For an exhibition entitled Somatic Grip, there is very little materiality in the two rooms hosting Jo Tomlinson’s solo exhibition at the Patriothall Gallery. The word ‘somatic’ is defined as ‘relating to the body, especially as distinct from the mind.’ And yet one enters the gallery space to find, in the first room four large segments of transparent plastic, suspended from strings, sporting different patterns cut into their surfaces: one appears random, another seems to be a spine with a large amount of ribs jutting from its sides.
Passing this wavering, seemingly insubstantial (and yet of course plastic is one of the things that lasts the longest) room, one passes into the second room, where there is a video projection, showing a 6 minute film entitled ‘Space Feeling’. This title seems to capture the essence of the empty, shifting, exhibition space better.
These layers of meaning – and particularly the intersection of body and space – are at the core of Tomlinson’s work. Tomlinson is an artist living and working in Glasgow; as far back as 2011 she attended a series of workshops called Somatic Experiences in Thailand. Now, increasingly, the place and role of the body have become pertinent and pressing questions, with virtual communication and even virtual reality making bodies seem increasingly less important. In a society in which we are constantly gripped by things we read online, where is there space for the somatic grip?
Tomlinson’s interrogation of this question is rendered abstractly and in visually melodic terms in her video installation. Its collage-like sequence of images, often made hazy or so up-close so as to not represent anything completely comprehensible, also references one of her inspirations for this exhibition: Vilém Flusser´s Vampyroteuthis Infernalis (Vampire Squid). By half jokingly and half seriously examining the vampire squid and analysing its connections with human beings, Flusser made both a contribution to the philosophy of animal cognition and to the very idea of being human.
Tomlinson responds to this treatise taking the vampire squid as a kind of recurring motif, particularly in the video, but also in the tentacle-like slashes on some of the plastic sheets. It is used to probe the human body’s particular dealing with both physical and virtual space, as an animal. The curving tentacle of the vampire squid serves as a kind of visual theme as well, linking close-up images of curved pieces of fabric, or tin foil, with the overlapping voices in the video, dipping in and out, giving us a slippery and unfocused image of what may be considered a ‘grip’.
Patriothall Gallery is a small space, and Tomlinson’s exhibition can be viewed in fifteen minutes. It is well worth a visit.
Until 15th October
Photo credit: Jo Tomlinson