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Kim Merrington and Rebecca Shaw
The Travelsick project undertaken by the collective, British Artists Abroad (BAab} and exhibited at Talk- Artists Initiative Inc., was concerned with examining the theme of travel and communication over vast distances, and between artists and audiences. Travelsick Part 2 featured the works of two artists, Kim Merrington and Rebecca Shaw (Part 1 included the works of Kale Wise and Kelly Lange). The exhibition-subtitled Out of Body- examined the theme of flight and travel as a metaphor, amongst other things, for escaping the corporeal.
Taking inspiration from the theme of travel, Kim Merrington's work focused around the heroic persona of Amy Johnson, the female aviator who mysteriously disappeared while flying over the Thames Estuary in 1941 . One wall of the room was horizontally marked by a sequence of laser copies of newspaper articles and images entitled Route Proving. The intimacy of detail created by the deliberate reduction of the scale of articles and images was effective, inviting the spectator to move up close in order to discover the varied facets of Johnson's life. The laser images were hung across the wall horizontally, held in place by bull clips, thus conjuring the impression of an archival environment, a collection of 'evidence' gathered by an enthusiastic a researcher.
Articles from newspapers, such as the Guardian, related Johnson's adventures: her 10,000 mile solo flight from Britain to
Australia in a Gypsy Moth in 1931; her journey through sandstorms where, forced to land in Java, she patched up the wings of her plane with sticking plaster; her ju jitsu training that came in handy when fending off Arab sheikhs; her disappearance in 1941 ; and claims- 50 years later-by an ex-RAF soldier that he was ordered to shoot Amy Johnson's plane down, believing it was an enemy aircraft. The series of newspaper articles were accompanied by other images-fictive images: a photograph of a time piece used to establish the time of the crash; a photograph of a couple at the plane wreck with subtitles reading 'Above: early days when the wreck site was being "rediscovered" by members of the public. Much has been cleared by collectors'; and yet another image that claimed to be the bullet-ridden radiator cowl of Johnson's plane (the wreck was, in fact, never discovered).
The absence of historical and 'factual' material from the annals of history about Johnson's endeavours is a point that clearly concerns the artist. By reinventing and reintroducing this pioneering character into this archival display Merrington asserted her place in history. By extension, fact then intertwined with fiction to lure the audience into the construction of a narrative that imaginatively conjured the presence of Amy Johnson as she transformed from fact into fiction, from female pioneer into mythic persona.
The dual concern of history and myth was extended in the installation piece entitled Amy'n'Jason (Jason being the name of Johnson's plane), a piece that effectively reconstructed the archival layout of Route Proving into a diorama-like museum display of memorabilia. In the words of the artist: 'I have a collection of objects and items to do with Amy Johnson the aviator and then a series of images relating to the narrative-some is fabricated, some is real research- so it's a combination of fact and fiction'.
The viewer was confronted with the image of Johnson's parachute, the object that made possible her final flight into the unknown. As if just having landed, the parachute was draped across the wall and floor. It was littered with articles that we were invited to view as objects which created a sense of narrative around the adventures and life of Amy Johnson. These included her helmet, goggles, gloves and shorts-attire she was known to favour-a compass, a toy plane, Erica Jong's erotic novel, The Fear of Flying, and a newspaper that includes the story of Johnson's disappearance and presumed death. Providing a sense of fictional closure was a red rose that held tenaciously onto one of the parachute strings and which invited the viewer's gaze to drift upwards to a frieze that extended across the upper part of the wall. The frieze depicted a border of clouds (photographed from a plane window), and the text imprinted and repeated over the images read 'I've been floating on air .. .'. A closure of sorts was suggested, that of the freedom embodied by the escape from the corporeal.
The exhibition was typical of the philosophy of the Talk artists' initiative in encouraging the importance of dialogue between artists as a basis for the creation of an exhibition. Not only did the artists of Travelsick Part 2- Out of Bounds record their dialogue (printed as Talk 44 by Talk) but the creative potential of the dialogue-as-process is evident in the exhibition itself, making it one of the powerful features of this show.