Gill Hedleyback

Writer and Curator

Jyll Bradley

Gill Hedley speaking at Site Gallery, Sheffield, in 2006

Naming Spaces

Review of Jyll Bradley exhibition at The Exchange, Penzance for Art Monthly in . 

image of Naming Spaces light box
Naming Spaces (1989, remade 2011)

The exhibition opens with The Exchange, a vinyl text, which, as the exhibition's overall title suggests, serves to name the place (the gallery was previously a telephone exchange) and set a scene. We read part of a letter from Proust who advises his unknown correspondent: “You would do well to keep them in suspense ... after a bit of hesitation give in a bit of yourself.”

Throughout the exhibition, Bradley has made careful juxtapositions of light boxes, rich with colour and image, and accompanying white panels. These devices introduce a minimalist aesthetic, an implication of the yet unwritten page, a sculptural sense as wall is linked to floor and a human trace as the panel leans quietly against the wall. Its blank virginal side is displayed but gives no idea what, if anything, is hidden behind.

The most recent works in the exhibition include Wordpairs, a small series of works which feature old photographs from the artist's personal archive. Bradley has laid images on white surfaces as if about to create a book or a poster, complete with the graphic key marks. The correlations are hidden from the viewer but in Wordpairs (2) and (3), 2010, a family story is implied. A fine featured man from several generations ago looks out at us; in the companion piece a small girl in a 1960s photo taken on a Cornish beach fixes her sights through binoculars out to sea. Now she trains her gaze on him across the years.

The earliest work in the exhibition has been remade for Naming Spaces and gives the exhibition its title. First made in 1989, three young women, full of glee and charm, are captured in two images, blurred to add both immediacy and transience. Overlaid are two texts from Proust as a memory trigger.

Epithalamion: Song for Cornwall, 2010, is a hymn to marriage. The major threat to the local flower trade is the intensive farming methods of the Dutch industry which buys up flowers from Kenya, Colombia and now Russia, flys them round the world to be delivered to supermarkets and specialist florists everywhere, including Cornwall. These large images are fine art pigment printed on canvas, pinned to the gallery wall, making reference to fabric banners that advertise or protest or identify. However, their beautiful painterly quality also recalls tour de force still life paintings on canvas in which, of course, the Dutch once specialised. Drinks, snacks, flowered wellies, Dutch flower buckets and a sign which read “Makes Bouquets” place the setting of Bradley's works in the here and now but a bravura representation of a tall glass vase in each scene acts like the mirror in the Arnolfini Marriage though the artist remains invisible.

The viewer stands in the middle of a 360 degree panorama of four light boxes. The scene is an old flower barn on a farm very near Penzance whose usage has now been revived by an entrepreneur. Here we see a tableau in which wedding garlands are being fashioned but the florist has also created a new project locally called The Cornish Flower Train which is a marriage itself between marketing skills and the traditional flower farmer’s reticence.

Bradley has made a work in acknowledgment called Cornish Flower Train, a series of 10 posters which will be displayed in railway stations on the line between Penzance and Paddington marking the journey made by the legendary Flower Train which brought freshly picked flowers from Cornish fields overnight to Covent Garden.

As befits a sequence that will be seen on a train line through spring they also succeed in their modest but powerful way to deal with time, light and seasons. Nine images are visible in the gallery from the street and the tenth pays homage to Felix Gonzales Torres displayed as a large pile with an invitation for each visitor to help themselves, furl the poster and secure with an elastic band, just like a simple bunch of flowers. The last line of text on the give-way is “the final choice was mine”, delivering the audience back to Proust.

This is an elegantly installed exhibition with clever variations of angles, corners, intimate and more stage-like spaces. The light boxes are seductive and the medium deliberately echoes advertising, glowing in an urban night scene.

It is also a highly intelligent exhibition and a rare bird: one which brings the very personal alongside genuinely public projects and from which each gains substantially.