Haunting and delicate, Sarah Rose’s solo show ‘Difficult Mothers’ marks the crescendo of a year’s worth of conversations between the artist and the exhibition’s curator Alexander Storey Gordon. On entering the exhibition it is impossible to focus on one object, whether a series of beautiful glass balls grating against the hard, cold concrete floor, the conversations being pumped out by speakers - overlapping and confusing one another, making it impossible to focus on one steady stream of dialogue - or the intimate and ecological print works scattered along the walls. The space seems at once in complete harmony, and yet constantly tugs for your attention. Visually, orally and physically stimulating: navigating through the space in order to avoid crushing the glass spheres like tiny snails, attempting to listen in, voyeuristically, to the conversations leaking from speakers, peering with trepidation at prints. This exhibition immediately forces you to journey through the space awkwardly, uncomfortably, inviting a hyperawareness of yourself and the surrounding objects. When the viewer finally has an opportunity to orientate themselves, once the din of clashing conversations is muted, or you have successfully navigated through the delicately placed glass works to the other side of the space, you are given a brief opportunity to devour the aesthetically stunning work which surrounds you, until once again your attention is drawn away by the precarious situation you find yourself in.
The construction of this awkward environment is by no means accidental, Rose is intentionally creating a heightened sense of self-awareness so as to encourage thoughts around how we relate to ecosystems, to ourselves and to other people, as the exhibition text alludes to. A deep pleasure occurs when, finally, as a viewer you make a connection; if you listen long and hard enough to the overlapping conversations at times you may be able to hear a clear sentence, perhaps for a moment there is the opportunity to feel secure in your own footing and spacial surroundings, a print may spark your synapses into recognition of something tangible to hold on to.
The exhibition takes its name from writer and critic Arne De Boever who uses the term in reference to concepts of mothering following our uncertain and dangerous relationship to climate. When glimpsing down at your own feet, surrounded by beautifully crafted glass balls, it is impossible not to associate with what Boever cites as an imperative moment in relating ourselves to our environments: the first view of earth at a distance: spectacular, small and surprising. Rose cleverly inundates us with opportunities to glimpse into what would have been a spectacularly moving moment for those seeing earth in this way for the first time, seeing ourselves apart from, and yet completely inside, our own environment, whilst simultaneously being inundated by similar imagery, muting the powerful message by over saturation.
The disjointed narratives and ghostly quality of the sound pieces suggests a connection between the hyperreal and the mechanical, the organic aspects of our surroundings and those which are man made. As Lisa
Blackman suggests in ‘The Dissociation of Anxiety’, the notion of power is historically linked to enacting boundaries, of creating an otherness, and with this in mind it is difficult to not get a sense that Sarah Rose is creating a dialogue between the self and the organic. At once using technology in the form of sound work to create a notion of the self as clamouring to be heard, and an otherness: the beautiful and delicate prints and the precariously placed glass balls suggesting an organic and ecological aspect. As viewers we are involved in a bizarre tug of war between the exhausting reality of overlapping conversations, our own physicality, and attempting to devour the visually stunning work which we are presented with.
The task of interacting with Sarah Rose’s work is debilitating, but worth the battle. I left this exhibition considering how I navigate my surroundings, how I am related to more than just my mechanical life, and how this exhibition took away the social safety nets I have come to rely on to traverse my own existence. ‘Difficult Mothers’ attacks you, grapples for your attention from all directions and you are left questioning yourself and your abilities on leaving this formidable and challenging exhibition.