Vancouver-based photographer Holly Armishaw’s latest work is a study in contrasts. The self-portraiture series, titled “Repressions,” depicts a young woman in a white slip, interacting with viewers in tableaux of fluctuating violence. In some, she’s surrounded by feather light symbols of femininity: flower petals, eggs and gold leaf. In others, she’s interacting with the frame in notably darker ways, writing cryptic messages on the frame’s glass and punching it hard enough to draw blood.
The photographs represent the violence that lies below the surface of many women’s experience, engaging with the lingering, insidious effects of these past traumas. According to Statistics Canada, women experience childhood abuse at nearly twice the rate of men. As with many statistics, it’s hard to wrap your mind around what these numbers mean in real life. Holly’s work seeks to bridge that gap in understanding through conceptual art.
“I’m using each of the objects as metaphors,” says Holly. “The flower petals – which, it’s really hard to use flowers in contemporary art without it becoming a bit too cheesy – are a symbol of sensitivity, and the fragility that I experience.”
The photographs are very visceral, pressing right up on the subject’s torso and engaging with symbols of physicality – eggs, pills and blood – that conjure the embodied effects of past abuse. Although trauma is often seen as an emotional problem, the images serve as a reminder of its very tangible, physical outcomes. As Holly says, “the body remembers what the mind forgets.”
Although her work is incredibly personal, the simplicity of Holly’s images lends them a deliberate sense of universality.
“I wanted the image to be really minimalist, really clean and contemporary, but also faceless. They’re printed life scale and at average height, so that if you’re standing in front of them you can almost place yourself in the same situation,” she says.
"A popular rallying slogan of second-wave feminism states that "The Personal is Political" and I think that this work is a really good example of that.”
“Repressions” will be presented at Chernoff Fine Art, running from April 2nd through May 7th. The images are available online on Holly’s personal website; however, viewers will only get the full effect of her work by seeing it in person.
“When you see a photograph in a frame on the wall, it’s in its own little contained world. I want the person, the woman in these photos to be interacting directly with the frame, the gallery, the viewers that are there,” she says.
“So many people don’t get off their computers and go out and see photographs, and so it’s important to me to bring people out to the exhibits to see the work in person. I think they’ll get more from it that way.”