Critics’ Picks

Heather Phillipson, Taps, 2006, still from a color video, 7 minutes 19 seconds.


Heather Phillipson

Glynn Vivian Art Gallery
Alexandra Road
May 9–July 12

“Something Is Bound to Happen” is both the title and the premise of Heather Phillipson’s second solo exhibition. In her videos, she unravels a woolen hat, tap-dances on a dirty staircase to inanely upbeat jazz, conducts a symphony to oblivious geese, and performs other trivial tasks. Yet while nothing momentous happens, her works are too amusing to be disappointing.

The London-based artist is a trained musician––she plays the piano and violin––and is also making a name for herself as a poet (she won the Faber New Poets Award this year). This show is the result of her winning the 2009 Sir Leslie Joseph Young Artist Award, which is bestowed on emerging artists who received part of their education in Wales. If the results are not astoundingly original, they are nonetheless intriguingly bound up with other aspects of her aesthetic adventure. Phillipson seems to use music as a metaphor for the trickiness of communication. Are these works a humorous take on our struggle to live up to E. M. Forster’s famous dictum to “only connect” with others? Taps, 2006, recalls an out-of-sync orchestra: A figure turns on the faucets in a public toilet so that the sound of gushing water is accompanied by the unpleasant whine of rusty metal. Meditation, 2005, though, reaches an unexpectedly blissful crescendo––Phillipson plays the violin in the midst of rolling hills speckled with fluffy white sheep. The cattle in the video might be indifferent, but as the melody floods the gallery room it’s hard not to feel waves of joy.