A Young Person Recommends... Julie Cockburn: Balancing Act

A Young Person Recommends... Julie Cockburn: Balancing Act

A Young Person Recommends... Julie Cockburn: Balancing Act

On Photography

Abi Baldwin reviews the exhibition Julie Cockburn: Balancing Act which was on show in the Print Sales gallery at The Photographers' Gallery from 9 Sep to 24 Oct 2020. 

Julie Cockburn’s exhibition Balancing Act is on display at The Photographer’s Gallery from the 9th September to the 25th October 2020. This is a print sale exhibition with seventeen works on display including more available online. In her third solo exhibition at the gallery, the work displayed is the alteration and adaptation of vintage photographic prints with colourful, hand embroidered shapes. Having originally studied Fine art: Sculpture at Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design, it is clear to see from visiting this exhibition that Cockburn’s talent with using various mediums and materials is not lost in this new exciting collection of work.

From first entering the exhibition space downstairs at the gallery, the eye is instantly drawn to the shapes and colour incorporated into the prints; the movement added with the embroidery aids these works to flow from one to the next. The walls are painted a soft green with the framed images given space to breathe with wider borders. The five prints that welcome you first into the exhibition are entitled, “Ta-da”, which sets the mood for the rest of the work on display. Although the original photographs are black and white, they are pulled into the modern-day and brought back to life with the added colourful embroidery which shapes their movement; the choice of circular shapes imitates a covering and acts as a costume for these ice skater figures. It is within these works that the title Balancing Act really makes itself clear as Cockburn plays with their movement, both adding to the shape but also subtracting from their form.

In addition to these dancing figures brought to life, there are several restored prints of landscapes that have been embroidered onto which in turn creates a new and vibrant meaning; finding the balance between nature and our intervention in it. “Valley Song, 2020” is displayed in a light blue frame which compliments the colours added to the original colour print. Similar to the others, the embroidery takes the shape of circles which takes the viewer on a journey up into the mountain as the circles get smaller towards the peak; from afar they appear random but on closer inspection, you see the intricacy of every thread which has been so purposefully sewn into the print. The most deceiving and cunning work which definitely deserves to be seen in the gallery rather than online is “Facepaint”. As the name suggests it is made to look like paint splatters over a portrait of a woman but as you move closer in you see Cockburn’s painstakingly precise hand-stitched white thread which covers the identity of the face behind.

Balancing Act: Julie Cockburn

Contextually this exhibition has a deeper meaning in that the majority of these works were created during lockdown. With this knowledge and underlying subtext, you can’t help but feel the longing for escapism and adventure that we were denied during those first few months. However, these works are timeless as they give no direct mention to the pandemic or the lockdown of early 2020, but as Julie Cockburn reccounts, “while in isolation, I noticed how much we connected by sharing our creativity...this is my show and tell.” The work makes no attempt to talk about the pandemic but it teaches an important lesson to never stop sharing our creativity to encourage and inspire others; this exhibition can certainly inspire and uplift as it draws the viewer away from the current state of the world by embracing its history through these vintage prints but also drawing us into an alternative way of looking at the things around us.

– Abi Baldwin 

Seaside with a rainbow of dots

Julie Cockburn: Balancing Act

9 Sep - 25 Oct 2020

The works on display in Balancing Act - Cockburn’s solo exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery - were rich in landscape, domesticity, and the human form, altered by her playful language of abstraction and intervention.

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