MAstars 2010: Claire Harbottle, MFA

MAstars 2010: Claire Harbottle, MFA Claire Harbottle, Nailing Jelly, 2010. Film & video

Pippa Oldfield selects Claire Harbottle from the University of Leeds for MAstars

Claire Harbottle's premise is to equate 'art making with child rearing' in which 'the drive to create involves endless repetition, everyday frustration, and the impossibility of ever getting it quite right'. This selection of recent work, combining sculpture, video, photography and performance, is likewise something of a mixed bag. 'Lilla's Birthing' (2010), a real-time video of a friend giving birth at home, focusing on the mother's experience rather than the child, and 'Driving Blind' (2010), a video-performance of a suburban car trip made by a driver deprived of their sight and use of their right hand, both fail to really engage, perhaps due to their visual banality. The other works, however, are humorous and conceptually playful. 

'Cost/Value' (2010) consists of a pair of fake exhibition posters with the artist's name superimposed on a gallery installation shot of two white plinths, each topped with one of the artist's children. The suggestion is that society considers women's labour inferior to men's, here exemplified by the visual collision of the products of mothers' work and that of male artists. The work offers food for thought, particularly with reference to the historical and contemporary impact of having children on women's careers (and more specifically, the careers of women artists). The ambiguous expression of the children's faces highlights this state of affairs: are they serious and contemplative, or just bored with mum's latest art project?

Recalling the explosive sculpture-performances of Roman Signer, the video pieces 'Stretched Thin' (2010) and 'Nailing Jelly' (2010) are charmingly absurd and visually compelling, despite their simplicity. 'Nailing Jelly' documents the artist's futile attempt to hammer a raspberry-coloured jelly to the wall. The appeal of the piece lies in the squashy yet sculptural qualities of the jelly, made in an old-fashioned mould, as it slips through the nails and collapses in wobbling blobs, leaving behind a bodily blood-like stain. Both cartoon-like and violent, the piece converges the feminine sphere of cooking and the masculine realm of DIY, and suggests (amongst other interpretations), the impossibility of being a 'successful' contemporary woman.

'Stretched Thin' also offers a pink, bodily aesthetic, depicting the artist's hands cutting a rubber band, attempting to repair it, and then stretching it until the knot breaks with a resounding 'ping'. Like 'Nailing Jelly', this also invites a reading of setting oneself up to fail, but without the use of gender-specific materials, it offers a more open reading. Both pieces, despite their banal subjects and lo-tech approach, make for surprisingly compulsive watching. It's as if, on the next attempt, things may finally work out: the rubber band will hold, and the jelly will adhere, even though we suspect it to be impossible - a bit like life really.

Selected by Pippa Oldfield
Published August, 2010

Further information


Next MAstar