the research for this show began by focusing on Hepworth’s use of the garden as an exterior workspace. In tandem to this interest, Eleanor documents the demise of her own house plants slowly beginning to die.
"I’ve been given access to the amazing technicians, workshops and facilities throughout the college, which is a unique level of support that most exhibitions couldn’t offer." — Eleanor Duffin
A second element in the research is a bronze cast made by Hepworth of her left hand. Eleanor’s curiosity here is in Hepworth creating such a figurative object, speculating if it is an act of somehow othering the self. The research also encompasses an intrigue with the gaps or holes within Hepworth’s sculptures. Described by Hepworth as “concavities”, Eleanor scrutinises the action of subtraction of material in order to leave a gap, perhaps as a space for leaving room for things that can not be spoken or a space for the viewer to insert themselves into the narrative.
Leah Harris, Gallery Producer at Plymouth College of Art, said: “‘A Phantom Limb’ threads together the materiality of making that ties Eleanor to the 'other' women of her research. We established the South West Showcase in 2013 with the aim of providing opportunities for artists within the region to work ambitiously, making use of the expertise of our technicians and facilities in the college, and it has been a pleasure to watch Eleanor’s research change direction, and deepen throughout her time working with us. The outcome of her hard work is a rich and explorative exhibition which celebrates her collective understanding with the female artists of her research.”
Artist Eleanor Duffin said: “‘Phantoms of Form’ initially developed from my search for other female artists that I could identify with, thinking particularly about lineage and what it means to be a woman whose artistic practice is materially driven and whose concerns might contrast with those pursued by male sculptors, for example.
“I was initially drawn to the designs of architect Eileen Gray, as she grew up close to my hometown in Ireland, something that’s often overlooked in her biographies. My interest originally was of her innovative research into plastic as a material. For ‘A Phantom Limb’ I shifted focus to the life and work of Barbara Hepworth, whose sculptures seem to resonate with the Celtic stones in the nearby landscape. I felt my reading of her work changed hugely when I saw it in proximity to this landscape and the studio where it was fabricated.”
“Being selected for Plymouth College of Art’s South West Showcase has been of massive value to my practice. Through the South West Showcase I’ve been given access to the amazing technicians, workshops and facilities throughout the college, which is a unique level of support that most exhibitions couldn’t offer. I’ve used the opportunity to really consolidate my skills, through conversations with Amy Whittingham in the glass department. I even tried screen-printing for the first time. The Gallery team, Leah and Hannah, have engaged in dialogue about the research throughout the process, pushing me to be ambitious and take risks. Working with them has taught me how helpful it is to have someone to reflect with during the making process. All of this extra level of support and encouragement will hopefully show in this iteration of the project.”
To accompany ‘A Phantom Limb’, The Gallery at Plymouth College of Art has also commissioned an essay on Eleanor’s work by writer and curator Lauren Houlton, which you can read here.
VISIT THE EXHIBITION: Friday 21 February 2020 - Thursday 9 April 2020 (Monday-Friday 9am-5pm, Saturday 10am-1pm, closed Sunday), free and open to all.
Photos by Luke Frost