Laura Phillips: I felt like the sound of a harp

29 Nov 2018 – 19 Jan 2019

Regular hours

08:00 – 20:00
08:00 – 18:00
08:30 – 14:00
08:00 – 20:00
08:00 – 20:00
08:00 – 20:00

Cost of entry


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Arts University Plymouth

England, United Kingdom


Travel Information

  • The university is within walking distance of the coach station on Mayflower Street. National Express services run to London Victoria via Exeter and lots of other UK destinations, and for super-cheap deals try booking with Megabus or Falcon via Stagecoach.
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  • We’re just five minutes away from Plymouth train station, where direct services depart to London Paddington (taking 3-3 ½ hours), Bristol, the Midlands, the North of England, Scotland and Penzance. There is even a sleeper train to and from Paddington if you want to leave London late and arrive in Plymouth early.
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For Phillip’s inaugural solo show, the artist presents a new body of work which takes its impetus from a building in Bristol, which from 1799-1802 was a medical research facility known as The Pneumatic Institute.


During this time, eminent chemist Humphry Davy (1788-1829) studied the medical effects of recently discovered gases including nitrous oxide, and devised experiments examining the effects of laughing gas on himself and others. The title of the exhibition refers to an anecdote from Davy’s patient whilst under the influence of the drug and his struggle to articulate the new forms of sensation induced by the gas.

Phillip’s work derived from research into The Pneumatic Institute evokes stories and imagery about dissociative states, elements of precarity and invisible forces depicted through a nonlinear auratic story. Phillips draws parallels to Davy’s pursuits to harness and exploit these newly discovered invisible gases, through the use of photochemical processes in a series of fabric banner works and 16mm film.

The soundtrack to the film comprises snippets of conversations with a pensioner recalling her experiences of living in the house (formerly The Institute) during WW2 and is collaged with an improvised score from Phillips’ adjunct practice playing as part of the experimental improv ensemble Viridian. The third sound element is a digital field recording from club and rave nights in Bristol; a subculture that has increased nitrous oxide popularity as a recreational choice. A reappearing motif in the work is the ‘damask’ and ‘moire’ patterns, a visual reference point reflecting on visual perception; and is also a nod to The Yellow Wallpaper a short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman about perception, madness and the search for identity.

These layered references alongside methods of collage creates a melancholic narrative that blends both historical time spans and ideas about alternative states of being.

Join us at the preview evening on Wednesday 28 November 2018, 5-7pm with free refreshments and a first look at the exhibition.

Can't make the opening? Don't worry, the show runs until 19 January 2019.

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Laura Phillips

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