An Unreliable Witness is the first stage in an on-going project exploring alternative and undocumented oral histories belonging to women. This initial phase, a new installation comprising audio and visual works, brings together components of research for a new film. The first arrangement of this film will be completed by Williams’ during the duration of the exhibition and screened at Jerwood Space on Friday 26 June.
Stemming from an interest in how individual biographies are constructed, An Unreliable Witness attempts to illuminate the overlooked and marginalised narratives of women. The project takes its starting point from a found audio recording of Jessie Ayers, Williams’ great-great grandmother who lived in South London from 1865 to 1959. This was originally an attempt by a young man to create an accurate audio document of her life, but, upon being interviewed, Jessie avoids tying the specifics of her life to the historical events that she is questioned on. Instead she weaves a meandering counter history of her own, one full of tangents, exclamations and withholding knowing chuckles. She is a slippery subject who speaks for herself, refusing to allow the male interviewer to tell her personal story.
This original recording has been interwoven with general conversations between the artist, her mother, and grandmother, and is accompanied by a printed script which includes selected transcripts in addition to quotes from Virginia Woolf, whose writings on biography and identity have been central to the development of the project. Williams, by collectively presenting these snippets of recounted personal histories of past and present London, attempts to question how we can accurately represent a full life lived, and the decisions that govern who is a legitimate subject for biographical treatment. A wall drawing, which takes the form of a semi-fictional family tree, connects Williams’ female family members to various figures from her research, and printed fabric hangings and Perspex laser cut drawings all act as visual accompaniments to, and large scale illustrations of, the audio and print narrative.
In a wide reaching practice spanning video, drawing, text, music and installation, Alice May Williams’ work explores what it means to be part of a social group. Considering both individual and collective identity and identification, Williams questions who ‘we’ and ‘us’ might be, through testing the boundaries of, and finding the gaps and overlaps between, gestures, expressive codes, territories and languages.