The Verse’s Jake Francis tells us what he thought of Harley Weir’s exhibition ‘HOMES’ at Fabrica
Immigration, migrant camps, and western privilege.
The big three.
These statements have become so synonymous with British culture that they could quite easily replace our daily conversations about the sporadic weather, what we’re having for dinner tonight, or our predicted winning baker. Alongside the omnipresent news stories, these crucial issues have naturally rooted themselves firmly in the midst of artistic and social expression; with musicians, artists, and writers alike throwing themselves deep into the sprawling madness that has become associated. This division between the cold and warm blooded responses of journalism and ‘art’ can often be palpable and cutting; with few being able to marry up the complex combination of realism, emotion and formal interpretation. With her current exhibition, Harley Weir has no such difficulty – it standing as a unquestionable example of empathetic documentary.
‘HOMES’ takes place at Fabrica gallery as part of the 2018 Brighton Photo Biennial. This year, the theme for the 10-part programme is curated under the title ‘A New Europe’: an examination of ‘the current state of flux as the United Kingdom redefines its role in Europe’ and the implications it has on an international scale. Harley’s contribution to this years proceedings is a series of photographs taken in 2016 of the now deceased ‘Jungle’ of the Calais migrant camp; a not so unique situation that was/is fraught with the very epitome of rumour, propaganda, and divisive opinion. Originally conceived for a book with the same name, this exhibition has offered an unexpected return to its roots – a larger than life reconstruction of a not so distant reality off our own shores. But more on that as we go.
The title of ‘HOMES” For the collection is not just one that lends itself to easy classification, but summarises the primary focus of the photographer’s lens. Unlike the bulk of images focussed on the immigration crisis. This project does not directly picture it’s inhabitants but the makeshift shelters and communities birthed in its transient context. A combination of both mundane and philosophical spotlights. Harley’s photographs embody the overlooked daily truths of not migrants, but people. Whether that be brushing ones teeth, attending church, or creating art; irregularity does not change who we fundamentally are.
This realisation is further cemented by the choices of curation for the exhibition. The images printed on the very material that is used commercially for scaffolding and building site projects. When one combines their materiality with the towering scale of each image over two floors of the gallery – it is hard to deny a sense of physical encapsulation; we are the ones to fill this mute and anonymous cascade of survivalist homes; a never ending variation of curtains, tarpaulins, and makeshift neighbourhoods.
Although Harley Weir may not yet be a ‘household’ name (pun intended) in mainstream conversations, her practice is certainly one that has remained present within international visual culture. Predominately crafting her career in editorial photography, Weir has solidified her status as a renowned maker of images; the likes of which are taking a step away from her well-earned roots of fashion and into forms of visual education. Growing disheartened with her commercial ‘day jobs’, Harley began her socially-centred transition in 2012; where a shoot required her to visit the dissonant state of Israel. Perturbed by the literal borders in place, Harley began to shift her photography into a realm of self-directed understanding. Acknowledging in plain, but enticing tableaus, the unfair mechanisms of the world and its current states of dysfunction.
Many of these projects have been solidified as books, a format that appropriately grasps Harley’s interests of seriality and clarified narrative. ‘HOMES’ as a physical show, however, has proven that these images have a duality to be explored. The images offering an empowerment of though provoking theatre, displacement, and sensory re-contextualisation. We were, after all, merely born in the right place at the right time; exhibitions such as these remind us of that – we are all people of circumstance, of change, of strife, of adaptability and the ground that we stand on does not define us.
In the events that have led up to the exhibition’s debut, Harley has claimed not to be ‘a great speaker’. Consistently reiterating the fact that she is not a ‘very vocal person’. After meeting the artist I do not fully agree with these self-reflections. But recognise her drive and instinct to pursue curiosity through framing and experience. In our news and multi-faceted social culture, we clearly live in a time where empathy and apathy are interchangeable at the drop of a headline. Perhaps it’s time to let images such as Harley’s do the talking.
‘HOMES’ is now open at Fabrica Gallery as part of the Brighton Photo Biennale till the 28th of October. Entry is free to all events. To find visiting times and details, please visit photoworks.org.uk.
‘HOMES’ by Harley Weir is published by Loose Joints and is available for £20 at Fabrica Gallery. 70% of the profits from sales will be donated to The Hummingbird project, Brighton.