Worcester Cathedral Chapter House, until 28th July 2012
The paintings of Harriet Mena Hill stand in the Chapter House of Worcester Cathedral as a congregation; they occupy the space in a manner by which you feel they belong in this particular place. These twelve paneled paintings on their individual plinths, with faces tilted upward share a visual sustain that can’t help but allude to a choral gathering or perhaps the centuries-long assembly of clerics in this great room.
Hill’s paintings of complex, overlaid grid structures are graceful objects. The strangely alluring territories present in these paintings evade easy deciphering and, as the eye traverses across the plane of each image, questions surface of where or what these spaces are, or signify. The notion of an inner-space is clear but the interior of what or where, remains as ethereal as the veils of oil washes that Hill employs to make her pictures.
In The Production of Space, Henri Lefebvre cogitates on the complexities of what he calls abstract spaces. He examines the dualistic nature of such places as ‘both a result and a container, both produced and productive – on the one hand a representation of space and on the other a representational space’. [i] This is where the central poetic strength of Hill’s work resides. These internal landscapes of gridded vistas suggest a manifestation of space that otherwise remain intangible or uncertain; a space of otherness. One might ascribe these as emotional, spiritual or metaphysical arenas. However it is the recurring question of whether these works are spaces of a condition or specific conditional spaces which helps make them so intriguing.
Equally serene and beautiful is the cadence and rhythm that these works establish in relationship with the architectural space of the Chapter House itself. The gentle arches of Hill’s pale gessoed and oak frames bound a number of the multi-layered latticework paintings. They also set up a clear dialogue with the strata of interlinked Romanesque blind arcading that edges of the circular room they are in. This results in architectural detail being coaxed from the static boundary of the chapter house, by Hill’s panels bridging the gap between the centre of the room and its perimeter. The descending (or possibly ascending) grids that populate Hill’s quiet and enveloping work echo the rhombus glass panes in the remaining Chapter House windows. As the shadows of their lead-work track across the face of some panels, the building enters into a discernable interplay with Hill’s work; at times the orientation of the criss-cross shadow imparts an elegantly discordant interference with the depicted structures while at others, a near perfect alignment between image and architecture appears for a moment…and then slowly moves on.
These are intimate objects that invite a reduction of space between themselves and the viewer. Those that do can observe the most subtle alliance occurring between these paintings and their current setting. Many of the stones in the Chapter House bear tooling marks – surface linear striations left behind by Cathedral stonemasons. The surfaces of Hill’s paintings are etched with similar hatch-like marks, which define tone and depth within each composition that they appear. These marks also disclose an idea that that the process of reduction has an equally important part to play in the making of this work as the accumulation of paint upon ground, upon support, upon plinth.
There is a duality at work here, a binary relationship on a number of levels (as many levels that are present in Hill’s paintings). There are prevalent factors that are manifest and saturate an ancient space such as Worcester Cathedral; strata, adjustment, erosion, time, accumulation, all can be seen and experienced in almost every square inch of the building. It is these very same matters that can be mapped directly across to Hill’s engaging spaces with equal relevance. I feel sure this is why Mapping the Grid sits so effortlessly within the walls of this resplendent structure.
Mapping the Grid is a joint venture between the Eagle Gallery, London; Worcester Cathedral, the University of Worcester and has been installed with kind permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral. The exhibition runs until Saturday 28th July 2012.
[i] 2007 Lefebvre, H The Production of Space, Blackwell Publishing, London. Pg. 288