A friend recommended we speak and pointed me to Nadine’s website where I saw we shared intersecting worlds: clown and photography. Plus a commitment to look in less than obvious places.
There is so much more going on in this photograph than may be in evidence on first encounter. The bloody tears tap into but transcend cultural religious imagery. Raw suffering sits in the picture but so does strong, unobjectified beauty.
On Wood's website is a selection of images from the collection titled 'Imagined Rooms'). We see detailed staging and composition, but during Wood's process, intuition and chance are still at play. The cat in the girl's arms had a very clear intention to be part of the shoot, Nadine tells me (as we sit with coffee and excellent croissant in Romeo’s sugar free bakery in Islington - there is a gluten free Romeos down the road – both recommended).
Wiccan images and Tarot references join with carnival, totemic, and theatrical influences. A series of open doors onto a darkened world one feels drawn into, perhaps even despite better judgement.
This Green Lady (above) makes my heart beat a little faster. Nadine intends to reference both Gaia and Kali. The empty doll heads rattle as uncompromisingly as Kali’s skull necklace.
For our interview, I had brought a list of questions the first of which was: ‘tell me about Clowns’ and I get my answer without having to even ask the question.
Nadine Wood has taken photographs and drawn and made things from childhood. She used to work as a therapist. She found that the impact of the loss of her sister had her turn to photography where, through the lens, she could compose and stage emotional states that were too raw and painful to confront directly. The little room of the camera became the theatre space where the difficult and devastating could be staged, and viewed at remove. I almost wrote ‘a safe remove’ but this collection bravely evidences a perception that safety is not ever really on offer.
Photography helped Wood overcome her coulrophobia, too. Think of the coulrophobic encountering Clowns in the circus – the horror of all that anarchy, raw truth and mystery with no fourth wall containing it. Here, Clowns are composed in scenarios – each one like a ‘different room in a house’, allowing Wood to visit and view pain in a way that would be useful and no longer immobilising.
‘Having trained and worked as therapist I was interested in people and emotive states. I realised I had a talent with a camera in a way I didn’t expect.’
Camera as investigative instrument. Camera as theatre, stage for safe communion with the dark spaces inside the psyche.
Exploration (of states and feeling) not exclusion. Creation as catharsis.
Wood paints her models (usually friends and the weeping girl in the first image above is her daughter, also an artist). That is to say, she paints onto their faces the paradoxical masks which reveal and hide in equal measure.
Artifice to reveal truth. The clown’s mask providing licence to speak the truth others hide.
‘I need to have a rapport with a model. I direct them to find emotional states I wish to explore, and then can view those states as they inhabit them.’
The works are structured and detailed in their creation. I was curious whether Wood had experienced the ‘meaning’ of a work becoming clearer after a time. Wood speaks about a piece she calls ‘Cicatrice’. In the construction of each of Wood’s works, many elements are envisaged beforehand, but in the moment, intuition and chance contribute to the process. While painting her model’s face, Wood was compelled to add the meandering scar. Sometime later the emotional import of this addition made itself felt – the family pain, her sister’s surgical scars after brain operations. ‘Looking at it was healing for my own journey.’
I resonate with Wood’s compulsion to look at and represent things difficult and painful. Not as a fetish, but in order to include a full view of life, a full experience of life. ‘All pain is a physical response to a part of your life’. It is work made with belief in the value of affording the viewer the opportunity to reflect: ‘I am not the only one.’
While working with her own rich original experiences and references, Wood mentions the inspiration of Bruce Nauman’s Clown Torture. The clown mask allows others to ‘look at a projection of their own psyches.’
‘There is a taboo around pain. Why should we have to hide? The message of the clown is to be free.’
● ● ●
Nadine Wood studied at WAES under the tuition of photographer Doralba Picerno and is currently at Westminster University, having earned a scholarship on the strength of her work.
Wood’s website and portfolio site show you her other collections. Join her mailing list to hear about coming projects and exhibitions (most recently she exhibited at the Embassy Tea Gallery in SE1) and
her work was recently published in London art magazine Laissez Faire.
Wood is planning towards a site specific installation where the pieces can be viewed in an immersive way, by the viewer making a journey from room to room.
But for now, go visit and view.