Exhibition Review: Helen Ganly: Journey into Light

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What do a cake of the Radcliffe Camera, a stencil, a video of a river and a pile of notebooks have in common? – Helen Ganly Currently on show in the Lower Gallery of Modern Art Oxford, Helen Ganly’s exhibition Journey into Light experiments with media and form in an unusual way, and focuses largely on light and white. Upon entering, one is greeted by a fuzzy cine film documentation of a performance on the River San. Ganly used recycled paper from a previous exhibition to make origami boats in which she floated tea lights down the river. Filmed at dusk, all that one sees is a blurred figure with white hair sending flickering lights off down the river, the film zooming in and picking up the yellow of the lights and the white of her hair. The simplicity of the movement and colours seems refreshingly peaceful and calm, next to our frenetic lives.  Oxford-based and a tutor at both The Ruskin and Oxford Brookes, Ganly was the first artist to be awarded the role of Artist-in-Residence at the Ashmolean, in 2000. The influence of her historic hometown will delight gallery visitors when they see her icing-coated Rad Cam, made of fruit cake. Though not exactly a typical medium, this is executed remarkably well. Like many of her works, Ganly has chosen to eliminate colour from the piece and focus on the details, depicting the building in solid white and articulating the fine architectural details in piping. It is probably the first time a cake has been exhibited at Modern Art Oxford, and, unsurprisingly, probably Ganly’s most famous piece (though it is in fact the second version; the first was eaten!). The nature of Ganly’s more transient pieces – the origami boats floating away, or Art in Situ when she tied tiny books to balloon strings and released them across mountains – makes documentation especially important. This is why she has chosen to exhibit her notebooks. Filled with notes, diagrams, and even occasionally pop-up forms of her work, they give a great sense of her artistic process. Ganly always carries a notebook with her, using it as a memory bank for events, ideas and forms. The notebook in use while she built The Radcliffe Camera as a Celebration Cake, 2006 is reproduced for visitors to read, allowing access to the process, and the knowledge that it is fruit cake.   Finally, the last two sculptures represent buildings in a much more ephemeral way. Two tracing paper towers are constructed in circular columns,one with a light at the centre, the other with a stone. The contrast between the two brings home the importance of Ganly’s central theme: the Journey into Light. Her focus on white brings clarity and simplicity to each work, allowing one to focus on the shapes and construction, rather than colour and shade.  
by Jenny Vass 

Helen Ganly: Journey into Light is on show at Modern Art Oxford until 17th February.

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