Poppy Nash is an emerging textile artist/designer based in Glasgow. Her latest work, ‘Care’ at The Lighthouse, Glasgow 31 January – 17 March reflects on the issues surrounding care and disability, using testimony from people with lived experience. Review by Joe Turnbull.
The relationship between care and disability is a complicated one, and I know from first-hand experience, the relationship between carer and the person they care for usually is too. When a familial or romantic relationship takes on extra responsibilities of care it can become strained to breaking point or strengthened. Poppy Nash’s piece powerfully communicates both sides of the coin.
The majority of care is carried out unpaid, largely unrecognised by the outside world. I was a carer for periods of my childhood, without ever realising it until years later. Carers are often left out of the urgent conversations around health, social care and disability. In short, it’s a massive yet overlooked issue.
Nash’s ‘Care’ at The Lighthouse is not so much an exhibition, as a single towering ultramarine monument to the notion of care. Hanging as it does, in a liminal space between floors and the main galleries, it is easy to ignore, despite its scale and allure. Ordinarily, I’d bemoan this (‘oh look they’ve put the disabled artists in a corridor again’) but here it feels entirely appropriate for the matter at hand.
A propitious patchwork of blue squares is furiously daubed with a million messages, frenetically layered upon each other like an almighty brain dump from the heavens. The sensory overload of the text smelted to the sheer scale of the ‘curtain’ delivers an engulfing blow of bewilderment.
The emotions entwined in the subject matter – both positive and negative – are themselves overwhelming. Split between two levels, viewers can choose to gaze up at the work from below or stare down at it from above. Both feel weirdly disorientating.
Look a little closer and there are messages of both rawness and tenderness:
“I felt privileged to be his mother”
“Amazed at the resilience it teaches and the knowledge it brings”
“Our world revolved around this”
“Growth of trust”
“Anger that he doesn’t take care of himself and expects more sympathy.”
These have been gleaned from the ‘untold stories’ of more than 50 people and skilfully interwoven whilst Nash was on a residency at the rural idyll that is Cove Park. These voices often feel frustratingly out of reach, as they are obscured or drowned out by each other – perhaps referencing the breakdown in communication that can occur between carer and cared for. Interspersed with the messages are the relationships (mother, partner, friend etc.) and timescales of care (ranging from months to 19 years).
The material of the text fluctuates between off-white flock (evoking cotton wool with its medical and overprotective connotations), glaring inky red and shimmering metallic gold. The latter, in particular, feels an odd juxtaposition, giving this otherwise quite clinical object a strange sense of glamour. The form of a curtain further reinforces the medical, alluding to the curtained beds of hospitals and residential care.
The piece is strident, striking and thought-provoking. But beyond the awe of the scale and the honesty of the messages, I did find it a little one-dimensional. How great would it have been to hear the messages, whispered, shouted, screamed and fleshed out into a multi-sensory experience (plus it would’ve added a layer of access)? Perhaps that is beyond the scope of this single work.
If I’m being highly critical, I would also add that simply using text based on reported speech is a fairly basic and unoriginal way of getting a message across, which doesn’t require much imagination. But this is the material this young artist has chosen, and she has mastered it well. All in all, it’s a highly assured and well-executed piece of work for someone so early in their career. Care to disagree? I doubt you will.
Find out more about the artist on her website or by following her on Instagram: @poppy_nash_textiles