Specialness is both a human desire and experience, and a medium to communicate other human desires and experiences. (Leah Clements)
London-based artist Leah Clements opened her first solo show at the VITRINE gallery in Bermondsey Square this August. This exhibition encompasses two performances. The first, marking the opening of her show, on the private view and the second, shaping the end of the exhibition.
Clements’ work, oscillating between performance, audio or video work and gatherings is grounded within social situations and human behaviour. She focuses on little ‘oddities’ or relationship anomalies that make up our structure, singularizing the individual in an intimate manner. However, Clements’ centre of attraction isn’t only based on the ‘I’ but dwells within group dynamics or how each person, with their distinctive gestures, interact towards or against each other. The audience’s role becomes key in Clements’ work as it only exists within the exchange between her investigation and ‘our’ input as human ‘external sources’.
For this show titled You Promised Me Poems, Clements explores ideas of empathy and emotional or physical pain generated within relationships; questioning what remains from this suffering when the cause or source has passed. Clements based her performance on the relationship between two sisters, Barbara and Susana Monteiro. Clements interviewed Susana and recorded the encounter through an audio format. Barbara then performed her sister’s interview during the night of the private view, using headphones and an iPod, speaking out loud, transferring this intimate moment to the audience. Barbara embraced a key position in the aspect of a potential power structure as she chose what information to keep or leave out from the original dialogue between Clements and her sister.
The performance takes us on a passage of time through extremely intimate anecdotes or memories, relating or incessantly coming back to pain and its physical manifestations within each sister’s bodies. There is a specific significance to the transference of pain from one sister to another; if Barbara is in pain, Susana can then feel this physical suffering in her own body. This moment of transference is the fundamental aspect that Clements addresses in her work, with the idea of empathy becoming a central connecting thread delineating one person’s pain from the next. The original ‘source’ of torment is able to shift from one individual to the next in a mystifying indissoluble way.
The trace of Barbara’s performance remains in audio form. This audio recording becomes the work that can be witnessed in the gallery after the private view. Clements chose this medium over video, as she wanted to produce a shift between the ‘original source’ of pain and what is related to the audience. Clements becomes ‘the connecter’ between the Monteiro sisters’ intimacy and our reaction towards their rapport. The audio work that remains is presented through glass, making our interaction more physical, or even intimate, as we are tempted to gain proximity and press up against this recounted auditive closeness. This goes hand in hand with the size of the gallery, being prone to an intimate encounter in a sixteen square metre space.
The show continues to transform after the next and final performance, on the 22nd of August. During this event, Clements will give the audience the possibility of taking a personality test where the results will only be revealed to her. The perception of the work will be entirely based on the viewer’s answers. With this gathering, Clements’ motivations continue to be rooted in ideas of specialness, disappointment or engagement. By immersing herself within the complexity of human relationships, Clements pushes the boundaries of feeling, being in this case the perception of strain or discomfort. In doing so she observes how a specific sensation shifts from its point of origin to its receptor. Levels of empathy reinforce this precise moment of transition.
The work takes on a transcending aspect with the questioning of how an individual deprived of any intimacy with the person carrying this pain may still be able to feel something, anything, regarding them. It is much easier to generate empathy towards a known object or person with whom we preserve an intimate relationship, yet how does one react when presented with the raw sensations of pain and fleeting closeness occurring in a complete foreign context to our intimate sphere? This grasping duality becomes a point of separation taking place within each individual witnessing Leah Clements’ work. You Promised Me Poems exists, in each of our realities, and simultaneously varies from one person to the next whilst maintaining one common tie; transference.
All images are by Leah Clements