In a post-industrial age, our relationship to the man-made or industrial spaces which surround us is well worth considering. Perhaps we underestimate the role of these structures in shaping how we see the world and the effect that they have on our everyday thinking. Artist Holly Rowan Hesson’s site-specific installation Echo (2017) at the Pyramid Arts Centre in Warrington raises these questions, amongst others, in its combined use of sculpture, imagery and abstraction.
Hesson’s working process is largely intuitive, responding to whatever space she is working with, rather than adapting pre-existing works. Situated within the unusual architecture of the Pyramid Arts Centre, Echo consists of a combination of sculptural elements and projected images employing a largely abstract visual language.
Her use of scaffold sheeting as both a projection screen and sculpture gives us a new proximity to this everyday object, usually only seen on the outside of buildings. Projected through the sheeting, the viewer is presented with a rolling series of distorted images of the building in which they stand. Perhaps this is a comment upon the ephemerality of installation as a medium? (Often a temporary construction built around a permanent edifice.)
What this enormous piece of material does first and foremost, however, is create a closed, unknown space from which the viewer feels excluded – like a closed building or a locked room. Unable to venture ‘inside’ the installation, as one might expect, the viewer must instead investigate its meaning by following the images projected onto its ‘outside’, and analyse what they are seeing.
The images were all taken on-site by the artist, using only external lighting filters and with no post-production element involved. They vary in degrees of clarity and abstraction. Some, though taken through coloured filters, are perfectly clear; whilst others are blurred or even completely devoid of figurative content. Experienced together, they suggest an incomplete recollection or distorted memory of the viewer’s surroundings; appearing on different projectors and at different sizes at various points throughout the rotation, so that they recur and repeat like visual memories.
What also can’t go unnoticed here are the bright lights of the projectors, which shine though the projected images themselves. These lights, incidental as they may be, serve to add another layer of dialogue between image and immediate reality.
Around the corner, the aesthetic is decidedly understated. A stark and minimalistic sculpture stands nearby; perhaps intended to be seen through, as much as to be seen. Two rectangles made from scaffolding poles are placed in a triangular or arrow formation, which effectively points to the window whose structure it clearly references. The sheets of white webbing attached to each rectangle may be regarded simply as parts of the overall sculpture, or as a kind of distorting filter for the view. In any case, this separate structure is a curious, monochromatic element to an otherwise heavily colour based installation. Both contrasting and harmonious.
As with most site-specific pieces, Echo requires the viewer to take their time. To think about and reflect carefully upon the space they are in, as much as the work itself. Taking all this into account, the overall installation seems to suggest that we are disorientated in our urban environment. That the structures which surround us, though intended to function as social spaces, may at times be more alienating than welcoming. This seems something worth bearing in mind when considering how the way we interact with each other is often deeply influenced, even defined, by our relationship to these structures.
Holly Rowan Hesson is a visual artist based in Hebden Bridge.