< back



05 Feb 10 - 13 Mar 10


Boo Saville


view virtual tour


Private View Thursday 4th February, 7-9pm

Trolley Gallery is proud to present a second solo show by artist Boo Saville. Entitled ‘Totem’, this new body of work encapsulates the unifying anthropological and archeological aspects evident in her work, and her representation of the deceased captured through an exploration of various forms of mark-making, itself a reflection of human expression and representation.
Saville constantly researches source material from a wide variety of documentary and scientific origins; books, journals and resources such as the Wellcome Institute. The internet also offers an almost limitless exploration of imagery and keywords, the small, often low resolution images becoming the direct subject matter in the final work, where the colours and often gnarled compositions of a deceased human translate into a delicate and detailed painting and drawing. “There is beauty and creativity in the process of destruction. I am interested in decay not as a negative reduction but as a unifying symbol of matter, of our bodies. There is a clarity for me when something is stripped down to the bare bones and studied or just observed.”

The anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss argued that human thought was equal in both Western civilized and savage minds, while the use of a totem, or a physical representation to project a figurehead in tribes, was only in the absence of their understanding of ‘abstract entities’. Here, Saville’s subject matter varies from a nineteenth-century explorer preserved under the ice, the terrain of the skin rendered as visible as the striped cotton shirt he wears, to tribal shrunken heads in the tropics, Egyptian mummies, and twentieth century forensic photographs of death scenes. In the absence of a traditional totemic figure, we interpret the various geographical and chronological locations of Saville’s human subjects as incorporating this idea of a ‘totem’, a classification system and a unifying kinship that brings together the life form apparent in death.

Using everyday bleach on black canvas, staining and draining the colour from the material with painterly expression and gestures, Saville has transformed some of these discoveries of the ancient and preserved using a material as accessible and everyday as the internet where the images are found. This use of unorthodox material echoes Saville’s recent drawings produced using ordinary biros, as she explains, “I enjoy playing with everyday materials, like biros or bleach or clothes dye, by juxtaposing their domesticity with an intensive use it takes them to a higher level.” The relatively brutal mark-making of bleach incorporates both the rawness of the subject matter, and Saville’s awareness of mark-making inherent in ancient cultures as a tool of observation, such as an Aboriginal landscape in abstract shapes, with her own painterly instinct. “With painting it's very important to forget everything you ever knew about it to have the guts to make a solid gesture.” Visually the bleach on canvas evokes an X ray, a tool often associated with the forensic analysis of living bodies and ancient artefacts. “There is something about the tracing of time as if it is a window into the past that I am interested in and archaeology reveals the evidence of our existence.”

Sigmund Freud’s book “Totem and Taboo: Resemblances Between the Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics”, brings together the archaeological with the anthropological and the religious by exploring the origins of human society with our behaviour and thoughts today. Saville’s painting here that looks at first glance to be the classic ‘Pieta’ composition, the figure of Mary cradling her son Jesus, is in fact the figure of a tribal man holding close, in an either protective or nurturing way, the body of a preserved mummy. The symbolic gesture for the viewer being the association with human grief and/or compassion in the scene. Saville states, “Being aware of our own mortality is an exclusively human trait, a burden and the price we pay for consciousness. I think in my work, I am interested in the seduction of beauty and contemplation of our situation through this quiet state.”