‘Questions of Home: Excavations in Film and Fragments Lost in the Ether’ at the Aspex Gallery, Portsmouth

Patti Gaal-Holmes

Questions of Home:

Excavations in Film & Fragments Lost in the Ether

 Aspex Gallery

31st May-7th July


Emigration does not only involve leaving behind, crossing water, living amongst strangers, but, also, undoing the very meaning of the world and – at its most extreme – abandoning oneself to the unreal which is the absurd … to emigrate is always to dismantle the center of the world, and so to move into a lost, disorientated one of fragments.

(John Berger).

Patti Gaal-Holmes’ Arts Council funded exhibition Questions of Home: Excavations in Film & Fragments Lost in the Ether was inspired by a recent residency in the artist’s ‘home’ country, South Africa, and a collaboration with Australian singer/songwriter Emily Barker on the subject of ‘home’.

Attempts to understand their European and Antipodean family histories led Gaal-Holmes and Barker to consider personal and political histories, the negotiations required by the exile or traveller in coming to terms with these histories and how one settles in to a new life elsewhere. The idea of ‘inherited loss’ opened up thoughts about specific sentiments handed down through generations. These are not necessarily fixed or concretely observable facts but are rather evident in the more delicate diffuseness and fragmentary ways of being that emerge through crossing cultures, geographies, languages and histories.  Through extensive discussions over tea and readings on home, exile, migration and colonialism they gradually found ways to open up spaces for working. The results of these investigations are found in Gaal-Holmes’ exhibition, which includes works in experimental photography, moving image and artists’ books, and in Barker’s forth-coming album ‘Dear River’.

Working with the medium of film in a hands-on manner is central to Gaal-Holmes’ cross-disciplinary practice. The series of experimental photographs in Excavations and Fragments were made using an old Lomo and wooden pinhole camera, allowing her to work across the frames without the clarity of image that the digital enforces; thereby opening up spaces for the incidental to occur. This framelessness allows for movement across the captured moments as if these are images from events or places partially, but uncertainly, remembered. The photographs were taken on her recent residency in the bushveldt outside Johannesburg, close to where she grew up and lived for eighteen years. Gaal-Holmes’ work with 8mm and 16mm film has likewise been instrumental in opening up spaces for the accidental to occur. Hand-processing films and inviting slippages and disruptions, forwarded by the alchemy of the laboratory, inform the dialogue occurring between content and image. Her work with film was developed through an Arts Council funded residency at no.w.here lab (London, 2012). She is, though, not lost entire in an anachronistic world of old processes and machines and equally invests time in translating works into digital form through filming and editing processes. The film Letters, made for the song from Barker’s new album, was inspired by family members (Barker’s grandfather and Gaal-Holmes’ father) who fled from their home countries to forget their pasts and find a find a new life in Australia and Africa, respectively. Ah! Afrika! celebrates the joy of being barefoot in the grass, with a specially commissioned score by Barker and Dudu Nlovo.

Drawing and artists’ books are a key part of Gaal-Holmes’ working process with the series of drawings, lines of thought, informed by the trajectory of how a single thought is at once specifically confined to itself but then meanders exploding into a miasma of networks, only to reign itself in again onto its path of contraction and expansion. The artists’ book a path between two points becomes home similarly explores this trajectory as thoughts about a sense of ‘home’ are essentially about finding a way to be in this world prevail, rather than the specific places one feels attachments to. Dear River is a limited edition artists’ book inspired by the narratives informing Barker and Gaal-Holmes’ sense of ‘home’, memory and place and by photographs taken by Indian photographer Vikram Kushwah for Barker’s new album. It includes and essay by the film and cultural theorist Dr Saër Maty Bâ.

Memories, histories and notions of place are central in Gaal-Holmes’ Questions of Home: Excavations in Film & Fragments Lost in the Ether. Like an excavator she goes out to map the field of her investigations by traversing the horizontal lines holding the shards of shallow histories and the vertical lines running deeper into the embedded past. Gaal-Holmes’ work as an artist is complemented by interests in processes of thinking between theory/literature and practice, particularly in understanding how information is translated between visual and written forms. She recently completed a doctoral thesis on ‘A History of 1970s Experimental Film: Britain’s Decade of Diversity’ which will be the subject of a book published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2014.

A series of events related to the exhibition include a performance by Emily Barker, an in-conversation with cultural historian and curator Dr Marius Kwint, a panel discussion, screenings and workshops. For more information see related flyer or contact Aspex Gallery.

Contact details:


Patti Gaal-Holmes: http://www.artspace.co.uk

Emily Barker: http://www.emily-barker.com

Vikram Kushwah: http://www.vikramkushwah.com

no.w.here film lab: http://www.no-w-here.org.uk

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