Damask wallpaper is a motif in Laura Phillips' solo show I Felt Like the Sound of a Harp. Most noticeably is the balloon-with-wallpaper-print type object that appears in the video work, but there are also traces of a similar pattern in some of the fabric hangings. Phillips has cited Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper as an influence, as well as Tina Keane's Faded Wallpaper (1988), both of which I refer to in a previous post. In Phillips' work, the wallpaper reference could be read as a visual anchor, a counter to the dissociative states she references, and a reminder that they occur in a mind that is attached to a physical body, and that that physical body is still capable of visual perception of its surroundings, though they may be rendered frightening or absurd or unreal. The Pneumatic Institute, on which this show is based, was the location of Humphrey Davy's laughing gas experiments, and I assume that is the reason for the balloon motif. For me, however, given my own investigations into wallpaper, it reads as a reminder that 'reality' is precarious, and the way we decorate our environments cannot change that. Gilding, one might call it. Not in the sense of gilding the lily; more like using plastic surgery to try to fix a lack of self-esteem.
Tonight, watching her perform with her improv-ensemble Viridian in accompaniment to the show, the wallpaper was very present again, this time in the live digital and 16mm projections. The vocal aspect of the performance, seemingly inspired by laughing gas, was almost unbearable; pained, hysterical and gasping. In this setting, the wallpaper seemed like a point of hope. As if, could one only hold onto it, dissociation might be avoided.
Review of the show