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Lost Languages And Other Voices – Joy Gregory Retrospective

If Visiting Arts’ ‘Future Thinking’ document is the philosophy behind artist residencies and intercultural dialogue, Joy Gregory is the practice. Over the last 25 years her work has evolved from and explored the characteristics and dynamics of international residencies and exemplified how ‘space’ can become ‘place’ when given connection, context and meaning. An upcoming interview with Joy Gregory will attempt to draw out exactly what is at the heart of an international residency experience and, at a time when dialogue has never been so important, what role residencies and cultural practitioners can play in intercultural understanding.

The recent Joy Gregory retrospective at Bradford’s Impressions Gallery brought together 14 bodies of work by one of the most significant artists to emerge from the Black British photography movement of the 1980s. The exhibition ‘Lost Languages and other voices’ traced the history of Gregory’s practice, a practice that continues to explore a handful of major themes across a myriad of places and cultures. Included in the exhibition were one group of photographs, at first slightly overshadowed by the larger, more bold and colourful works on display – a series of self-portraits of Joy during various residencies at the end of the day in her room. There’s a sense of isolation and sometimes melancholy throughout the works as the artist sits or stands in a simple room surrounded by the normal detritus of bedroom life. Not developed until recently the works capture a time when instant connection to far-away friends and family via skype, email or even mobile phone wasn’t the norm. Taken many years ago and assigned to the artist’s archive, the series is in fact an astute and very personal examination of the artist-in-residence experience.

The recipient of many residencies in places as diverse as South Africa, Sri Lanka, the Orkney Islands, Kenya and the Caribbean, Joy Gregory knows all too well the stimulation and incredible energy of exploring a new culture and also sometimes the loneliness of being dropped into a new place. Though predating the ‘Interiors’ series from her Sri Lankan residency at Lunuganga, the former home renowned Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa, both the self portraits and ‘Interiors’ images capture essential elements of the residency experience – space, time and unfamiliar context. Working only with the available natural light and long exposures, the 2004 ‘Interiors’ series captures a slice of the photographer’s experience – both of a day and a residency. Knowing that the artist sat with the camera and observed the scene during the long exposures of up to an hour, not only the interior setting is recorded but, because of the prolonged duration of light across film, we understand also that something of time has been captured.

Working with a wide range of media and photographic processes, Joy Gregory’s practice explores social and political issues alongside concepts of race, gender and identity. Her work frequently involves exchange and intercultural connection, taking a personal and intimate approach to connecting and communicating with other cultures and individuals. Gregory has spoken of the artist in residency experience as “translating alien context” and indeed this translation and the opportunity to participate in international residencies has informed her work strongly.

Text by Kelly Carmichael

Images credits

1. Self Portraits (1997) © Joy Gregory

2. Interiors (2004) © Joy Gregory

3. Joy Gregory, Lost Languages and other stories at Impressions Gallery © Impressions Gallery / Colin Davison

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