Review by Benji Thomas

In our last issue, I interviewed artist Sophie Shaw about her then upcoming show Treatments: What We Find and What We Bring [See Issue 162]. The show opened for just one weekend starting on 10th October but still drew a great many people through the doors of Electro Studios Project Space.

When I first interviewed Sophie about the exhibition, the interconnectivity of the work became clear straight away in our conversation – the glass plate negatives that she fatefully stumbled across in an antique shop inspired the research and also gave birth to the paintings. What I wasn’t expecting was this interconnectivity to be part of the artwork in its own right.

Sophie Shaw reveals her thought process
PICTURE: Benji Thomas

The exhibition is in two rooms, and in the first room you can see the very thought process that governed the making of this exhibition sprawling out in front of you. Red tape fans out from the mysterious images on the slides and connect to notes about various parts of each one. Much like the criss-crossing whiteboard on the wall of a private investigator, it’s an intriguing logical chaos. It’s also visually unusual: you don’t often see the process of conception so completely laid out in an art exhibition. 

The fascination that Sophie’s subjects hold for her is plain to see, a sense of real investment in the work that isn’t so prevalent in the average gallery show. I felt I could really get my teeth into the process almost as much as she did, and it was deeply satisfying to experience it that way. It really did feel like I was walking through a brain, and the beautiful light installations by Tracey Tiltman served to stretch that metaphor: they looked a little like neurons firing.

In the second room are the paintings: intuitive works that respond to the images on the negatives with scenes of heightened colour and ambiguous figuration. They have a fragmentary quality and seem to float uneasily in a liminal, ‘inbetween’ space, like a memory or half-truth. I found myself going back and forth from the paintings to the network of notes and images in the first room, and then to the space in between those two rooms where the glass plate negatives themselves were displayed.

When I saw the negatives, I could appreciate immediately how they sparked a project like this. They have a mysterious and uncanny quality and made me want to lean in and examine them. The inclusion of the negatives themselves in the exhibition also raised some interesting questions about ‘source’ for me. The source of a work (be it a photograph, an initial sketch or perhaps a found item) is closely guarded by many artists to mystify their own process. Sometimes that’s understandable, but here, seeing where the work comes from breathes life into the room and gives visitors an ‘in’ to fully understand the motivations behind it all.

The whole exhibition had a sense of subversion: it gently challenged the typical tropes you see in galleries. A non-linear path for visitors to take, revealing the source of the work and letting the viewers revel in the thought process itself. It felt radical and courageous and I’m now keenly awaiting her next project.

•  Sophie would like to thank Mo El-Kadey, Sam Payne, Alex Brattell and Colin Booth for the support throughout the process of the exhibition. You can see more of the artist’s work at sophieshawart.com


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