It seems like magic always happens when you go somewhere and are asked to remove your shoes. Some prime examples from my life include the Taj Mahal, Pipilotti Rist‘s ‘Worry Will Vanish‘ at Hauser & Wirth and my best friend’s annual New Year’s Day dinner – a Japanese and Hawaiian feast at her family’s twinkle-lit home in California. All sheer magic.
The point being, when I was given little plastic booties to slip over my leather platforms before being allowed to enter Dominic Hawgood‘s, ‘Under The Influence‘ at TJ Boulting last Thursday evening, I knew I was in for something special. Hawgood is the recipient of the British Journal of Photography’s International series award and this impressive exhibition is his first solo show.
The upper lobby of the gallery was packed, everyone squeezing to get to the top of the stairs, shimmy into their booties and make their way down. Descending the white staircase in the slippers felt like a ritual, as if whatever we were about to see below was sacred, pure, demanding of respect. And of course, the work itself was all of those things.
In fact, ‘Under The Influence‘ is a series of photographs that tells the story of a highly sacred ritual: exorcism. A far cry from the spinning head, projectile vomiting you may be imagining however, this work is highly ambiguous and at times quite sterile, like little non-specific snapshots of the process of delivering one from evil.
There are two main styles of work in the show, the majority of the images being black and white photographs on vinyl. These works depict close-ups of what I presume are elements of the exorcism ritual – a woman face-down on the ground gripping at the floor underneath her like nails grasping at a chalk board, another woman staring down at a sheet of paper, one singular line of drool stubbornly hanging on to her bottom lip.
Aside from these haunting portraits, Hawgood also showcases two colour photographs displayed in 3D light boxes, almost as if they were psychedelic adverts on your TV. The first of these is of a hand gripping in a wrist band, shown against a backdrop of faded pink and green. The other is of the hand of a preacher holding a small spray bottle, with a sunset-like hot pink, purple and blue background. These images feel like they are showing the commercial side of religion, the colourful background highly theatrical like stage lighting. Contrarily, the the black-and-whites seem to focus on the archaic tradition that is church, as well as the fear religion can instill.
Standing in my plastic shoes on the perfectly white floors looking up at the work I felt like an observer looking through glass on to a mystical world. Even when I wasn’t sure what I was seeing, I couldn’t look away. The vibrant energy and emotion that comes through in the photography is astounding and hypnotic. Like religion, the artwork draws you in, giving you the chance to engage in the ritual of the devil being driven out.
– India Irving
Dominic Hawgood ‘Under The Influence‘ is on view at TJ Boulting until 21st March 2015; 59 Riding House Street, London W1W 7EG; Open Tuesday – Saturday 11AM-6PM; Admission: FREE