Stella Brennan’s new photographic installation Thread Between Darkness and Light takes as its starting point an archive of 120 year-old glass-plate photographic negatives. This Edwardian archive contains images made by Brennan’s great-great aunt Louise Laurent, a student at Elam School of Art in the late 1890s. Rescued from a shed in the 1960s by Laurent’s grandson Maurice Winn, the photographs, taken by both Laurent and her husband William Winn, range from dramatically framed views of the landscape to strikingly composed portraits.
Inflected with the personal nature of Brennan’s connection to Laurent, the installation considers the ways we navigate the span of time and distance. Cracked, tarnished and peeling in places, the negatives are marked by the traces of time’s passage. In scanning and printing these images – and the detritus of their surface damage – onto large-scale silk banners, Brennan shifts the materiality of these archival fragments, translating them into a physically navigable space.
The exhibition Ancestor Technologies situates this new installation within the broader context of Brennan’s practice, considering the ways that artistic technologies and processes can carry their own histories within them. Using moving image, photography, textiles, language and sculpture, Brennan’s work shifts across differing modes of image making. Often, she will revisit and rethink key thematic concerns from a range of material perspectives – whether printing negatives onto silk, or commissioning large-format photographs of laboriously hand-stitched embroidery. In enacting these shifts, Brennan asks us to consider what is at stake when we switch between modes of making, whether tactile and laborious, or technological and rapid. How do technologies of representation alter the ways that we see the world, how do they influence the ways that we mark time and construct histories?