Anna McDowell’s work explores loss, memory, time and the domestic space through a multi-disciplinary art practice. Umbra focuses particularly on the subjectivity of time and our experience of it in the face of absence. Shadow Thing, a series of three embroideries depicting imagined black holes are displayed alongside three artist books titled Heraclitus, Old Fear and A Secret.
The Shadow Thing series borrows its title from a sentence in The Invention of Solitude by Paul Auster, a book written in response to his Father’s death. Writing about himself in the third person the line reads ‘Behind each real thing there was a shadow thing…therefore, it happened, it often happened, that his life no longer seemed to dwell in the present’. McDowell is interested in the multiple layers of time, memory and association which play out adjacent to our present experience. The discipline of embroidery – repetitive, cyclical, domestic – communicates this everyday phenomenon.
The subject at the centre of the Shadow Thing series, the black hole, serves as a metaphor. Black holes are associated with the commonly regarded theory that, ripping through the fabric of space-time, they have the potential to act as vehicles for time-travel. Here they are reframed in the context of another universe – our emotional experience. The work is a meditation on a want that often accompanies an unwanted absence – the desire to travel back. The act of sewing plots the journey through this feeling. The destination provides a hypnotic and introspective experience for the viewer, a portal through which to enter the mind’s space.
The artist books, printed and bound by hand, traverse the same territory but in stark material contrast. Each addresses the idea that our experience of time is mutable as well as themes of memory, grief, mourning, anxiety and the subconscious.
The work establishes a private space – While much is alluded to, a cavity opens up where solid ground might have been. The viewer is led through an intimate and multi-dimensional narrative where the past and present are at once at odds, and at play.