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The Past is Singing in our Teeth

1 March 2018 until 18 March 2018

The Past is Singing in our Teeth
Kate McMillan

Sound in collaboration with Cat Hope

Preview: Thursday 1st March 6-9pm
Friday 2nd March – Sunday 18th March
Opening times: Friday, Saturday, Sunday 12-6pm

On the opening night, a percussionist activates the space, bringing a voice to the silent objects that punctuate the exhibition. The performance metaphorically and actually embodies the idea that listening to quiet sounds, sounds that may otherwise be overlooked, is central to acknowledging the lost voices that punctuate our histories. In this context the sculptures become percussive objects and the films become records of landscapes animated through ritual and memory. The percussionist is clothed in what McMillan calls ‘a spell dress’. It is covered in pockets that conceal additional sculptures also used in the performance. To view the performance, is to experience the work in its complete form. The methodologies McMillan employs through practice – listening, sounding, researching, thinking about place and landscape and what has been overlooked – are informed by her childhood in Australia. Growing up on stolen land, these clear actions have provided a creative counter to the repression of colonial history and the acts of violence enacted on the land she calls home. Glasgow’s prosperity was built on the labour and lives of slaves and victims of Empire. It is perhaps then apt to also employ these methods of listening, to seek to uncover what has been lost and what stories hideaway amidst the residue of the past.

The Past is Singing in our Teeth suggests that artworks, objects and sound can serve as an umbilical cord back in time, thus functioning as an intermediary into the past; in this case a fictional past reinvented in the absence of women’s histories. The final work manifests as a film based installation, incorporating projected films, sound, performance and sculpture. Using methodologies of collage it is an ambitious work that attempts to reconstruct a labyrinth of lost things. Like a conjuring or a haunting, it seeks to draw a line around the things that sit at the periphery of our vision. In particular, it imagines a lost archive of women’s knowledges, a remembrance of which is triggered by the recovery of sacred objects and landscapes. Filmed in four UK locations – the Welsh Borders, the Kent coast, One Tree Hill and a Hampshire lake, as well as film sets (memory rooms) constructed in the artist’s studio, the exhibition traces the journey of a young girl as she rediscovers a heritage of knowledge and power. The work stitches together recreations of memories, combined with their physical remainders in the present day – objects, ephemera, locations and sounds. The films are inter-dispersed with photographs, spoken word and poetry, attempting to articulate the way memory inflects and informs the present, not as a series of linear and knowable narratives, but as constantly changing, ambiguous, beautiful and haunting residue. These filmic spaces become points of access into a world that is somewhat disjointed from language, a world that is felt and internalised, carried in the body, played out and recreated in present-day events. A central mechanism in this work is the creation of a series of sculptures that slip in and out of roles – props, sculptures and as musical instruments that form the basis for the film score composed by Cat Hope.

Key ideas include the repeating of history, the presence of linked signs, archetypes, place and the objects we carry alongside us throughout our life. The interplay between what is lost and what remains, the repetition of certain behaviours, the seeking out of certain systems and themes become the visual language of the work. So, whilst the impetus for the work begins with the artists’ own biographical engagement with time and memory the concepts expand outwards, inviting viewers and ideas in. The work is quiet, refusing monumentality – instead framing a precarious and fragile movement through the world. Like a psychoanalytic investigation, the construction of the work becomes a tenuous relationship between the real and the unreal, what is known and what is not. Key objects within the exhibition include a ‘spell making’ dress befit with numerous pockets, that house sculptures/percussion objects/relics; a silver necklace decorated with children’s teeth; percussion stands for various sculptures/percussion objects; shorthand poems; silk fabrics with film stills printed on them which act as veils and barriers throughout the installation.

Kate McMillan (b.1974, Hampshire, United Kingdom) (1982-2012, Perth, Australia) based in London.

Kate McMillan’s work incorporates a range of media including sculpture, film, sound, installation and photography. McMillan is interested in the linking narratives of forgetting and place, often focusing on the residue of the past. Previous solo exhibitions include Songs for Dancing, Songs for Dying, 2016, Castor Projects, London; The Potter’s Field, 2014, ACME Project Space, London; Anxious Objects, Moana Project Space, Australia; The Moment of Disappearance, 2014, Carriageworks, Sydney; In the shadow of the past, this world knots tight, 2013 Venn Gallery; Paradise Falls, 2012, Venn Gallery; Lost at the John Curtin Gallery in 2008, Disaster Narratives at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts for the 2004 Perth International Arts Festival. Her work has been featured in various museums and biennales, including the 17th Biennale of Sydney; the Trafco Centre for Contemporary Art, Poland; Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai; Art Gallery of Western Australia; Gertrude Contemporary, Melbourne; Perth Institute for Contemporary Art; John Curtin Gallery, Perth; Govett Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth and the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney.

More recently, and in 2017 she was a finalist in the Celeste Prize curated by Fatos Üstek. In 2016 she was invited to undertake a residency in St Petersburg as part of the National Centre for Contemporary Art (NCCA) where she developed new film works which were shown at the State Museum of Peter & Paul Fortress in Russia in 2017. Also in 2017 she was selected to be in the permanent collection at The Ned, for Vault 100, a new Soho House project which reversed the gender ratio of the FTSE 100 by showing the work of 93 women and 7 men. In early 2018 she will develop new work for Adventitious Encounters at the former Whiteley’s Department Store curated by Huma Kabakci. During the summer of 2018 McMillan will present a newly commissioned film installation for the Rohkunstbau Festival in Germany at the Schloss Lieberose.

Since 2002 she has also undertaken residencies in London, Tokyo, Basel, Berlin, Sydney, Beijing and Hong Kong. She has resided on the Board of the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA) and the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) based in Sydney. Her PhD (2014) explored the capacity for Contemporary Art to unforget colonial histories. McMillan lectures on the Masters Program in the Department for Culture, Media and Creative Industries at King’s College, London. She is currently working on a book which will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in September 2018 called ‘Contemporary Art & Unforgetting: Methodologies of Making in Post-settler Landscapes’.

Her work is held in private collections around the world, as well as in the Christoph Merian Collection, Basel; Soho House Collection, London; Art Gallery of Western Australia; Wesfarmers Arts Collection; KPMG; Murdoch University, Australia; University of Western Australia and Curtin University, Australia.


The Past is Singing in Our Teeth, December 2017 premiering at Kunstquartier Bethanian, Berlin, Image Credit: Leslie Ranzoni

The Past is Singing in Our Teeth, December 2017 premiering at Kunstquartier Bethanian, Berlin, Image Credit: Leslie Ranzoni