Phoebe Boswell: Take Me to the Lighthouse

4 May 2018 – 10 Jun 2018

Event times

Tuesday-Saturday, 12-6 pm

SAPAR Contemporary

New York
New York, United States


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SAPAR Contemporary is pleased to present Take Me To The Lighthouse, the first US solo exhibition of Kenyan-British artist Phoebe Boswell. Boswell’s multimedia practice centers around a delicate diasporic consciousness of personal identity, collective memory, and what it means to belong.


As I lay in that hospital bed, attached to the machine, in the high dependency cardiac wing, eye bulbous and blurry, the woman in the bed next to me kept calling out to the darkness, 

“Take me to the lighthouse”, delirious, and I kept wondering how on earth I got here, where on earth my lighthouse was, and how I was going to begin to process it all.

In a characteristically immersive and intimate presentation, this new body of work layers several aspects of Boswell's varied artistic vocabulary, including small-scale, large, and site-specific drawings, video, interactive installations, and spoken word. Located within a broad history of portraiture and landscape painting, the work weaves a self-referential narrative of trauma, grief, and healing into a wider exploration of the interiority of the female body through nature, the selfie, and the sublime.​

The artist’s image resurfaces throughout this project, seducing all present with an evolving narrative of physical fragility and resilience. An introductory thirty-minute video depicts blurry, overlapping images of Boswell’s upper body in motion, expressively experimenting with platitudes that people are often told when in grief. As a whole, this new body of work finds its focus in the personal trauma and collective healing following a recent, unforeseen, and devastating injury to the artist’s right eye and consequently, her heart. Throughout this process, Boswell came to reflect on how Western culture doesn’t easily provide physical outlets to express grief. Thus this is where we start: to discover modes of healing through bodily expression, the artist filmed herself writhing to, and belting out, sad songs – now presented in loop through a blurry lens, as if imagined through a wounded, slowly recovering eye.

More self-portraits materialize, from medical scans, facial close-ups, and hospital selfies to more triumphant depictions of the artist’s body as a prone horizon, or resiliently flexing. In this last representation we find Boswell’s fist arced like the neck of the sankofa bird, who reminds us to reflect on the past in order to move forward – to go back and get what was taken. These likenesses are intimately scattered like a mind-map amongst epic charcoal seascapes – some with waves seizing, other waters still and subdued – yet all sharing one horizon line. The ocean waters further descend into a video lying delicately on the floor, where one may peer down to discover the artist floating in a liminal pool of memories that re-personalize the greater cultural reference to the history of landscape painting. Throughout Western art historical canons, seascapes represent a source of not only technical skill and beauty, but also the power of nature, imagination of mythology, and inexplicable wonder of the sublime. Yet in the episodic videoscape where Boswell’s body perpetually floats, basking in the waters or exploring the sands of Zanzibar where her parents currently live, a deep sense of personal renewal penetrates through the tides of art historical representation. This work is entitled Ythlaf, a literal translation of “water-relic'” in Old English from yth (wave, water, billow) and laf (remnant, relic) – the in-between where waves recede. In this borderland, where reverence and danger meet awe and renewal, a source of healing may be carefully navigated.  Water becomes a space of not only the sublime, but of play and comfort, escape and melancholy, nostalgia and rebirth – where the power of imagination may heal reality.

Furthermore, amongst the fastidiously rendered charcoal and pastel seascapes, rectangular black voids are literally cut out of the drawings, suspended in time and space. Presently visualized as digital renders, the artist will cut these structures out in situ during the installation – an act of violence in itself. “The voids are the echoes of loss,” Boswell says. These geometric abysses correlate to black mats spread on the floor, which quietly possess interactive pressure sensors that summon the artist’s voice and elicit a moment where individual perception is superseded by collective disruption. Boswell’s soft, alluring, utterances bring to life words written throughout the duration of creating this new body of work, all in response to her fellow hospital inpatient’s call: “Take me to the lighthouse”. While this interactive gesture first enables viewers to assume a moment of immersive control and participatory action, the extemporaneity of these triggers and looped recordings ultimately establish a space of acquiescent immersion, suspended chance, and latent chaos – a space where undulating words recommence and intersect, like crashing waves that will inevitably resume their quiet silence.

Take me to the lighthouse

There is peace there

In the space between things

Take me to the lighthouse

There is peace there in the space between things

Take me to the lighthouse

And I can rage there

In the space between things

The words resonate and waves crash. A female body is turned inside out, her eyes on the surface looking deep within, and the horizon continues and continues. We are all collectively affected by intimate, unbridled moments of trauma and grief. And we may heal, together.

– Text by Katherine Finerty

Exhibiting artists

Phoebe Boswell


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