Lorraine Clark

Lorraine Clark


I have had the pleasure of visiting Lorraine Clarke’s Tottenham studio while some of the work for this important solo show was in process of assemblage and creation. I have seen materials there, formless and unconsidered before, yet in that place already invested with potential, slowly transformed into serious objects of contemplation.

Lorraine Clarke has a genius for finding objects which have a resonance, and at creating new ones. Her creative process has a plant-like quality – via the absorption of materials, through a process of assimilation, to bud and branch and bloom. Her work is fastidious careful, almost lapidary. Materials regarded as detritus, in Lorraine Clarke’s hands, transform into objects new and strange, yet somehow familiar – tugging at the memory-strings of the mind, deep, deep, somewhere far back into subconscious primitivity.

Her collection of fertility dolls, for example, is extraordinary. Unified, like a museum collection, by means of careful presentation, their disparity is astounding. They are made from the widest range of materials, mostly discarded and found again by the artist – from plant roots and flotsam to weathered plastics. They take – naturally or by some deft twist of art – human form. Presenting them to us as a collection, framed, caged and nested in series, Lorraine Clarke invites us to reconsider what it is we consider human, what organic, what manufactured, what magical. The ancient, the primitive and the modern look back at us, in our own two-armed, two legged, two eyed predicament.

The amulet collection is encased in a domestic-looking many-folding sewing box, on its own plinth, open to view: it contents, again, resonate with magical potential, demonstrating the power of objects to embody the investment of abstract powers: hope, belief, faith. The case draws on domestic tradition, enriching it with a new potency as a self-conscious housing for an extraordinary selection of objects. Amulets are not always chosen by the individual, but may be somehow invested with protective power, either transferred by the giver, on invested by the bearer. They exist in all known cultures, and their significance often derives from morphological echoes of the human body – shoe, cowrie shell, hand, or heart. As in the torso triptych, multiplicity is enclosed within outer uniformity, by distortions of scale. Each is protected in a see-through box, echoing the invisible protection amulets are believed to convey to those who carry them. The resonances of these artefacts are sometimes culturally specific, but more often appeal at a deeper level, through a sometimes disquieting vagueness which invites pondering, and excavation of one’s own imaginative lumber room, a process surprisingly pleasurable and regenerative in itself.

The “Magisterium” is a disparate collection of lidded glass bottles and jars of all kinds: tall and narrow, short, round, slender, fat, shapely, functional, hundreds of them, displayed in wonderful array in clusters grouped by height and shape, reflecting light, and all with the most curious contents. Being habituated to medical museums, I am quite used to seeing things in bottles. This, however is quite something else – a fantastic collection of found and made objects reminiscent in its bottled context, of a great library of medicaments of such diversity that it resembles the amalgamated arcane armamentarium of a Chinese medicine practitioner and a medieval apothecary. Yet the modern domesticity of the bottles reminds us too, of the many culinary ingredients which are also medicinal, and the nurturative femininity of much of the wisdom behind the world’s knowledge of healing. Many of the proffered medicaments also promote laughter – look not too seriously, lest you miss the fun. And just as in medicine, dangerous materials taken in small doses can be palliative or curative, this accumulation of materials might seem kind or malevolent, merely by the power of thought.

The power of the reliquary and of the alter which lie behind several of the works contributes to the play on the impetus of thanksgiving: as fundamental to human nature as the quest for medicine or supernatural assistance. The triptych exemplifies the manner in which the artist’s work draws upon the very ancient and the now: the characteristic Lorraine Clarke silhouette torso echoes classical sculpture, modern media and mass-production in its multiple appearances, yet each – being both hand cut and varicoloured – is much less uniform in character than first appearances suggest. Genderlessness – like Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando” – allows potential to be either/both. Massed ranks are presented in neat rows, their hollowed interiors housing gem-like representations of human body parts. The soundscape is a simply listing, a rich male voice, of all the body parts represented. This particular piece is a reminder of the sacredness of the body, the multiple parts we each are given, and the fact that many may be bought and sold by international body brokers. Here thanksgiving inverts into disquieting concern for human greed, while reinforcing our appreciation of kinship and vulnerability. In another piece similar torsos possess and added valency in butterfly wings, suggesting the resonance of soul, creativity, life of the stem-cell.

The sense of time span in Lorraine Clarke’s work seems immense, as old as humanity. The body is where modernity and primitivity meet, and her work seems to explore the paradox by reaching back into the earthy magic of ancient times with the precision of the surgical laser, celebrating human multiplicity and creativity within the context of the organic creativity of Nature. Central to her work is the notion of kinship, healing, the preciousness and precariousness of life, and the multivalency of hope.

[Dr. Ruth Richardson – M.A., D.Phil., F.R.Hist.S. Writer/ Medical Historian].

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