Heather Phillipson at The Grundy: Creative confusion

Emma Nuttall
Photo of a Heather Phillipson installation, a walkway through a brightly coloured and suggestively shaped archway

Heather Phillipson’s work is vibrant, energetic and at times baffling – we preview her latest exhibition at The Grundy, Blackpool.

Step into the curious world of Heather Phillipson. As LUX Associate Artist 2011/12 and an award-winning poet, Phillipson is a woman with quite the mixed set of creative talents. It makes sense, then, that she is curious about the relation between language and object. It’s a connection that her new exhibition at The Grundy, the obliquely-titled Yes, Surprising is existence in the post-vegetal cosmorama sets out to explore. For the show, Phillipson invites the viewer to enter her world of the bold and bizarre through a suggestive portal. Inside is a wonderland choc-full of sculptures, multi-layered structures, installations, sounds and machines. A busy land of different colours and varying scales, designed to saturate the visitor’s sensory perceptions, to blur the line between the virtual and the real.

Phillipson invites the viewer to enter her world of the bold and bizarre through a suggestive portal

Originally produced and presented by BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in 2013, the exhibition has been re-imagined for the Edwardian spaces of The Grundy. Alongside the works, Phillipson has created a selection of accompanying videos, which promise to be one of the highlights. The first, immediately and for a short time balloons weapons too-tight clothing worries of all kinds, delivers lines of advice on life and musings on the complications of love. Viewers can then climb aboard a speedboat, surrounded by bottles of water; this is the viewing platform for ha!ah!, a tongue-twisting video that concerns itself with all aspects of the mouth. Finally, A Is to D What E Is to H tackles diverse subjects including Modernist architecture, boredom, sightseeing and French kissing.

Phillipson has gained significant acclaim for this series of work, named by Guardian critic Adrian Searle as one of his top ten from around the world for 2013: Searle described Phillipson’s work as “knowing and laconic, funny and disturbing.” Phillipson’s message will, perhaps, not be immediately clear amongst this bombardment of sights and sounds, an experience of general bafflement. Yet arguably it is this sensory overload that provides exactly the right platform for reflection on life as we know it. This exhibition promises to take visitors on an extraordinary journey, where, occasionally, in amongst the fantastical, we might snag on the familiar and see it anew.

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