Francesca Woodman | Zigzag – Victoria Miro Gallery

4th October 2014

An easy gallery to find in the heart of Mayfair, Victoria Miro was the venue for the study visit to Francesca Woodman’s Zigzag exhibition for a number of students and Sharon Boothroyd on the morning of Saturday 4th October.

I have to confess that prior to registering for this visit, unlike a few of the other students who attended, I’d not heard of Francesca Woodman and so the images, the ideas, and thought processes that she employed to produce her work were new and revelatory.  Research into woodman’s life and career suggest that there is a great deal of controversy surrounding her; I don’t see that this is something that needs to be reviewed by me as it doesn’t have any reflection of the works I was viewing and so shall leave that for anyone else to find for themselves.

Walking through the entry-controlled front door, straight into a largish, white painted, brightly lit room immediately introduces you to the display of the 25 images that make up the Zigzag exhibition.  Black & white images, framed in brushed aluminium, the small, square images are set in an A4 sized area of pure white mounting board.  The fact that the images are so small really does require the viewer stand close to, to be able to see the detail, standing back provides only an impression of large light blocks with small dark squares set centrally. Curated into complementary groups of two’s, three’s and four’s it’s easy to follow the exhibition thread of Zigzag.  The exhibition title seems to have been chosen to relate to some works that Woodman herself entitled Zigzag at a couple of times during her career and which are displayed here.  All the images have relationships within them to the angles one would associate with Zigzags, be they the positioning of the models limbs (who in most cases are Woodman herself), the streaks of light, or the relative positioning of the props, they combine to provide the images I’ve suggested but on deeper examination there are other things going on in microcosm.  For instance, I looked very carefully at the image of a forearm juxtaposed with the rib-bones of a large animal.  The relationship between the arm and the rib-bones, through the angles of the wrist and the spine knuckles of the ribs, is the apparent Zigzag element, but when examined much more closely I detected that there was some surface texturing to the forearm which appeared to have been created by the careful application of a finger which left a hint of the finger-print but also created an idea of porosity to the arm as if it were dried bone, which also related to the rib-bones hanging beside the arm, so to my mind providing another layer of meaning and relationship.

Sharon asked us to look at the curatorial aspects of the exhibition in anticipation of the follow-on work that is planned for the Thames Valley Group meeting on 11th October. Sharon wasn’t sure that the framing style used would have been her choice and asked me for my reaction.  I hadn’t thought about this until that point, but it immediately struck me that the light brushed aluminium surround and the large expanse of white mounting board helped lift the images and the underlying darkness that I thought pervaded them.  Not only were a large number of the images printed a bit heavily, but there seemed to me to be an underlying depression behind them which would have overwhelmed if framed and mounted more heavily.  The fact that the actual images were true to Woodward’s own sense of production ideal, in that they were printed in square format and approx; 4″ square, really required them to be framed large to provide something to fill the space they were hung within.

The overall impression of the collection is that Woodward clearly had some very interesting and unique ideas which she was investigating, I was very impressed with the sophistication within the work for someone who was so young when they were created.  Was this a true representation of her abilities up to that time?  Unless her parents, who’re the trustees of her estate, release a lot more of the estimated 10,000 negatives she left behind we’ll not really know as they’ve limited the available images to 800 so far.  What else is there in the remainder?  Is it dross and the 800 the absolute cream, or are there more gems that we really would love to see?

A discussion afterwards in the underground shelter of a local cafe about what we’d seen and the impressions we took away revealed, I think, that everyone was impressed and were leaving with a sense of awe for what the talent may have produced had she continued to work into later life.

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