Now I Am Tall
Now I Am Tall carries this idea of smallness forward, a reconstructed childhood den. The den is lined with fragments of children’s clothes. Lit dramatically from within we can see a conflict in moods between the cosseted interior and the almost sinister exterior. The colliding of these two emotional states perhaps reflects the often ambivalent relations that we have with members of our own family loving them deeply.
Shed’s have a notable presence in contemporary art, Cornelia Parker and Simon Starling being examples that come to mind, but it is perhaps the potency of the shed in everyday life that attracts Emily Hesse to the subject. The shed, a hastily assembled, perhaps crude, but certainly temporary structure is a source of refuge. For the adult, and especially the adult male, the archetypical potting shed at the bottom of the garden is the space to which they might retreat when the pressures of domestic bliss threaten to overwhelm. The realms of childhood imagination though have their own answer to the garden shed, in the form of the den. In some instances this may indeed be a shed: fans of English satire might recall H.H. Munro’s (or Saki to give him his pen name) short story Shredni Vashtar in which an isolated young boy seeks solace at the bottom of his malicious cousin’s garden where he has constructed his own empire, ruled over by the tyrant god Shredni Vashtar in the form of a pet ferret that the boy has hidden in the shed. This gleefully gruesome tale set the benchmark for Children’s fiction which writers such as Roald Dahl lived up to so persuasively.
A den though can be anything that the child’s imagination allows it to be, a reflection perhaps of just what an essential part of childhood it must be: a hollow in a bush, a couple of planks nailed to a crook in a tree becoming an impromptu tree house or even a bed sheet fastened to the back of the settee. Gender role playing suggests perhaps that for girls this is as likely to be a Wendy house for serving tea to friends, whilst for boys it becomes a fort from which those same friends, having transformed to invading armies, can be repelled.
Hesse’s installation Now I Am Tall is redolent of just such a childhood den. The building itself was once a former child’s playhouse, taken from a local allotment and reconstructed exactly in the gallery space. Inside the hut, Hesse has lined the walls with fragments of fabric taken from children’s clothing. So in a sense the work is all about feelings of security, but there is an edge of uneasiness about it too. Just like Saki’s short story the realisation of the sanctuary also brings with it a realisation of just what you might be seeking protection from. The viewer is confronted by this dual understanding through the drama of the shed’s construction, rickety and tumble down it looks like a witches house from a fairy tale, whilst inside the illuminated scraps of fabric bring warmer memories of childhood. The starting point for this work might well be Hesse’s only recollection of wanting to be small and of having a place to hide, and likewise the scraps of fabric are taken from clothes that once belonged to the artist’s own children. The feelings that the viewer experiences when confronted by the work though, takes us all back to experiences of comfort and fear that were so much part of all our early years.