Stephanie Coffey is the latest artist to take up the two-month residency at the Artist Residence Hotel resulting in the exhibition “In the Water I am”. The Canadian artist has produced a series of narrative photographs and accompanying fictional text to explore her relationship with water.
Our relationship with water is often one we take for granted, but as a newcomer to Brighton, Stephanie was immediately inspired by the sea. She has addressed a wide variety of connections with water from a beach side romance to it’s darker associations with suicide. Even in the more positive stories, there is a dark foreboding tone to the photographs that appear muted as if washed of their colour.
Stephanie said: “People are always surprised by the darker side to my artwork because I’m such a happy person. I didn’t want the exhibition to be all light and happy, like Brighton’s relationship with the sea. There is a much more interesting side to water.”
One of the stories tells an account of a father teaching his then young daughter, the joy of optimism at looking at a glass half full. He tells her that an empty glass can always be filled again and is an opportunity for a fresh start. Years later, this tale has almost become a compulsive shred of hope in her life as a prostitute, as she holds on to the image, but seems to have abandoned the meaning.
The way water is manipulated by us seems to have constructed our mainly positive associations. It is forced into a controllable form, sent flowing down our taps to quench our thirst and is sprinkled over us to keep us clean. But in it’s raw natural state it brings us disease and it’s immense strength can kill us. Water also conceals great mysteries, as deep in the ocean beyond where light can reach, there lies a vast amount of our world undiscovered.
These innate contradictions in our relationship with water are all illuminated in “In the Water I am,” and allow your own personal history with water to resurface: a history reinforced almost constantly throughout each day.
The photographs and prose of a girl in the shower were particularly successful, again raising the double-sided nature of water. What I normally see as a secure and renewing space, suddenly appeared lonely and evoked thoughts of the sins she could be washing away.
The feeling of loneliness seemed strengthened by the act of writing to accompany each set of photographs. Almost always done in private, writing has the same feelings of deepness we associate with water along with its reflective properties.
In each piece the two practices perfectly compliment one another, giving the viewer a much richer experience. Normally when confronted with a photograph we try to decipher a possible narrative ourselves, but here we are gifted Stephanie’s eloquent tales, which ask as many questions as they answer.
“In the Water I am” is both beautiful and thought provoking, marking a new and exciting direction for Stephanie Coffey.
The exhibition runs throughout August at the Artist Residence Hotel, 33 Regency Square, Brighton.