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Harriet Bell: The Kellys and the O'Kellys there

Millennium, St Ives  21/11/09 - 14/12/09



The first thing you'll notice about Harriet Bell's show at Millennium is that the works are small in scale. So small in fact that they require the viewer to look at them up close, one at a time, in order to see them properly. They seem strangely private, like secret fantasies not really intended for public view. Once drawn in, however, you are transported into a disorientating Bosch-like universe: a primeval, unintelligible dream-world located deep in the artist's subconscious mind.


On the top floor are hybrid sculptures elegantly arranged on six low plinth-like blocks. Their component parts are recognisable: dolls, toys and scraps of flotsam, but the way they are grafted together results in a collection of objects that are strange, ugly, and hard to love, like little mutant children or embryos. Whilst close in spirit to surrealist art works of the last century, in many cases the randomness of the juxtapositions are not conventionally poetic or aesthetic, they just seem random, like fate itself.





The drawings downstairs are possibly more secretive than the objects, but they are also more persuasive. They depict mutant humans again this time typically crossed with animals and insects.  Floating in a sea of white tracing paper, they are possessed of an elemental beauty, and whereas the sculptures rely on a recycling of contemporary plastic toys, here the materials used are more neutral, and the result seductive and otherworldly.



In fact they are reminiscent of illuminated manuscripts (which in the 16th Century led to the genre of the painted miniature in both Eastern and Western art), and also of medieval drawings of mythical beasts.


On the same floor is a film made using images from Bell's studio, accompanied by the sound of the artist at work as she makes unconscious self-soothing noises, sonorous murmurings and guttural sighs. The sound may have not been planned, but in its evocation of pre-lingustic experience - of Kristevas 'semiotic' - it complements the rest of the show well.




RW 25/11/09