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The BUILD residency at Cornwall College: Philip Mayer & Louise Hodges

Megan Wakefield


The first thing I hear is a James Last and Richard Clayderman medley blasting out of a box speaker in front of an empty armchair. Roman Polanski's claustrophobic psycho-thriller Repulsion is projected onto the wall, edited and looped so that the heroine is doomed to search her apartment compulsively. A full size fridge hums and light radiates from its sealed door. Elsewhere, another video is projected. An image appears at intervals of a few seconds, as a torch beam flashes on domestic tableaux. The scenes position me; my back against rich orange embossed wall paper, craning up to see the mouth of an air vent, under the mantlepiece where Bo-Peep is huge and glistening in white china; then I am at carpet level; then close up by the hooked shadow of an oven handle.



"We wanted you to feel like you were trespassing on your own environment." Philip Mayer tells me. "We wanted to make people reconsider their understanding of their surroundings. This is about making them feel like they don't belong there, but they've got to search again."

This work is the culmination of the fourth BUILD residency at Cornwall College, a programme initiated by artists and staff members Sovay Berriman and Patrick Lowry. The college partnered with both commissioning organisation ProjectBase and Creative Skills to provide a 15 week programme supplying facilities, a gallery space and the chance for a two week public exhibition. "Artists are visible in a relaxed open atmosphere embedded in the student's working space," Lowry explains.

For Louise Hodges and Philip Mayer it has been their first substantial experience of student facilitation, something they clearly enjoyed. The mode of interaction is not prescribed and previous residents have led tutorials or workshops as well as involving students as participants in their work.  Through conversations with resident BUILD artists past and present, the indeterminate status of the artist within the college emerged as a potential advantage, both to the artists and the students. "I know it sounds cheesy, but we got a lot from them"  Mayer enthuses.

According to Sovay Berriman the central ethos of the residency is to "provide a space for an activity that might not be possible for the artist without the residency. The proposal should be inventive or experimental for the artist, taking them to new territory."



For Hodges and Mayer, this is their first installation. Their influences reveal a preoccupation with the handmade, namely Andrew MacDonald's animation and the work of Vladimir Arkhipov, curator of the 'post-folk archive'. They were inspired by artists like Perminder Kaur, who rupture the domestic familiar, and they share a love of the zombie movie, that modern take on the uncanny doppelganger. I asked the artists about the uncanny; "We're playing around with the horror in the everyday, or the uncertainty," comments Mayer.

Mayer talks about "universal homely", but for me, the aesthetic of these installations evokes a 1970s childhood. Today it's called retro chic. The relentless repetition of the looped image and sound implies entrapment, the boredom of everyday rituals and a rainy Sunday afternoon at your Nan's house. The images simultaneously invite me to yield to their recurring enquiry. Catherine Deneuve keeps searching, the burglar still prowls around the house, the easy-listening muzak doesn't let up.

"They are just objects" says Mayer, "but you can interpret a narrative"

Why search after the dark places in a culture of supposed transparency? Is it a reaction against the erosion of private space, against the current artistic preoccupation with "non-places", spaces that belong to everyone and no-one?

Their show is like an investigation into the contingency of objects and our conscious acceptance of them. Hodges and Mayer stage domestic space and trigger a process of reverie and return.  "Unheimlich" according to Freud in his 1919 essay of the same name, is "everything that ought to have remained secret and hidden but has come to light." By illuminating only fragments, the artists disengage the domestic from nostalgia, locating the unhomely at the heart of the familiar.