One broken ceramic doll face can be a beautiful exercise in light, shade and form. Sixteen of them, exhibited in a mental health facility, become rather more – a metaphor for the fragility of personality and identity in mental illness.
Laura Fisher is a Medway-based artist and photographer, working mainly in monochrome documentary and a sideline in photographing found objects. Ceramic dolls have previously appeared in a 2018 project ‘The Dolls’.
Our faces are a vital part of our self-identity and other people’s faces are where we try to read their personality. Therefore, images of facial injuries are always shocking, and often newsworthy. Fisher taps into this atavistic shock by showing us realistic ceramic faces that have been broken and reassembled (not perfectly, but as well as possible); the face is recognisable but so are the fracture lines. In attempting to read the personality, we are also aware that it has been damaged – and this is a metaphor for mental illness.
At this stage it is appropriate to mention the venue of the exhibition. Lakeside Lounge is a tearoom attached to the Trevor Gibbens Unit of Maidstone Hospital, a medium secure mental health care facility. It is not well-known to, or visited by, the general public so the majority of viewers will be staff, patients or their visitors. The prints are integrated into the room rather than having a separate ‘exhibition space’. Each image is given personality by being named (and the meaning of the name explained) in an accompanying caption card.
In the artist’s statement, Fisher refers to Kintsugi, a Japanese artform based on repair of ceramics using a lacquer mixed with precious metal dust (usually gold) which both repairs the piece and, by emphasising and beautifying the repair, turns it into a work of art. The repair becomes part of the history of the object. Similarly with mental health, that which is damaged can be repaired and celebrated. Overall, the message of this exhibition to its particular audience is one of hope. Read from left to right, there is a progression from damage and darkness to lighter, more complete faces, the final four being in colour suggesting fuller recovery.
We are all flawed. We all endure trauma, bumps and scrapes. At times we are broken and cracked.
Broken things are still useful, we should try to repair things, sometimes in doing so they become more valuable
Laura Fisher 2019 (artist’s statement)
This is an exhibition that combines technical quality, beauty and message. It deserves a wider audience, but is particularly well suited to the audience that it has.
Instagram feed: @laurafisherfoto