Installation Views
Press Release

Southard Reid is very pleased to present Hester a solo show by Joanna Piotrowska.

For her first exhibition at the gallery, Piotrowska brings together photographs from ongoing series’ of the past eighteen months. Dealing with themes of domesticity and physical environment interlaid with self-defence, anxiety and psychological tension, some of these works are reconfigured from s.w.a.l.k, her solo show at the Northern Gallery of Contemporary Art, Sunderland, last year.

Reconfiguration plays an important role in Piotrowska’s practice, where she continually examines and draws from past and present to reinterpret and re-present imagery by theme and as objects themselves. Initially developing themes, working with her surroundings, friends and family choreographed into physically and socially awkward scenarios, images are produced that can be simultaneously comforting and sinister. Later the photographs are considered in terms of their own physicality, which becomes integral to the exhibition installation. Photographs of architectural features can be installed to interact with the space in which they are shown, images of figures are confronted at times life size and eye height, at others diminutive, reduced. Differentiation in scale and positioning, and repetition of imagery, unsettling, though also with a sense of play - in part with photographic conventions - is employed throughout the installation scenario. 

For Hester the environment of the gallery is responded to by drawing on themes of entrapment and claustrophobia, inferred through image and installation. The downstairs gallery shows a large black and white photograph of hay against a fence, inscrutable through direct narrative but the image atmospherically charged with a sense of surveillance and no-exit – it was taken at Warsaw Zoo where Piotrowska spent time photographing enclosures without their inhabitants. 

The first floor gallery is installed with photographs of enclosed spaces and features, including doors and stairs, with significant psychological reference; the use of repeated photographed location and actual duplication of image triggering a sense of subconscious recurring imagery in the mind. Photographed within the ‘familiar’ interior, a woman appearing in an awkward pose, head obscured, perhaps in a warm-up routine or losing herself, sits opposite another image of a woman, head back looking up in to darkness, hands encircling her neck, the grip gentle, supportive, however also with a suggestion of threat. As with the images located in the zoo setting, these have explicable starting points, with the women having been directed into self-defence postures, however the resultant imagery occupies a territory evading of easy psychological legibility. 

A soundtrack of Piotrowska’s voice reciting a meditative relaxation exercise intermittently recurs in the upstairs space. It accompanies and overlays the photographs, generating a sense of passage in to the interior space of body and mind – a seemingly soothing presence producing both seductive and awkward intimacy. 

The show’s title as a female name – Hester – not only personifies the exhibition but connects with the gesture of naming fears, phobias, or sickness. It aligns with and derives from the human instinct to domesticate and tame, a thematic and aesthetical preoccupation that drives Piotrowska’s practice as she explores, and works from, the presentation of emotional and psycholological states. 

Joanna Piotrowska was born in 1985 in Warsaw, Poland and lives and works in London. She graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2013. Recent solo shows include s.w.a.l.k, Project Space, Northern Gallery of Contemporary Art, Sunderland, UK, what love has to do with it, Project Space, Hayward Gallery, London, UK, and Bloomberg New Contemporaries, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, UK. In 2014 she published her first monograph, FROWST published by Michael Mack.

Soundtrack in Hester was written in collaboration with Nefeli Skarmea.