The three cornerstones of Brass Art, Chara Lewis, Kristin Mojsiewicz and Anneke Pettican, have been collaborating for a quarter of a century, a partnership pooling their identities into a collective whole. Now their new exhibition at Manchester’s HOME brings together a number of their more recent works, along with some more contextual pieces, holding in common the interplay, not only between shadows and light, but between stasis and motion.  

Their welcoming piece, a sign in pink neon, processing through the phrase ‘this voice this life this procession’ is an encapsulation of each of these principles. A semi-permanent wall-mounted fixture, the simple mechanism of illuminating each clause in turn until all three are lit up confers the impression of movement, while remaining firmly in place.  

A slight variant of that brightly-lit phrase is used to title what is, in many respects, the most affecting of the works in the show; this voice; this life; this procession. Like Brass Art’s previous incursions into the Brontë Parsonage and the Freud Museum, the work is, in part, a dialogue with the deceased – on this occasion, the writer Virginia Woolf.  

Brass Art. Photo credit: Michael Pollard.

It takes as its starting point her writing shed in the last place she lived in before her death, Monk’s House in Rodmell. Normally only nominally open to the public, its interior visible through a single viewing window, this voice uses non-invasive, laser-based technologies to dissolve the border between exterior and interior, spinning the images captured into a carefully choreographed dark circle, the uncanniness of which is effectively underscored by composer Annie Mahtani.  

Approached nocturnally, the hues over-corrected so they leave an hallucinogenic after-impression, nothing is rooted, nothing is solid. Holes in the data stream, without the corrective action of human consciousness, remain just that; absences, transparencies. In one dramatic instance, during the course of what appears to be a sweeping, capricious tracking shot, the house seems to part like beaded curtains, suggesting not only an essential permeability at the atomic level but also the insubstantiality of a more spectral form. Taken in conjunction with the fleeting glimpses of female figures, captured in fragments from a recurrent dance, the inevitable question arises – is the house haunted, or is it haunting? Unmarked gravestones provide no clear answer, marking out as they do the grounds, but not the perimeter between the living and the dead.  

In a similar vein, revivifying the half-forgotten knowledge of early animation, the Apparition series presents the viewer with a number of silhouette tableaux, like gifs digitally excised from the films of stop-motion pioneer Lotte Reiniger, except that here those dark outlines bloom and metastasise with coloured cellophane, suggesting the paranormal or the occult. Their rites are enacted and re-enacted in loops of time as the shadow forms engulf or are engulfed by their translucent familiars, becoming in the process, hybrid; demi-goddess or astronaut.  

Disparate though they may be in form, the works are alike in process, each an indefinite article, still to some extent becoming. At the heart of Brass Art’s ongoing practice, perhaps, is this attentiveness to the principle of reanimation, if not literally giving voice to the dead then more figuratively acting to blow the dust away from the shelves of the abandoned, turning the keys in their clockwork, setting their wheels in motion. That the mechanisms they use to do so are, more often than not, the new technologies pushing the old ways aside only adds to the richness of the conceit.  

Deceptively complex, Brass Art‘s points, rooted as they are in the existing, decline to be fixed, describing instead an arc to the future. 

By Desmond Bullen

Brass Art. Photo credit: Michael Pollard.


All images, including the main image, by Michael Pollard


Brass Art: rock, quiver and bend is at HOME, Manchester until September 1, 2024. For more information, click here.