Norman Rea’s latest exhibition features a series of multimedia pieces by London based artist, Frances Copeman, who intently focuses all her work on the quotidian struggles of mankind. Stark, monochrome figures litter the walls of the gallery, interspersed only by the tiniest smattering of colour, which soften the impressive, but somewhat ominous, tableaux. Upon first appearances, the collection of life-size drawings and paintings seem to present a daunting image of humanity. The hunched and distorted human figures appear to be manacled by invisible restraints and their physicality is captivating in a morbid and deeply unsettling way. This initial reaction, however, is a far cry from Copeman’s own ideas. “It’s not meant to be depressing”, is the chipper response to a condemnatory remark, Copeman sees the struggles of her pieces not as a struggle for humanitarian rights, but as the every day limits that society places upon its subjects. “It is what it is. So it’s more about working within the realms of what you have.”
With this in mind, further examination of the pieces gives them an interesting duality. The figures are an obvious representation of repression, but there seems to be an element of hope, particularly in few pieces which feature colour. “[The figures] definitely aren’t just taking it.” Copeman insists. “The thing is, is that, the way I see it, if you are restricted in what you can do, you may or may not be 100% committed. You may feel that you’re not actually going to do it.” The tortured positions of the figures are far more metaphorical than they first appear; their physicality on paper actually performs a representative role of the strength of resilience within the mind of the individual. “[the physicality is because] they’re life size aren’t they, and because of the block colour. But I don’t mean it to be in an offensive. I always say they are visual metaphors of feelings. So you know how you can’t always describe your feelings? You have to put it into something, and make it into something else”.
The most prominent element of resilience is the title. “It comes from the film Waking Life. It’s an animation with loads of different philosophies in it. There’s this one guy, who drives a taxi, and when he’s talking about society he says: “the resistance is not futile, we’re gonna win this thing””. Contemplating the title along side the pieces themselves keeps each drawing as its own individual struggle. The blocks of dark pencil separate the figures from their surrounding and project the “struggle” as internal; to maintain the element of physicality, thread is used, which Copeman says was “one of my finer moments”. There is a deviation from this formula, however, in the paintings. The paintings have far less of a defined outline, and the figures become blurred. This experimental mixing of the internal and the external was designed by Copeman to “look like a struggle” as the colours merge and fuse, to confuse the boundaries of the internal struggle and the world around it.
In terms of the journey through the space, Jen Stanley has allowed the different media to be interspersed with one another, so that the heavy darkness of the drawings isn’t overwhelming, and the paintings not unnoticed. Stanley felt strongly that about the structure of the gallery itself: “ I wanted to mix drawings and paintings, so that it wasn’t like “painting” [gestures to one side of the gallery] and “drawing” [gestures to the other]. I don’t know really, to vary the colour. Based on the actual wall space we had in here, it did make more sense to have the paintings in [the main] room, and I was like “NO!””. The space that has been created allows the audience to track the progressions of the different elements of the struggle, and the interspersion of colour, size and medium stop the life-size pieces from becoming too oppressive.
The Resistance is Not Futile is perfectly suited to the Norman Rea’s space as the pieces fill the wall space, without looking clumsily large, farcically small, and without the inevitable neglect of the long corridor. Whilst Copeman believes that she has “done to death” the internal struggle of the individual within society, this exhibition is showcases her fascination, dedication and passion.