Claire Lambe: Mother Holding Something Horrific


Claire Lambe weaves an uneasy narrative through a warp of found archives, personal records, films, studio documentation, architecture and design. In the formidable expanse of ACCA the installations in her solo show, Mother Holding Something Horrific, seem almost restrained. But that’s the trick: this work is slippery, ambiguous, layered.

As a viewer, you are never shown precisely what the horrific ‘thing’ of the title might be. It remains what it says on the label: something. It glimmers just under the surface, behind a mirror, on the other side of a screen, in a disquieting photograph taped at knee level. You catch it in the undertone of a tense pulsing soundtrack and the eerie glow of a bronze flower, opening itself up in a dark room.

You scrutinise the photographs and postcards taped, like visual references, to dividers and walls. Is that where the horrific thing is hiding? Are these scenes from films, or performance documentation, or archival images of real events? All this information, this accumulated detritus, none of it is horrific, exactly. But perhaps the horrific is in the accumulation, the distortion, the unreal.

Photographic scenes of absurdity are frequently shown in the same breath to be artifice: a costumer is visible in the background, or the angle shows a stage light. You can walk right around everything and see the seams. Props and sculptures reappear in different photographs, shown from multiple angles, in different rooms.

Chairs are a recurring motif, identical forms seen both in photographs and in three dimensions. There is an ornate rocking chair, a small stool, and a replica of an upholstered desk chair, carved entirely out of light wood. This latter is shown (through a reference photograph of the original in situ)  to be a copy of the chair in Freud’s study. Here, it has become almost a fetish object. Its fabric cushion and solid arms have merged into a single unyielding material.

In Lambe’s installation The waterfall, you are reflected in dozens of mirrored structures arranged throughout the room. Space expands and distorts. It is unclear precisely where your body ends, which surfaces are real and which are illusions. The rooms absorb your body into themselves.

A postcard is doubled in the neighbouring right-angled surface. You glance into a mirrored panel and can’t see your reflection: is this, then, the horrific thing? The absence of self? Of course, a blink later, you realise there’s a window cut in; you are looking through, not into. You are still a body.

And the body, of course, is the crux of the matter for Lambe. In this rotating place between the real and the artificial, the female body appears again and again: conceptually, photographed, and notably, in the flesh. Lambe has worked previously with dancer and choreographer Atlanta Eke, and for this exhibition, Eke performs every Saturday with dancer Annabelle Balharry. For three hours the two move responsively among mirrors, screens and lights, accompanied by live sound and film. At other times, the dancers are present through filmed documentation of the most recent performance. Their moving bodies inhabit these artificial rooms, wrapping another layer of embodied language into Lambe’s complex work.

In Mother Holding Something Horrific the same weight is given to artefacts and replicas, memories and dreams.

Claire Lambe: Mother Holding Something Horrific
8 April – 25 June 

Screening: Ticket of No Return (1979) 
7 June, 6.30pm

Preview, Review Words by Anna Dunnill