Artist Hannah Collins’ adventurous new exhibition at Camden Arts Centre

The Kilburn artist introduces viewers to an unorthadox sculpture park in the Mohave Desert and medicinal plant-life in the Amazon forests

Emotional cartography is the term critic Gilda Williams uses to describe the way British artist Hannah Collins pairs photography with sound or text to “map” places inhabited by people about whom she wishes to tell us something. Two of the immersive installations in her adventurous exhibition at the Camden Arts Centre introduce viewers to environments they are unlikely to otherwise experience: an unorthodox sculpture park in the Mojave Desert and medicinal plant-life in the Amazon forests.

Collins, who lives in Kilburn and has a studio in Swiss Cottage, is known for vast unframed monochrome photographs whose scale envelopes their audience. But the visual element of her homage to the African-American assemblage artist Noah Purifoy comprises smaller, black and white, framed silver gelatin prints. She used a plate camera to document, by day and night, the structures of recycled materials and found objects that he amassed on a ten acre site near Joshua Tree, California, where he lived for 15 years until his death in 2004.

Purifoy was previously based in Los Angeles and famously made sculptures from smashed neon signs and charred debris collected after the 1965 Watts Riots, which he witnessed. The LA County Museum of Art currently has an exhibition of his work titled Junk Dada. Collins’s installation The Interior and the Exterior – Noah Purifoy has a three-channel soundscape of recordings she made of contemporaries, including founding members of the Black Panthers.

By contrast, in The Fertile Forest 2013-15 Collins combines wall-text with small photographs, mostly colour prints, of medicinal and hallucinogenic plants used by Cofan and Inga tribal peoples in the Amazon basin. But she restricts herself to visual details of the plants, believing the tribes should remain the custodians of knowledge as to their use.


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However, she tells perhaps more than we’d like to know about her experiment with the psychoactive brew yagé, made from the Banisteriopsis caapi vine. It lived up to its reputation for inducing psychic visions and physical purging: “The night-watch presented itself through the divine songs of the shaman, nausea came deep inside, with my eyes closed I was vomiting up life itself. All around was the sound of vomiting, the planets were breaking up around me and I was connected to the skull of the shaman.”

Until September 13. CAC is at the junction of Arkwright Road and Finchley Road NW3. Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 6pm, Wednesday 10am to 9pm.

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