Room Service: Jacqueline Ball

By Graham Mathwin

The images, hung at varying heights in the space, are deceptive and revelatory in their functions. The progress of Ball’s work has, until recently, followed a Romantic inclination – a very dark romanticism, but one with clear direction. The feeling I associate with earlier works is a sense of subtle yet pervasive fear. They trouble us in an entirely pleasing way – their textures, their reflections, they captivate us in something of a mystery - yet one that reflects a psychological underpinning. Their modesty, and their introspective views of a somewhat subterranean character invites a complex reading – the work suggests at the unknown in the world, not only external, but internally. The knowledge that we gain visually, the playing with scale and materiality, contributes yet another level of complexity to the work – here is something that the photograph does incredibly well - changing relative perceptions, and allowing us a vision of the sublime in a cardboard box. The detail and the care taken to provoke and stimulate our sensibilities is undermined upon closer inspection, and we are drawn into uncertainty, unsure of the nature of what we are looking upon – impossible forms emerge from the darkness of some bizarre, alienating landscape. The forms often take on a natural appearance; though sometimes exhibit their theatricality or blatant artifice. It is a field that was only subtly disjunctive, pleasingly so. The work Ball has progressed on to make more recently, and is present in her latest exhibition, is something else.

It is more troubling than the strange scapes she presented previously, and this work contains what is implicit but never stated in her previous work – the body. The caves, their very forms, and that they exhibit a tension between nature and manufacture, implies our human presence (not to mention their translation into images). Here, in these recent photos, the human body emerges, intimate, as intimate as the caves we wander through in her films and photos, but also dissonant. There is coldness, a lack of the Romanticising impulse in these images. The face is dispensed with, or hidden, and the form, the body, is left to tell us the psychological tale. For it is a psychological tale, a tale of feeling. The sensibility is what is gathered from these images, rather than a narrative or a particular identifiable sign. I would not suggest it is a subconscious journey we undertake though. Although caves have developed denotations in psychoanalysis, Ball’s early works are not those of someone unknowing of the language they speak in. The works invoke that language of the unknown, of the repressed: hidden in tunnels and dark overhangs; but it is the sensibility of anticipation, of foreboding, that permeates the works, rather than an invitation to psychoanalysis. There is nothing repressed in her early photography, rather, the artist has hidden it quite deliberately.

The body, bruised and scarred, as it appears now, is both a continuation, but entirely different from, this previous work. It feels like an event has passed us by, in that dark space, through arches in caves, and we are presented with the geological ruptures that attest to it – fossils to the event. They are still somewhat like caves and crevasses; we still enter into the space of the photograph, or perhaps the space of the photograph begins to press outward on us, yet the principle shift seems to be that we begin to see things in their actuality. Although they are not transgressive for their bodily nature - being rather refined, delicate, and crystalline - they pertain to the same reality that bodily abjection hopes to access. They are still composed or selected as carefully as the models that featured in previous work, in order to be suggestive, but the photograph becomes not a space into which we pour our dreams, but rather a space that is troubled by intimacy, and the ghost of the real – the battered blue and black arms are here, smooth as marble, yet riddled with scars. The pleasure of the visible given to us in the images of caves is there, but is made dissonant. The sensibility is not one of a storm waiting to break, but rather of a storm having broken, or breaking. The pleasure is limited; though the choices of colour give us sensation, along with the choices of scale, the omission of detail, all of which are refined and aesthetic - we cannot escape the literality of these works. We have no space to dream within them, we can guess, we can wonder, but I am reluctant. Probing a bruise, even putting them on show, is not an act that invites us too to probe it. We do not project our fantasies onto them, they are traces of violent things; they are another kind of darkness, and not of the fantastical sort. It invites us to think, and to consider, much more than to dream. Yet the presence of fantasy too gives us an odd space to wander through. We are offered here different spaces, and their junction invites us to consider their relationship – the space of fantasy and the space of the body.


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