Chalton Gallery is pleased to present the exhibition of Byzantia Harlow: Duplicate (No one will drink the water of your well if you yourself do not drink it).
Exhibiton Dates: 1st — 16th September 2017
«In the first days of spring we see old ladies selling wild flowers from the forest. This is how we know spring has begun. They are like witches, for they sell flowers before we have seen them blossom, but they must have flowered for the women have plucked them. So we hunt and still we find none. Perhaps there are none to be found since the women have picked them all.»
Duplicate (No one will drink the water of your well if you yourself do not drink it) is the culmination of a nine-month Arts Council England funded project created by Byzantia Harlow in Lithuania, Greece and England through a series of collaborations and workshops.
The exhibition uses the metaphor of sustenance from an impure source to question what is genuine and what is artificial — whether truth really matters when both can give pleasure.
Can a contaminated source of water be purified enough to maintain life through rituals involving stolen gestures? The mirrored movements an attempt to cleanse the well’s contents via transubstantiation.
The project focuses on re-enactments, in order to capture and recreate fleeting moments and through their repetition attribute significance, in search of archetypal communication. In collecting throwaway, glimpsed moments of human interaction, through a process of transcription, Harlow ascribes them with value and purpose. Exploring the interchange between true experience and embellished recollection, she is interested in the gap between source and sample, re-assembling these fissures to create veneers of truth. During this process the effigies can become more meaningful than the original. Harlow questions how false beliefs may contain clarity and seemingly beautiful imagery can collapse revealing its artifice and construction.
The notion of an ‘original’ is spurious. Surrounded by transitional reality, it is comforting to think there is something solid and determined, but there is not. However, within the process of duplication you can create something new. Authorship defines origination; there is a fine line of separateness, which may permeate into consciousness during the process of replication — the echoed symbol becoming disparate from the source. For Harlow this is the line of diffusion. There is a role of tribute in such a process, in walking this line between playing a role and becoming the object, for a moment. Within these stances there is enjoyment in being part of a dark mirror and being fooled by the faux. Such is the beauty in artifice.
The title — Duplicate (No one will drink the water of your well if you yourself do not drink it) concerns faith and bad faith. Having to trust oneself before someone else can trust you. The desire for another to drink potentially contaminated water can be viewed as either an act of self-preservation (using a proxy to test the purity) or an act of altruistic love (allowing another to replenish from the limited resource before nourishing oneself).
Harlow sees both cynicism and cheerful mystery in the tale of old women selling flowers before they have been seen to bloom in the forest. The work in this exhibition references the simultaneous existence of the superficial and the profound within encounters — and the role of belief in this determination.
The exhibition presents a video work documenting a performance in Lithuania. Harlow worked with Lithuanian dancer, Ruta Butkus, to create a rhythmic, ritualistic performance generated by hand gestures observed in public spaces with props and costume made by Harlow.
In England, composer and sound artist, Nick Murray, worked with Harlow on a local community workshop exploring the re-transcription of these gestures into sound. Using a theremin an intermittent soundtrack was created with community participants. The theremin, an instrument that translates gestures into tone without physical contact, an evocation of synaesthetic hallucinations from Harlow’s childhood.
In a second workshop, A Level Art students from Dr Challoner’s High School, Buckinghamshire, recited a text by Harlow that interweaves Lithuanian urban myths with fictitious narrative, providing the voice over for the video.
Alongside the video work, a site specific installation is presented in the gallery space — a toxic water source preserving and supporting life and containing duplicate, counterfeit objects. In Lithuania Harlow created distorted casts of objects relating to her text, these functioned as props for the performance. The objects encountered (a vessel that cannot hold water, a forked branch replicating as it breaks apart, a lure to synthetically recreate bird song and a conch shell in which mimicked sounds of waves can be heard) were further distorted in England through repetitive casting processes and are fixed as transmuted versions by being cast and preserved as artifacts in aluminium.
Nick Murray will perform at a special event during the exhibition’s run. Murray will recreate distorted renditions of Harlow’s text and the sounds created during the workshops using a theremin and a proximity mixer (an instrument Murray devised with Tom Fox and Hackoustic). Murray's body of work includes site-specific installation, film scores, live literature and theatrical production.
Short texts will accompany the exhibition with contributions from Leo Cohen and John French. Leo Cohen is an independent writer and curator working in London. John french holds the UEA chair in enterprise and sustainability and actively supports projects in architecture, the arts and sustainable finance. He is involved with Art and Innovation and promotes an anti-disciplinary approach to addressing comtemporary social issues such as the environment, inequality and mental health through the arts.
With special thanks to Arts Council England for supporting this project using public funding through Grants for the Arts; Rupert Residency, Lithuania; Dr Challoner’s High School and Head of Art Department Thomas Hartney, Chalfont and Latimer and the projects contributors and participants.