Crossings : Divides
6th – 15th July 2023
Essay by Carrie Grainger
Sitting in a quirky exhibition space in South London, artist Jenny Timmer’s work unearths playful, primitive and ominous glimpses from her own experiences in remote parts of Africa as a child. These engage with stories, customs and tensions that have left their mark on Timmer’s memory and imagination. These include encounters of medicinal magic and folklore, tribal ritual and ceremony, the conflicts of hunting and trophy culture and the alluding of perhaps more sinister practices deriving from deep rooted superstitions. This wide array of attachments manifest often simultaneously in her captivating and curiously archaic and often macabre practice. Although segregated into synchronous collectives, these rich threads of cultural memory and experience emerge and intertwine brilliantly throughout the show with an enchanting and almost meditative nocturnal sound-scape from Zimbabwe and Botswana. Sounds of wildlife emerge from the audio piece immersing both an observer and an outsider further into Timmer’s lived and sensorial experience and creative imagination.
Earthy ceramic and clay masks haunt the exhibition space, their fractured and eroded faces have an other-worldly presence that forms an alchemical aesthetic where nature and cultural artefact emerge and co-exist evoking a playful sense of animism, mysticism and spiritual essence. Simultaneous notions of hunting practices and camouflage, folklore, cultural memorabilia, tribal locality, ceremony, superstition and therapeutic craft emanate from a collective of ribbon hung masks that seem to echo traditional and social practices along with moral and political tensions. This particular series sits between the line of child-like craft and the seemingly more sinister as rusted nails and twisted roots protrude from warped and disfigured faces. Whether these hybrid forms have emerged into the present to commemorate a social tradition, to reflect the horrors of poaching and trophy culture or to serve as a physical, intangible or metaphoric warning to keep a distance is symbolically cryptic. However it seems clear that these works are meant as compound artefacts that are multi-layered and rich with meaning. There is also perhaps even a sense of a cultural crossing of an artist that dabbles between two worlds as some of the works seem reminiscent of occult practices, relics and anxieties of medieval Britain and Europe and the modern resurgence of neo-pagan practices.
In contrast to an other-worldly presence, Timmer’s humanoid masks also suggest a sense of absence, melancholy and loss. This is particularly apparent in a collective of fragmented faces placed ceremoniously in moss coloured crates. Their ill-defined features are surrounded by decomposing natural materials such as leaves, twigs, herbs and feather-like seed heads and seem to be alluding to notions of death masks and burial rituals in honour of deceased loved ones and ancestral mementos. Many of the hollow masks appear with dormant expression which can also be seen in a set of weathered masks displayed on dark metal rods. The stone like faces have been adorned with natural and man-made headdresses. They appear as systematic remains where shallow features have been preserved in a state of arrested decay and partially restored with natural and fabric ceremonial head-wear in an attempt to conserve and provide an afterlife for past communities and archaic tradition.
As a whole Timmer’s Crossing: Divides forms a bewitching and thought provoking experience that is dense with personal, cultural, social and political concepts and transcends you as an outsider into a world that feels very primal and‘other’ and is both magical and unnerving.