Back in April of 2023 I visited a heart-wrenching show ‘Things I have learned the hard way‘ celebrating the work and life of artist Lizzy Rose (1988-2022). In the spirit of all my ‘Delayed Art Commentary’, this is a show that lodged somewhere deep within me, that I’ve carried around & digested slowly over the last few months. Here is a delayed and meandering recollection of a beautiful and important show, scattered across 4 locations in Margate, Kent.
001 Responding to life
Lizzy Rose lived with chronic illness, in particular a severe form of Crohn’s disease and autoimmune condition affecting the gut and causing other consequent health problems. But I choose the phrase ‘lived with’ carefully, rather than say ‘struggled with’ or ‘endured’, as though without doubt she faced many difficulties, through her ongoing art practice she chose to respond to life. To embrace her situation, to observe it, learn from it, dissect it and still make art from it.
She chose to document the medical environments she found herself in – an isolating, alien, often dehumanising environment which we all(?) instinctively recoil from. She made sensitive, poignant, heartfelt little watercolours of this world. Using a medium which has traditionally been employed by artists on adventures or journeys, or to depict pleasing flowers or botanical discoveries. Watercolours that aren’t striving to be a thing, that just are.
Presented at The Turner Contemporary in Margate, these watercolours were shown in a corridor, a humble adjunct to grander shows perhaps? Or utterly fitting .. a medical blue stripe along the wall and a space reminiscent of hospitals, transient, like life itself.
002 It’s okay to be sick
A bold statement, something our society easily forgets. Lizzie Rose’s defiance is palpable as she lives and works …
A piece called ‘Bathtub Selfie’ was all restful, deathful, a cherubic face with strains of Ophelia and medical devices, aiding life. One big juxtaposition shown alongside videos of Lizzy as a vibrant young woman dancing to her favourite tunes.
How is it that we as a society struggle to let multiple identities exist? Things can be A and B at once. After all we are all simultaneously living and dying.
004 An unfolding show
Unusually this show was dotted across 4 venues in Margate – Turner Contemporary, LIMBO, Crate and Well Projects. Following the thread of her work from venue to venue, the show felt like a series of waiting rooms, consultations almost – examining our feelings about sickness, life and death.
A recreation of ‘Arrangement’ her 2017 installation – with watered moss and dark humour in the wry ‘BRB’ – ‘Be Right Back’ floral arrangement. Her films investigating Japanese floristry techniques – a practice that both preserves and destroys – to cut-off from it’s life-source and to arrange as if it were alive.
Another installation nobly recreated by the curators of this exhibition, from limited documentation and instructions of this piece where Lizzy used the IV drips which were keeping her alive, to grow salad. The contrast of living and mechanical, a hybrid meeting, our bodies as permeable organic beings.
A series of early collages – joyful, hopeful fantasy swimming pools. Escapist, unlimited, unconstrained, verging on absurd and in retrospect impossible not to see biological echoes.
And perhaps the piece which floored me the most I have no documentation of. Poignant, gentle, poetic, the tentative strains of Lizzy singing along to ‘My heart will go on’ played on a tinny electronic keyboard and cast against the the beeps of her oxygen and heart monitor. A piercing, heartfelt work, hopeful and enduring yet brutally, beautifully bleak and wry.
005 The privilege of walking
As I rushed up the hill to the last venue, huffing against the rain, wanting to get there before closing time, I really felt the privilege of walking. To be able to dash. To be under by own steam and physically able. The whole show did so much to shift and challenge conventional perspectives. I found a hopeful space amongst the works she’d left behind, a space with joy and peace and acceptance and transcendence.
‘Things I have learned the hard way’ – was shown 31st March to 23rd April 2023 at Turner Contemporary, LIMBO, Crate and Wells Projects in Margate, Kent. It was curated by Matthew de Pulford and Katie Hare.