noun: anamnesis; plural noun: anamneses
1 recollection, especially of a supposed previous existence.
Amamnesis was the title of an exhibition by Belfast born artist Lisa Gingles, held at Hamilton Gallery in Sligo (N Ireland) earlier this year. One of the definitions of ananmesis is: a recollection, especially of a supposed previous existence, a definition which captures the spirit of many of Gingles works, not only those included in that particular show, as she guides the viewer through a strange carnival of contemporary chimera, and subtly deformed figures, that are at the same time familiar, and disquieting.
There is a dreamlike quality found in work of Lisa Gingles. Generally working with figures, she presents the viewer with an array of characters, some hybrids of humans and animals, others human like, but with omissions or distortions in the features. These often adopt everyday poses, which imbues them with a strange dichotomy: on the one hand they are casual and relaxed, like people we are comfortable with day to day in our environment, and thus we accept their existence, but concurrently we are disturbed by the fact that the figure we have so readily acknowledged has the head of an animal, or some other abnormality. These two experiences clash, and are in counterpoint with each other, and a mental confusion arises that leads to questions about the artist’s intentions, and choices of form.
In essence these works follow traditions of story-telling, folklore, and mythology. In folklore the grotesque is taken for granted, for example the humanising of animals, such as the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, a normally dangerous wild animal, who in the story has human thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Gingles often gleans her inspiration from these types of ideas, however her interpretation seems to emerge from a place beyond conscious thought. Rather than having a straight forward narrative as its source, it appears more like dream interpretation, and in this aspect the work is akin to the surrealists, rather than the ballads. Beneath the lyrical surface, her work portrays deep rooted concerns about human identity and behaviour.
Mostly working in small format using pencil, pastel and watercolour, her figures seem to simply be getting on with their lives. They read the paper, sit at a table, walk, stand, but, they are not entirely human. An earlier series of paintings showed figures with animal or bird heads substituted for the human head. In mythology this may suggest some form of punishment, often humans are transformed into animals if they have transgressed, however Gingles characters don’t look as if they are enduring suffering, which suggests there may be a different interpretation, though what this could be remains shrouded. The meaning is ambiguous, which adds layers to the suggestiveness of the piece.
Another series “Anonymous” showed well-dressed but faceless people. The images are slightly melancholy, and the lower edge of the page in each case is bounded by a thick band of black, which adds gravitas to this impression. The facelessness is enigmatic, it mirrors many aspects of contemporary life, the isolation and disenfranchisement of the competitive world. In a strange way these figures are comforting. We are normally taught to hide feelings of loneliness or isolation, we try not to exhibit characteristics that are regarded as weaknesses, even as mental disorders. In these works this particular human condition is identified, and given definite form. It is not merely a mental state anymore but something more concrete, it is recognised, and recognisable. It is brought out into the open in an elegant way.
What is shown throughout Gingles’ art is a delving for a hidden truth about human existence, which also poses the question of whether it is possible to isolate one aspect of the human psyche and comprehend it separately to all the other parts that it supports and/or depends on. The question remains unanswered. Individual pieces of Gingles’ work can be read and appreciated on their own, but there is also much to be gained from studying her collective body of works, and her progression of ideas. In some ways the unanswered question is the message of the work. There is no answer, these elements are just part of existence.
Lisa Gingles works mostly in small format, on pages torn from old books, sourced in flea markets and second-hand shops, which provide limitations to the scale of her output. The use of found paper further ties in her commitment to the development of story-telling. The pages of the books already have their own stories, most obviously in the words themselves, but also in the journey of the book’s existence; where it was made, published, and sold, who the subsequent owners were, and how and why they came to own it. Gingles becomes the last owner in the continuum of the book as a book, and adds a further layer, the image, which hovers over the text, or which responds to the patina and decay of ageing paper. This transforms the antique paper of the book into something other than it’s original form. It is a book no longer but becomes an artwork, and thus a different sort of commodity, while still retaining traces of its provenance.
2017 has been a very busy year for Lisa Gingles. She has been involved in a number of exhibitions in Spain, Ireland and N Ireland, both solo and group shows. One of note was the Valencia Capital Animal exhibition, which took place in November 2017. The aim of the exhibition was to highlight the plight of abused and endangered species around the world. Gingles’ work depicted the hunters who are annihilating these species, in relaxed hunting stances. In place of their own head they have the head of the animal they are hunting. In the world of Lisa Gingles, we are the animals, we are hunting ourselves.
Recently Gingles has been awarded a solo exhibition in La Lisa Arte Contemporáneo Gallery, in Albacete, Spain, in 2018/19. She will also be represented in ARCO, the international contemporary art fair held in Madrid, in 2018, with the title of award winner for this Gallery, in the stand of Spanish art magazine 967arte.
Lisa Gingles was born in N Ireland, but now lives in Valencia, Spain. Her work can be seen on her blog and facebook page.