Only ever almost there

17th January, 2019

only ever almost there
Exhibition by Amy Sharrocks
Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum, till 24th February 2019

Amy Sharrocks is a sculptor, photographer, live artist and swimmer, and ‘only ever almost there’ is the first major survey of her works, now at Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum.  There are 3 rooms given to the work of Amy Sharrocks in this exhibition at Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum, so this is a substantial survey of the artist’s work over the last decade. There is an installation of Museum of Water delicately laid out in the Hammam of the Royal Pump Rooms, a separate curation of paintings from the main Art Gallery collection and a large gallery hang of her live artworks, drawings, photographs and sculptures.

Sharrocks has spent 10 years investigating people and water. Large photographs of many of her live artworks are spread out in clusters of work across the main exhibition space (which used to be the boiler room for the Hydrotherapy centre that used to be on this site). SWIM (2007) saw 50 people swim across London, a madcap adventure across our capital city; WALBROOK re-membered the ‘lost’ river by walking the riverbed with 65 people wearing blue, all tied together with blue ribbon; drift sees her floating a boat in pools across England (once all night long in Zaha Hadid’s Olympic Pool). The works are alternately intimate and spectacular. You get an idea of the scale of her water works, as there are still many missing: it would have been good to see DAYTRIP – a fall in the sea in Swansea and Hastings – and The Fry’s Island Swim, her swim for 80 people in the Thames last year. But there is space here at last for her own photographs of water, taken over years of travelling and looking. These are dreamy landscapes of water which notice the tiny aspects of this substance, that seem to lift off the wall: Perth wetlands at sunset, dykes, groynes and levees from Denmark, the mist hanging around silver birch trees one morning and Constellations of Water, which sees stars of sunlight reflected in a river in Wales.

Rooms in this show are remembered for their original uses, so in a room that used to be the Ladies Swimming Pool (which still retains all the architecture of pool) Sharrocks and curator Madeleine Hodge have gathered paintings solely for their view of water. Lake Como hangs next to a snowy landscape in Warwickshire, is in turn connected to rough seascapes and Cornish beach scenes. You realise how often water is the backdrop to vistas that seem to offer other action as the main event. Beautifully lit by Sharrocks’ long term collaborator Marty Langthorne, the paintings seem to shimmer and the varying colours of water in the paintings scintillate. They hang in front of our eyes as if the molecules of H2O are misting out from the oil paint itself. Gathered here too are large blocks of amber and the fossilized remains of tiny sea creatures called crinoids, remnants from the ocean floor and a visceral reminder of the ancient landscape of Leamington Spa. Another collaboration, with sound designer Tom Hackley, sees a live cam on the River Leam relay the action just behind the gallery wall, and a delicious installation of speakers and wires brings you the live sounds of the river via a specially designed contact mic that hangs suspended 1m down in the river itself. Surrounded by these repeated visual and sonic waterscapes, we can peel back the experience of water like onion layers, further and further back in time and space, feeling the continuous and varied impact of water, to the tiniest molecules of existence.

only ever almost there is billed as ‘a decade of attention, conversations and exchange’. It intends to heighten our awareness to the world around us, invites us to reach out ourselves in further collaboration. There are many reasons to visit this show – Sharrocks’ repeated artworks on walking and falling are thoughtful and revealing, exploring our strength and vulnerability, and her large ink drawings of Thistledown are spectacular, delicate investigations of life and death, suspended in the gallery. But if water is your thing, this show is unmissable. only ever almost there is a paean to the substance itself, how it runs through our days and our bones, a deep appreciation of our collaborative existence with it, and a stark reminder for the future we face if we don’t look after our environment. A final artwork in this main room is another soundwork – 1/25th of a second of the tide at Aldeburgh on an endless loop of sound – intentionally played so softly on speakers that you might not notice it at first, but when you leave, you miss it.