Hair and Body is Brooklyn-based artist Rachel Eulena Williams’ first solo exhibition in a UK institution.
The new suite of multimedia works inhabit both galleries at Dundee Contemporary Arts, and include a swing for visitors to use, if they so choose.
According to the exhibition notes, the title of the show is inspired by this interactive work – ‘Swing in Protective Style’ (2022) – which is suspended from the ceiling in Gallery 2. The braided white ropes resemble hairstyles, with sparkling adornments and accessories, meanwhile, the swing seat is an invitation for viewers to move their bodies within the installation.
Shoes must be removed in order to use the swing and visitors are asked to rock gently while continuing to keep their feet in contact with the floor. It’s certainly a novel experience for an art gallery visitor and it does offer a tentative sense of freedom as you regard the works from a completely new perspective, while attempting to keep your toes in touch with the mat below.
Williams’s works are a hybrid of painting and sculpture and many of the assemblages are circular. Exuding vibrancy and vitality, with gorgeous colour combinations, these are based on the “tondo” format which was popular during the Italian Renaissance.
Found materials are frequently incorporated into Williams’s works and braided rope, fabric and thread are layered with paint and ink to create beautiful pieces that resemble reliefs, featuring motifs such as flowers, suns and organic forms.
With all the knots and braids, there is definitely tension present – they’re used as defining lines as well as connectors. But the colours sing so joyfully that you can’t help but be comforted by their visual harmonies.
‘Hourglass Blue’ (2023) and ‘Hourglass Black’ (2023), both divided by a large ‘X’ shape, suggest the passing of time, or indeed time running out.
Meanwhile, ‘Pistillate’ (2023) is a monumental work that takes up an entire wall alongside the swing. It is a fusion of shapes resembling flower petals and a dragonfly-like form with extended arms that reach out either side.
The exhibition also features Williams’s first venture into film, ‘Her hand freehand’ (2023). This is multi-layered like her artworks, mixing together footage showing black women’s hair being braided and dyed, nails being painted; acts of self care that are normally carried out in private. Silent and colourful, you could watch the 1 minute 35 second piece over and over and always see something new.
Hair and Body runs at Dundee Contemporary Arts until 19th November