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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Tracey Holland

Dates:  1961 -
Born:  UK, Birmingham
Active:  UK
British photographer, collage and video artist specializing in extraordinary still life work. 
Artist statement: 
Tracey Holland works with photography, film, assemblage and installation; she records her studio set-ups using a variety of photographic processes, and these, combined with elements of assemblage and collage go to make her installation pieces, which have been exhibited widely in both this country and abroad. Originally a painter, Holland often employs the same drawing and painting techniques within her video and photographic work, combining these with effects of transparency and silhouetting. Her latest work 'Resurrection Stories’, a three screen video piece and still projections was shown at the Djanogly Gallery in Nottingham in 2005.

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Tracey Holland

Over the past 19 years Tracey Holland has shown work throughout the UK and abroad. These video and photographic installations have been both well received by the public and have had excellent critical reviews. Holland works with photography, film, assemblage and installation; she records her studio set-ups using a variety of photographic processes, and these, combined with elements of assemblage and collage go to make her installation pieces. Originally a painter, Holland often employs the same drawing and painting techniques within her video and photographic work, combining these with effects of transparency and silhouetting. There is a balance in the work between its content and a concern for the aesthetic quality of an image. This has the effect of drawing in, rather than alienating the viewer and communicates what may be difficult conceptual material, ideas and emotions.
Over the past 3 years Holland has combined the still images with moving footage and the first video 'The Almond Tree' part ii was made for the Folly Gallery, Lancaster in 2004. Elements of the Brothers Grimm story inspired 'The Almond Tree' series; in particular the eternal quandaries of murder, resurrection and the revenge of wrongdoing. The use of the tree as the symbol of change and conduction is what first drew Holland to the story. Both the mother and then the son are buried under the almond tree. The mother dies in childbirth and is buried under the tree. As in so many of these tales, the husband re-marries a woman who treats the boy badly, eventually chopping his head off, boiling up his body and making a thick black broth which she then feeds to the homecoming father. The almond tree absorbs the bones of the dead child and a bright red bird is born out of its branches. In the tale, the tree and its roots absorb and transform, acting as a conductive medium through which all deeds are eventually revealed. It is an invaluable tale, telling us something about the nature of secrets and the ability we have to grow even when seemingly silenced or buried.
During the two years Holland spent working on the previous show, 'Magic Murder and the Weather', she became interested in the way certain themes and characters found within religious writing, myths and folk tales re-occurred through time. Elements found within them can be traced back to the mythological tales of many ancient cultures and have lived on because the myth has been reworked or adapted to suit new social patterns. What's certain is that the perennial significance of such tales is their transcendence of a particular time and place; they relate to unchanging and inescapable truths about human nature and experience. The three tales from which the work is drawn, 'Ashputtel', 'Bluebeard' and 'What came of picking Jessamine' are all tales which highlight entrapment, fear and horror resulting from the encroachment of outside agents on familial security. The psychological nuances of life's complexities, love, deceit, death and deliverance are explored in this piece of work.
In 2002, 'Vessel' installation was shown as part of the Wellcome Trusts 'Truth and Beauty' show in London. This toured the UK and Lisbon and Porto, Portugal. In this large work, elements of biology and mythology are placed side by side. The piece examines the creative potential of human life in biological, histological and emotional terms. Sharply defined, richly coloured photographic imagery is presented on back illuminated transparencies and free hung end to end down the centre of the gallery to create an illuminated pathway. This escorts the viewer along the darkened gallery, as if through a narrative Tableaux Vivant, but the story told has no distinct beginning or end. These compositional tableaux draw on elements of paint, collage and assemblage. The constructed imagery has a resonance of subterranean worlds, cell structures, viscous movement, heat and fecundity.
Histological images of red blood corpuscles, cell division of mitosis and meiosis and spermatozoa are contrasted with this personalized emotional vision of the inner body. These histological studies are combined with allegorical allusions such as the Egyptian myth of the journey to the Otherworld, and the supervised the weighing of their hearts. The heart is fascinating because of its importance as both symbol and in it's biological action of preserving life; the machine that should never stop. This is contrasted with the hearts contained within the images: broken, punctured organs, who's importance is purely their weight. There are references to alchemical transformation processes and use of illustrations of 16th Century engravings of alchemists vessels.
In 2005 Holland made 'Resurrection Stories' for the Djanogly Gallery in Nottingham. The exhibition was in two parts and the main gallery space ran a three screen video work. This lasted nine minutes and each screen was10 foot in width. In a second darkened room was a series of 5 back-projected still images created by a combination of projected slides (assemblages of photographic images and natural objects sandwiched between glass) with actual still life objects intervening between the projector and screen. The resulting image was a mix of real object, sharply defined silhouette and projected image.
These slide images showed details from devotional paintings: such as a symbolic network of pink coral (which resembles the arteries of the heart) and Christ's Tear. In contrast, other projected images were magnetic resonance images or X-rays of rib cages and twisted stems of main arteries and veins around the heart. Through this overlaying of translucent biological material, actual vessels containing liquid, enlarged hair and seeds that transform into ambiguous shadows, everything takes on an x-ray air of spatial reversals and intimate revelations.
The video work is concerned with ideas of metamorphosis and resurrection; raw electricity into lightning; sunsets, the moon, murder and journeys through dark forests. It makes reference to an old folk tale 'The Woman with Hair of Gold'. In this tale, a woman who lives alone in the forest rejects the advances of a suitor. She refuses to marry him but tries to appease him by giving him a lock of her golden hair. He sees it's worth only in terms of how much he can sell it for, not the spiritual meaning and he tries, unsuccessfully, to sell the hair at the market. Angered, he returns and murders her, secretly burying her body in the reed bed. The woman's hair continues to grow in the burial ground and emerges as a field of swaying golden reeds through the black soil. Shepherds cut the reeds to make flutes and the tiny flutes forever after sing a song laying bare the detailed truth of the murder. The story is poignant because it's message is clear. Truth will out. Transformation through descent into the depths is a ubiquitous myth; from the story of Inanna, through to Osiris, Persephone, Attis, Mithra and Jesus, it embodies a symbolic metamorphosis and talks of the cycle of descent and return, or resurrection.
Contrasted with this are references to a more factual scientific world. The work references elements related to the study of haematology and associated tools; glass slides, circular globes full of liquid for magnification and distortion. Still images of magnetic and histological medical imaging are layered with moving footage. Veins and arteries on the heart are echoed in the images of roots from tall reeds threading through water and mud. Lightning and blood are assigned the same properties of magic and renewal. The work represents explorations into personal and historical mythology and its psychological and biological origins. In the accompanying show catalogue, Robert Clark writes;
'As with her treatment of other tales, Holland sees The Woman With Hair of Gold as an allegory of time's inclination to reveal and revenge hidden sins that have been committed against nature. But more than simple illustrations of a morally instructive tale, Holland's Resurrection Stories, through their intricate interlacing of human and natural details and fragments, reveal almost visionary cross-associations between the forces that drive human passions, the electro-magnetic workings of the psyche, animal magnetic impulses and the churning rhythms and changing seasons of the microscopic and macroscopic landscape.'
Solo Exhibitions
2005 'Resurrection Stories', Djanogly Gallery, Nottingham
2004 'States of Matter', Folly Gallery, Lancaster
2003 'The Almond Tree' and recent work, MAC, Birmingham
2003 Photofolio, Salts Mill, Saltaire
2001 'Magic, Murder and the Weather', Leeds Metropolitan University Gallery, Leeds, Nov - Dec Ferens Art Gallery, Hull
1999 'Photo works 1989-99' The Heart Gallery, Bastille, Paris
1998 'Vessel' Photo 98 Commission, Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffield
1997 "The Twelve Keys" series, Workstation, Sheffield
1997 Thackray Medical Museum, Leeds
1996 Worcester City Art Gallery
1996 University of Central England, Birmingham
1995 "The Twelve Keys", Installation and other works, Crossley Gallery, Dean Clough, Halifax
1994 "Green Earth's End", Leeds Metropolitan University Gallery
1994 Walsall Art Gallery
1993 "Mortal Remains" Metro Gallery, Derby
1992 Streetlevel, Glasgow
1992 Zone Gallery, Newcastle
1992 Site Gallery, Sheffield and tour
1989 'Feeding the Eye', Chapter Arts, Cardiff
1989 Cambridge Darkroom, Cambridge
Group Exhibitions
2003-4 'Truth and Beauty' Tour; Lisbon and Porto, Nottingham, Derby
2003 'Starting a Collection', Art First Cork Street, London
2003 Group Show, Hofer Gallery, Museum St, London
2002-3 'Truth and Beauty', TwoTen Wellcome Trust Gallery, London
2002 'Surface', Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield
2000 Group show, Heart Gallery, Bastille, Paris
1996 "Touched By Light", Iris Touring Show, M.A.C. Birmingham and Watershed, Bristol
1996 "Quarterlight", Window installation, Paternoster Row, Sheffield
1994 London Contemporary Art Fair
1994 City Art Gallery, Stoke (part of "Signals", Womens Photography Festival) 1994 "Catalyst" Sheffield Cathedral
1994 "Beyond the Beyond", Cartwright Hall, Bradford
1993 "A Cinema of Stills", Ikon Touring Programme, Birmingham
1992 I.C.I Fox Talbot Awards, National Museum of Photography, Film,and Television, Bradford
1992 'Internationales de la Photographie d'Aries'. Mai de la Photo, Reims, France
1991 'Still Lives" Special Photographers Company, London
1991 "Flora Photographica", Vancouver Art Gallery and touring; New York,Library, Montreal Museum of Modern Art etc
1989 Portfolio Room, Photographers' Gallery, London
1989 'New Evidence', Untitled Gallery & touring
1989 'Image & Imagination', Untitled Gallery, Sheffield, & touring
1987 Schwitters Centenary Wreath, Abbot Hall Gallery, Cumbria
2006 Arts Council Research and development award
2004 Arts Council of England production award
2002 Yorkshire Arts Research and Development award
2001 Yorkshire Arts 'Showing' award for publication
2000 Year of the Artist Research and Development award
1998 Photo 98 Regional Commission
1995 Individual production award from Yorkshire and Humberside Arts
1991 Individual production award from Yorkshire Arts
1989 Ilford prize
Arts Council of Great Britain
Wellcome Trust
West Midlands Arts
East Midlands Arts
Hertfordshire County Council
Leicestershire County Council
Humberside County Council
University of Staffordshire
University of Warwick Collection
Recent publications
Source magazine 2004 - Review of 'States of Matter' at Folly Gallery by Innes Rae
Resurrection Stories catalogue 2005 - University of Nottingham, essay by Robert Clark
Bluebeard's Castle programme for Opera North's production of Bartok's opera, May 2005
© Tracey Holland (2006) - Used with permission  
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