Solitude is something humans both crave and fear – seemingly in equal measure.
Nineteenth century transcendental philosopher Henry David Thoreau spent two years alone in a lakeside cabin in Massachusetts.
Recounting his experiences in his seminal work Walden, he wrote: “I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”
Yet fear of isolation and ‘ending up alone’ created a cultural icon for our times in Bridget Jones. And once heard, who could forget the mournful croon of country singer Hank Williams as he sings: “I’m so lonesome I could cry”?
So which is it to be? This month an exhibition at Transition Gallery explores solitude in all its manifold forms: its horror-filled connotations of madness and perversity on one hand, and its elevated status as a tool for creative genius on the other.
Curator Sarah Cleaver has been researching the subject ever since watching the film Paris, Texas, immersing herself in the subject through the work of Thoreau and reclusive American writer Henry Darger, and starting a Tumblr to document her findings.
“When I first started researching I thought maybe it was going to be a book,” says the 28-year-old.
“But when I started realising the amount of visual aspects to it I realised an exhibition would work quite well.
“Paradoxically it’s a project about being alone but it works better with other people.”
Isolation Chamber Vacation features the work of five artists as well as various ephemera from Cleaver’s research such as artists’ books, letters, back issues of magazines and a ‘library’ of recommended reading.
Juno Calypso’s photographs are self-portraits in which she adopts the fictional character, Joyce. For her series The Honeymoon, the artist posed as a travel writer and spent a week alone at a couples’ only honeymoon resort in Pennsylvania, with a suitcase full of wigs and wedding lingerie.
Kirsty Buchanan will be displaying a series of drawings made in ‘private spaces’: so whilst taking a bath or in bed.
“I’ve known her for a long time, and we would talk a lot about women’s rituals and men’s fear of what women do behind closed doors, so diaries, cosmetics and that kind of thing,” Cleaver says of Buchanan.
Other artists in the exhibition include Nicola Frimpong, whose watercolours Cleaver describes as “kind of Marquis de Sade-esque orgies”, whilst filmmaker Hannah Ford will be screening a piece inspired by period dramas and the idea of the young unmarried woman who has to stay at home with her parents. Katernina Jebb will be showing a print from a series on sex dolls which touches on technology and how we use the internet.
Alongside the art, there will be film screenings of Repulsion (1965), Paris, Texas (1984), Morvern Callar (2002) and In The Realms of the Unreal (2004). There will also be talks, with speakers including Mary Wild, an expert on film and psychoanalysis who will be talking about aloneness in horror films.
Cleaver believes now is a pertinent time to be looking at solitude in greater detail, given the influential of digital technology on our lives.
“I think there is a kind of fear about how connected we all are yet how we’ve managed to isolate ourselves, the fact you can get in contact with anyone you like from your bedroom basically. I hear a lot of people talk about how technology has made them lonelier.”
She admits that she herself revels in solitude, saying: “I love to be alone.” But she warns of this attitude proving a “trick”, particularly among artists.
“I love to be alone but also think there’s a lie to solitude,” she says. “And that is, if I get rid of enough people then I’ll produce something wonderful.
“That’s as much of a trick as anything else, it’s just another method of procrastination for a lot of artists.
“You know, I could do this if I didn’t have a family, I could do this if I didn’t have a partner. So I’m into that idea too, that it’s kind of fetishized and kind of a myth that lot of creatives like to talk about.”
Isolation Chamber Vacation
2 September– 2 October
Unit 25a Regent Studios
8 Andrews Road