Lockdown changed the concept of home radically for everybody. In some ways it might never be the same. The relationships between our bodies, our lives, and each other were all shifted into another paradigm. Amid these changes, Norwich-based artist Eleanor Rodwell was working on her recent project Uninhabited which featured in residence at Outpost Studios earlier this month.
As with much of her work, Eleanor focuses on the body and its often anxiety-generating mechanisms that make us function and feel. With this project though, Eleanor brought the impact of lockdown on the mind and body into a perspective that can only be viewed now that we are allowed out again. I went to view Eleanor’s work on the first night of opening in Gildengate House, Anglia Square.
There was something about this exhibition that had an element of being both public and private. In part because of the space itself; Gildengate house can be difficult to find if you don’t know where to look. But also, these pieces were created in a very different world. One where the eyes of the public and the walls of the gallery were distant. We must wonder about the impact this had on the creative process. This kind of questioning is something which Eleanor Rodwell specialises in as an artist.
Eleanor’s ability to communicate the often-indescribable emotions and bodily murmurs that we all experience has always been a touching theme in her work. But the pressures of lockdown clearly stimulated something more in this project: the abrasion and melding of the home and the body. These ideas are explored in a depth of feverish imagination, with lockdown as the catalyst. We are once again asked to look at how being in isolation changed the way we perceive ourselves, our emotions, and the spaces that we inhabit. Put simply, that is what this exhibition is all about.
As she points out through her work, in some ways the home is an extension of the body, and the body in itself is a home. Lockdown brought this whole relationship into question. The calico and silk fabrics that hold Eleanor’s figurative explorations are not only an echo of the furnishings which surrounded us during isolation. They are also a demonstration that fabric is bodily in quality and like the mind and body, can distort, drape and crumple under abrasion and pressure. This sets the precedent for the ideas explored in many of the pieces.
The most striking elements of Eleanor’s project are large tapestries that bridge into sculpture, through both form and curation. One of the pieces was draped off the wall and across the floor, highlighting the difficulty Eleanor must have had in deciding what form her work was going to take. Eleanor used charcoal and pastel on calico and silk fabric to communicate the human body, and all its capability for feeling physical emotion, into abstraction. As with the materials, the colours and textures also crossed the boundary between the body and the home. A meld of blacks, browns, reds, and yellows evoke a sense of the body in an elemental way with no time for ostentation. Eleanor melds the literal fabrics of home with chalked abstractions of the body, bringing the two concepts together in friction. Much like the domestic tension that was bubbling under the surface of our lockdown lives did.