Review: Making Arrangements exhibition from Dawn Cole

Making Arrangements (Photos Lorna Dallas-Conte)

Review by Lorna Dallas-Conte

This surprisingly life-affirming exhibition is Dawn Cole’s strongest work to date. From a deeply personal view-point Cole has created a series of exquisite, yet paradoxical works that have the power to resonate with us all.

Cole’s process of photography, the manipulation of scale and context, and cyanotype processing, follows the very necessary and demanding task of dismantling a home as her mother’s life comes to an end. The work contemplates the necessary disposal of the items no longer required, the dislodging of long forgotten memories and the eventual distillation and transformation of what remains into enhanced and different memories. Each image shimmers with controlled stillness and exposes a poignant cocktail of emotions. Together they intimately illuminate the experience of Cole’s mother’s life and death.

Cole forces the viewer to look beyond the familiar into the artifice which in turn reveals multiple realities. In life Dawn’s mother was a passionate, talented woman, who used her creativity to adorn her home for herself and her family. Cole looks beyond the difficulties of her mother’s decline and finds compassion and quiet celebration. Her mother chose the long-life qualities of artificial flowers over their fresh originals. By doing so these floral arrangements became part of the familiar décor of the home, lasting way beyond the life of their creator.

Stepping into the exhibition one is confronted by Cole’s artful manipulation of context and scale which turns her mother’s ornaments, kitsch figurines, into life-sized poised and polished representations of a romanticised version of love. These enormous suspended unframed prints are juxtaposed with the actual artificial flower arrangements that have been reworked in a variety of different ways throughout the rest of the exhibition.

The viewer continually looks at these images but somehow sees beyond them, finding Cole and her mother at every view. It is curious to think that even the gallery space was previously used to make the saveloys that Cole’s mother used to buy next door at the old town butchers.

Cole’s manipulation of scale, context, and time, disrupts the familiar. The absence of deterioration contradicts the natural way of being and becomes an arresting reminder of the fragility of everyday life. We are not able to permanently hold back the inevitable death that follows life. Even these artificial flowers and the prints will gradually fade and disintegrate. Cole was not able to prevent or hold back her mother’s decline, but she was able to treasure her mother’s life in all its stages. Each image a balanced portal of remembrance.

Referring to Cole’s use of several different photographic and printing processes in this work, fellow artist and exhibitor, Graham Ward says, in the accompanying exhibition Artist Book, ‘this work retains all the alchemical, unsharpened allure of the antique as well as the focused thrill of the contemporary’.

This exhibition shows work that is an inspirational yet disquieting and sometimes painful reminder to us all. It encourages us to take time to grieve, notice the familiar and find new ways to enjoy the memories, whilst living our own lives to the full.

We need to be making our own arrangements.

Making Arrangements from Dawn Cole

29 October to 17 November, daily 11am-5pm

Pie Factory Gallery

5 Broad Street

Margate CT9 1EW