Walking into Hannah Collins’ exhibition, one is struck by large-scale monochrome photographs consuming the walls, it’s almost intimidating given their size in relation to the viewer. The imagery in the exhibition is entirely monochrome, stark shades of grey lending a dramatic effect.
Despite their size, the photography has a fragile, ephemeral air. There is almost a sadness and sense of loss. What she captures on camera varies greatly as it ranges from a simple cluster of balloons to cardboard boxes piled up. Despite this incongruous collection of images, they all seem to correlate. They are like odd fitting jigsaw pieces that somehow manage to slot together.
Photographs hang in strips, the images so large that multiple pieces of photographic paper are layered together to make one work. This removes the element of perfection that is generally presented in photographic display. Instead the precarious nature of the work is apparent. It seems as if one may collapse at any moment.
Walking through to the room on the left is an entirely different experience from the first room. It’s like entering another exhibition. Highly suggestive of a scientific laboratory, vitrines with photographic collections and pressed plants are laid out akin to specimens for research and experimentation. Most of the vitrines are hip height, others are closer to floor level. This play on height and relation to the human body’s proportion contrasts nicely with the flatness of the images in the previous room.
In both spaces, the viewer is free to navigate the exhibition as they please; there is no clear direction. The contents of the vitrines play with tactile sensibilities, the imagery within depicting vibrant greenery such as photographic details of large fan-like leaves to beautiful flowers whose scent is hinted at through its lively colours. The photos display a wonderful two-dimensional jungle that is just beyond reach.
Two floor level vitrines contain entirely different matter. They contain dead plants. Opening an dialogue of deforestation, on one level they could be hinting at what is to come for the photographed jungle. They present a sinister air which is lightened by the fact they look so temptingly tactile. The urge to reach out and touch, to play with them and to hear them crack as they break up into pieces is difficult to resist. Yet the use of vitrines reinforces a museological context.
Text fragments are screen printed onto areas of the wall; the green text is neat and scientific in its presentation, yet whimsical and poetic in content. What is most enjoyable in the exhibition is the predominant sense of contrast and play underpinning Collins’ exhibition, which formulates an exciting and dynamic experience for the viewer.
Hannah Collins continues at BALTIC until 10 January 2016
Camilla Irvine-Fortescue is a third year Fine Art student at Northumbria University
Images: (top) Hannah Collins Grapes 1989 (left) & Family 1988 Installation view, Camden Arts Centre 2015 Photo: Mark Blower; (lower) Hannah Collins The Fertile Forest 2013-15. Installation view, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead. Photo: Colin Davison. © 2015 BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art