Corin Sworn – Silent Sticks at the Whitechapel Gallery
Over the course of the next few weeks the Whitechapel Gallery is presenting Corin Sworn’s latest exhibition, Silent Sticks. The Glasgow-based visual artist is the latest winner of the Max Mara Art Prize for Women, an initiative that aims to support and develop the UK’s emerging female talent.
Based on her proposal, Sworn was granted a residency in Italy, where she researched and finalised her vision before returning to the UK to exhibit. The work, which makes use of a variety of different mediums, is based around the themes, props, and costumes of the 16th century Commedia dell’Arte theatre.
The installation itself is a collection of objects created to depict the typical stage props of the time. These are arranged and lit in such a way as to give the viewer the impression of being privy to a theatre production in the making. Patrons are invited to wander amid the layout and take up different vantage points (indicated by carefully placed seats), each of which uncovers interesting new items for consideration. There’s a hunter’s table, complete with game hanging from its side, boom-sticks, weapons, numerous beards, wigs and period costumes, and even a signpost helpfully indicating the way to the bar. In the midst of all of this stand two projection screens and accompanying speakers, which provide narration of a play from the period through broken snippets of audio. The plot tells the tale of Martin, a young man of Basque origin, who runs away from the family farm in favour of a life in the army. Some years later, another soldier – who happens to be passing through the area – is mistaken for Martin and decides to assume his identity, until ultimately being uncovered as an imposter.
The idea of the self and impersonation is a theme typical to Commedia dell’Arte and Sworn explores this in her work. To highlight this internal relationship, rather than show a performance of the play itself, the screens show two acrobats who, through a series of fairly challenging movements around each other, represent the duality of the characters as they attempt to live within their new identities.
The theatrically low-lit, cavernous room, along with the variety of methods Sworn uses to convey her message, make Silent Sticks a thought-provoking exhibition that’s full of hidden intrigue. A worthy winner of the Max Mara prize.
Photos: Erol Birsen
Corin Sworn: Silent Sticks is at the Whitechapel Gallery from 20th May until 19th July 2015, for further information visit here.