Sunday, July 20, 2014

On Reflection: the Art of Margaret Harrison

Margaret Harrison. The Last Gaze. 2013 Northern Art Prize winner.
Over the summer, I've been pleased to spend several afternoons with Margaret Harrison, discussing her new work. Her latest installation piece, The Last Gaze, builds on many of the themes and devices she has developed throughout her career.

Based on the Pre-Raphaelite painting of the Lady of Shalott by Waterhouse and the ballad by Alfred Lord Tennyson, Harrison uses the myth of "the Lady" to comment on contemporary issues.

Margaret Harrison. The Last Gaze (detail). 2013
The Lady, because of a mysterious curse, is only able to look out on the outside world, particularly Camelot, through her mirror, weaving tapestries of the scenes she views. One day, she spies handsome Sir Lancelot through her mirror, and falls in love with him. The mirror cracks, and the curse comes upon her. She sets off for Camelot by water and dies en-route, where Lancelot looks on her lovely, dead face with pity, although she is completely unknown to him. Harrison sees the restriction of viewing life indirectly from the home as a possible "metaphor for the Victorian perspective on women's sexuality," and the curse as a warning to the female gender not to step outside of those boundaries. 

Mirror reflecting The Last Gaze.
In Harrison's installation, we are all "the Lady." We look out through the mirror of television, news media, the internet and myriad other sources to indirectly view events both international and personal. In the rear-view car mirrors installed by Harrison, the gallery visitor can see fractured reflections of themselves, the Lady and other visitors as another way to live our mediated experience. Much like the Lady weaving her tapestries, Harrison shows us different threads of discussion by including images from news media and pop culture, such as a candle raised to the victim of the 2012 Delhi Bus Rape, Snow White, Elvis, Captain America, Grace Jones, Superman and Wonder Woman.  She shows them both as internalized concepts and as outside influences by placing them both within the Lady's dress, or outside, surrounding her.

In 2015 & 2016, Harrison will be showing this piece and other new work in shows at the Golden Thread Gallery in Belfast, the Middlesbrough Institute of Art (UK), and the Ronald Feldman Gallery in New York, as well as touring exhibits of older work through the Tate, and other gallery shows in Berlin and London.

Margaret and I have been collaborating on a book that would include biographical information and an overview of her work and career entitled On Reflection: the Art of Margaret Harrison. If you would like to see more images or and a proposal, please contact me at kim_munson AT

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