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The Regency Town House OPEN14 Hub

Peter Watkins: The Unforgetting

The Regency Town House
13 Brunswick Square
Hove BN3 1EH

4 Oct - 2 Nov 2014
11am to 6pm, Thursday - Saturday
12pm to 5pm, Sundays

Brighton Photo Fringe is pleased to present The Unforgetting, the first solo exhibition by Peter Watkins, supported by our print partner Metro Imaging. Now in its sixth year, the OPEN has consistently presented some of the most exciting photography of our time. Selected from an international open call, we receive submissions from all over the world. OPEN14 was selected by Daniel C. Blight, curator of Chandelier Projects and blog editor at The Photographers' Gallery; Steve Macleod, Director of Metro Imaging; Karin Andreasson, Assistant Picture Editor at The Guardian; and Harry Hardie of Here Press and Panos Pictures, assisted by the BPF Trainee Curators.
The exhibition has been curated the BPF Trainee Curators with support from Daniel C. Blight.

A free panel discussion with Daniel C. Blight, the BPF Trainee Curators and Watkins will be held at The Regency Town House on Sunday 5 October at 11.30am.
Book your ticket here.

This year the trainees have faced the new challenge of presenting contemporary work within the extraordinary historic setting of The Regency Town House, to stunning effect. Peter Watkins creates installations that incorporate a range of sculptural approaches, such as casting, stacking and obscuring, to complicate the reading of his autobiographical photographs. Watkins' work seeks to draw attention to the inadequacy of photographs and objects to enable us to access the past, while acknowledging their enigmatic potential for activating memories.

Watkins graduated from the Royal College of Art's MA Photography course in 2014. His recent groups shows include Planche(s) Contact Photography Festival, Deauville (2013), Thresholds, Belfast Exposed, Belfast (2013) and Wonders of the Visible World, Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, Sunderland (2011-12). Watkins was also featured in the British Journal of Photography's 2014 'ones to watch' list. He was the recipient of a 2013 European Graduate Photography Award and the 2008 Nikon Discovery Award.

The Unforgetting, Watkins' first solo show, is exhibited at The Regency Town House, a grade I Listed terraced home of the mid-1820s being developed as a heritage centre and museum to focus on the architecture and social history of Brighton & Hove between the 1780s and 1840s. For more information visit: www.rth.org.uk

Interviews and essays about The Unforgetting by the BPF Trainee Curators will be available on our website soon.

A projection of current work by the photographers shortlisted for OPEN14 is also on display. The OPEN14 shortlisted artists are Jonny Briggs, Max Colson, Oliver Eglin, Alice Evans, Tracey Fahy, Jo Gane, Andrea Gru╠łtzner, Ian Hughes, Mandy Lee Jandrell, Elisavet Kalpaxi, Amiko Wenjia Li, John MacLean, Ellen Nolan, Durbin Lewis Ltd, Nick Scammell, Adam Stenhouse, Spencer Rowell, James Russell Cant.

BPF is supported by Arts Council England, Brighton & Hove City Council, the National Lottery and Metro Imaging. The Regency Town House is one of three BPF14 Hubs, alongside the BPF14 Participation and Events Hub at Phoenix Brighton and the BPF14 Collectives' Hub at Vantage Point.

#TheUnforgetting #BPF14

Exhibition Review by Edwin Coomasaru

Peter Watkins: The Unforgetting
Exhibition review by Edwin Coomasaru

"There's this memory I have where we're driving down a long straight road. The windscreen wipers are going at continuous, and vision is dull and mostly grey. My mother is seated front left, in the passenger side, and my father is driving, wearing a merino jumper with interconnecting diamond shapes; the kind golfers wear. I recall leaning forward and asking a question with an equal measure of naivety and boldness - the kind of question that seems to arise from some existential place that children of a certain age develop. I am curious which of my parents will die first, and I go about asking them their ages. My father, at the wheel, turns his head slightly, and explains that he's eighteen years older than my mother. I pause briefly, before declaring that in this case my father will die first, followed by my mother, who will die many years later. I forget what my mother was wearing."

On the 15 February 1993, Peter Watkins' mother walked off Zandvoort Beach into the North Sea. Her final act haunts Watkins' series The Unforgetting (2013-14), recently on display at the Regency Town House as part of the 2014 Brighton Photo Fringe. Watkins' autobiographical photographs incorporate a plethora of sculptural elements, such as casting, stacking and obscuring, and are hung on skeletal timber frames and to draw attention to the listed building's furnishings. Encouraging connections whilst complicating the relationship between the two, the exhibition contemplates both the role of museums and family histories as sites and discourses of collective memory.

The Unforgetting pieces together fragments from Watkins' mother's life. Take Taufe (2014), which depicts the dress she was baptised in. Closely cropped and with a shallow depth of field, there are few indicators of scale: giving the impression that this garment could belong to a grown woman. The deliberate evocation of Ute Watkins' drowning is imbued with a deeply haunting quality: the floating garment is weightlessly suspended and the net curtain hangs thick lick rain. As a result, the spectral character is infused with an impression of liquidity: a molecular materiality, porous and fluid.

Historically water has been associated with femininity, in contrast to the normative male body: robust, firm, muscular and taut - an ideal soldier. Liquidity, associated with blood and wounding, has conventionally been perceived a threat to the hardened surface of a male body. Cuts and tears to the skin are a reminder that the notion of masculine flesh as impenetrable and sealed is a fantasy. Fluids, by their potential capacity to render solids porous, threaten the collapse of borders. This sense of abjection threatens to brim, spill and soak in Taufe. It is almost as though a spectral sea has floated the dress aloft, the muffled silence of the black and white image echoing with underwater acoustics.

The Unforgetting is notable, however, for its lack of tears. While black and white photography is traditionally associated with nostalgia, the work is spared of sentimentality: objects are catalogued and composed in a manner that evokes early scientific photography or evidence gathered at a crime scene. Ancestry (2012) appears rational, ordered, controlled. There is even a sense of stoicism, a hallmark of macho behaviour. Yet, The Unforgetting is also about a man mourning: Consider Self Portrait (2011), an image that pictures the artist stripped from the waist up and seated on a hard wooden chair. His face is cast down, fist clenched, shoulders hunched. Numerous large circles scar his smooth skin: the legacy of cupping, a well-known Chinese treatment for depression.

Self Portrait is an image of masculinity subject to extreme vulnerability. Reflecting on the US government's military response to 9/11, gender theorist Judith Butler has considered the pacifist potential of vulnerability: 'the wound itself testifies to the fact that I am impressionable, given over to the Other'. In this regard, the relationship between the liquidity in Taufe and the subject's portrayal in Self Portrait is key. Together the two works picture a notion of masculinity outside the conventional stereotype. Rather than clad in armour, such a body is traumatised and fragile; given over to its wounding.

Watkins' potent portrait of the consequences of violence is important to consider at a time when the UK is considering resuming military involvement in Iraq. The Unforgetting testifies to the terrible toll of violence. Taufe's spectral liquidity provokes reflection on how the notion of the impenetrable, sturdy soldierly-male body is threatened by fluids. Across Watkins' series an image of masculinity outside the norm emerges - vulnerable and marked by trauma and loss. Self Portrait contests the stoicism and aggressive posturing of macho stereotypes, examining how wounding implicates an individual in their Other - be that an opponent or the external world.

Edwin Coomasaru, 2014.

Edwin Coomasaru was a Brighton Photo Fringe Trainee curator during BPF14. This text was written in response to The Unforgetting, the OPEN14 solo exhibition by Peter Watkins, 4 Oct - 2 Nov 2014, The Regency Town House.

This text was also published as part of issue #18 (Dec 2014) of 1000 Words Magazine