“I approached it pretty much as I would approach making a piece of art,” Price says. “I make my work by binding together many different types of existing cultural objects, so I applied that method in developing the exhibition.” She saw “an opportunity to reflect back on many years of thinking about art,” and found that two sculptures came to mind: Nécessaire (1968) by Giulio Paolini and the earlier work Snowdrift (1901, above) by Edward Onslow Ford RA.
Price first saw Nécessaire – blank sheets of paper stacked horizontally rather than placed on a wall – in 1993, in an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery called ‘Gravity and Grace’. “At the time I was broke and feeling lost as an artist,” she remembers, “I completely identified with the piece but also it made me terribly sad. The thing that struck me was that it conveyed an anxiety about artistic authorship: what it is to start to write, or to make an image, to create something that doesn’t yet exist.” When she says this, I cannot help thinking of the desk we’re sitting at.
Price discovered Snowdrift – a marble sculpture of a young woman falling unconscious on snow – around the same time. “What’s interesting to me about that sculpture is the way it’s so of its time. It was made while Arctic and Antarctic expeditions were being conducted and there was this great cultural fascination with snow. At the same time there was also a misogynist preoccupation with the image of women dying, or disappearing.” In the exhibition, this piece is grouped with other artworks depicting sleeping figures, creating the eerie sense that you, the viewer, are the only person awake in the room – an intended effect, inspired by Price’s own experience of insomnia.
Though these two artworks initially captured Price’s imagination for different reasons, she realises – years later – that their horizontal qualities connect them. For her, the flat sheets of Nécessaire are anticipated by Snowdrift. “Onslow Ford seems to prefigure a fascination, within 20th-century sculpture, with a kind of horizontal dynamic; the dissolution of the image into the slab and the idea of sculpture spreading out laterally and falling off the plinth onto the floor.”
Ultimately, it’s the way it conveys a sense of openness, of potential, that attracts Price to the idea of the horizontal. “I wander off over the course of the exhibition, but I guess my argument is that with art that uses or expresses horizontal states, there is this sense of that which may follow. The matter isn’t closed.”
In a Dream You Saw a Way to Survive and You Were Full of Joy is at The Whitworth, Manchester, until 31 Oct; De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, 28 Jan–30 April 2017; Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea, 13 May–28 August 2017.
Anna Coatman (@AnnaCoatman) is Assistant Editor of RA Magazine.