Occasionally you enter a gallery and immediately realize that you are being presented with something special, but only later do you know what you were looking at. This also applies to Password, the first solo exhibition by British artist Molly Palmer at the Amsterdam gallery AKINCI. Password examines the question of how we give meaning to complex emotions such as trauma, loss and grief and how they contribute to positive notions such as happiness and hope.
In Stanley Kubrick's final feature film, the protagonist, a New York physisian with marital issues, ends up with a password for a secret orgy for the city’s elite. A dream world in which human urges are indulged and in which he is only a spectator. In fact, Eyes wide shut is based on Arthur Schnitzler's Traumnovelle. At Molly Palmers Password you don't get access to an orgy, but it does get you access to a dream world. Palmer interprets the concept of a password in a broader sense. Not a password like Fidelio, but something mundane like a fluttering curtain can function as the key to a transformative experience and a different world. One in which there is more room for mystery.
Molly Palmer (1984) studied at the Royal Academy in London and at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam, among others. Like many contemporaries, she is a multimedia artits. For Password she made paintings, sculptures, video works and the music. Palmer spent almost two years working on this exhibition, which is something you notice the moment you enter the gallery. Not only is the execution very complete for a gallery exhibition, its theme is also quite complex, making a longer preparation time only logical.
Password is a meditation on the transience of life and addresses the question of how we give meaning to reality. Using key moments such as traumatic experiences, depression, illness and grief, Palmer shows how limited and arbitrary our rational order is. She raises the question of why we rely on structuring our lives instead of embracing changeability. Palmer: “If you let go of the idea of permanence, very surprising brilliance can come into your life,” she says over the phone. “Why is it taboo to be depressed, when those are experiences that ultimately make you wiser or more creative as a person?”
You will notice that you have entered a different world as soon as you enter the gallery. Palmer has taped the windows on the street side with filters that give the light a blue color. The first concrete lead is the bust of Medusa appearing behind an automatic door that opens very slowly. Usually the emphasis is on her gaze which instantly reduced men to stone, but given the theme of the show it is obvious that Palmer has attention for the reason behind this vision. Medusa got that look as punishment from Athena for a traumatic experience; she was raped by Poseidon in the temple of Athena. In a broader sense, Medusa also represents a world that was ordered according to a different logic.
This other world also returns in the shape of the glazed ceramic arms (Dissolve), holding large round tablets or pills in their hands. The arms appear flat, lacking three dimensionality, as if they were created from a medieval scene. Another example is the reference to Mayan culture in Glyphs in one of the small spaces Palmer created with royal blue add-on walls. When asked why the show is divided into different rooms, Palmer says she emigrated a number of times as a child. A disruptive experience, in which the only thing that remained the same was the most basic architecture: rooms with doors and windows. “Architecture and interior spaces have been part of my work since 2004 and act as a metaphor for the subconscious.”
A fluttering curtain
The subconscious also returns in the video work that can be seen in the back room. In it, a sleeping woman seems to float horizontally. Her long hair hangs down straight. On the other wall, 24 small built-in fans buzz behind eight windows that are hidden behind curtains.
Palmer: “Several years ago I spent about a year bedridden due to illness. About the only contact with the outside world was a fluttering curtain. It may sound naive, but the fluttering curtain stood for energy for me and gave me strength to persevere. For me it was something positive, but someone else might find it frustrating or just like a fluttering curtain.”
All of the elements mentioned above, feature in the music Palmer made for the exhibition. For her, making music is a way of generating ideas, like other artists make sketches. She wrote the lyrics - just one sentence: I will walk a straight line if you want me to - when she was in sackcloth and ashes because a relationship had come to an end. By harmonising several layers and letting every vocal start at other times, a Gregorian-like, hypnotic loop is created. On the phone she tells that medieval mystics processed many experiences by singing. The singing had a similar effect on Palmer. Vocalising also changed the meaning of the text for her and created room for other emotions.