denise webber

Denise Webber - still from Clay
Denise Webber, still from Clay


Physical Evidence -- Simon Wallis

Clay uses rare images of the human body taken by the pioneering photographer Muybridge in the late 19th century. These are images usually seen in the static form, but Webber animates this eclectic procession of bodies – comprising the coquettish, athletic and hardy, war victims and mentally disturbed people – to the accompaniment of pealing church bells. This soundtrack punctuates the work with its compelling insistence and unpredictable stutters; a very public sound of celebration and warning, drawing attention to the re-presenting of these images. Webber plays on the tension between scientific objectivity and the element of prurient circus in these photographs. Clay commences with the gridded squares of Muybridge's studio which he used to quantify and scientifically observe the movements of human subjects before the camera. These squares gently pulsate with a living quality as the animation judders from still to still. The first people to appear are a couple of young women dressed in Victorian clothes with bustles, tight-fitting bodices and decorative hats that emphasise the feminine form while restricting its practical movement. As these women walk past each other they catch one another's eye, creating a mirror image as if they were partners in a chaste dance. A clothed woman runs up some stairs and then jumps over a stool, as if she was a racehorse in a steeplechase. Another woman dresses and undresses, shedding her constricting, voluminous clothes. A bizarre vignette unfolds as a woman chases another wielding a broom with which to hit her. A fluttering hand suddenly appears as if it were conducting the peal of bells we are hearing. Men wrestle, box and pose with rifles. Others walk, limp and hobble as they suffer from a variety of physical problems. A grotesquely fat woman lumbers in front of the camera, her stomach literally overflowing the rest of her body. Another woman seems possessed as her body jitters uncontrollably, while yet another constantly has to stoop to pick up the train of her dress as she walks. All of these images are full of fractured gestures and unsettling juxtapositions as this curious parade of clothed and unclothed bodies presents itself for our inspection.

Simon Wallis is Director of the Hepworth Wakefield