21-22 Cheyne Place
14 November 13-30 January 14
Taking over an entire Chelsea townhouse for her debut solo exhibition, Lebanese interior designer-turned-multimedia artist Hania Farrell brought a wave of water-inspired photography and installation to west London. Motivated by her own identity and history, Farrell drew from the rich landscape of her hometown to create Teal – a project that explores the human and natural energy of those environs, creating an experience that is curiously both robust and floundering.
Ascending a winding staircase, the townhouse’s first floor front room offered up the Boys Will Be Boys (2011), photo series set on the Beirut Corniche. Adolescent boys dive off , cluster and climb atop the rocks, each one tanned and lithely limbed, dressed only in bright swimming shorts. The first of the series is almost flawless, compositionally. Scrambling up the Corniche in a crocodile line, the gaggle of boys clamber as if out of Neverland; one jumps with pure abandon into the blue water, arms and legs boldly outstretched. Problematically, the Boys photos proffer uncomfortably askew horizon lines, sloppily chopping up the upper half of each image. They remain pleasing, nonetheless, thanks to the vivacity of the boys themselves. At best they echo the curious portraits by French photographer Bernard Faucon, who, enraptured by the nostalgia of childhood boyishness, arranges mannequins amidst similar youthful locales – beaches, fields, anywhere fit for adventure.
Room Two boasts further Beirut water- boys, although less convincingly this time. e adjoining bathroom installation N33°54’ – E35° 28’ (2013) compensates for it, with a pair of calibrated video projections and a glorious soundtrack, a succession of roaring waves colliding with the same Corniche. No boys this time. The effect is, perhaps unintentionally, tongue-in-cheek, as Farrell effectively ‘ floods’ a bathroom without getting anything wet. Visitors are invited to lie down in the room and fully immerse themselves in the experience, which, like the sea itself, is equally dominating and meditative.
The upper floors host a further four aquatic investigations. Here, again, Farrell’s water-themed photographs appeared diluted alongside her more intriguing installations. Photographs of bubbles breaking the surface of a swimming pool, cogs of a water dam… these images alone weren’t beautiful or energetic enough to demand attention. Swimming Pool (2009) however, found Farrell pushing something more tangible into her photographs. The bird’s eye view photograph of a swimming pool surface, which so lacked vitality in two dimensions next door, was here raised above floor level and under lit by 22 strip lights. Paired with a ‘diving board’ viewing platform and mock safety ropes, the overgrown light box emitted an uncanny cyan light. I half expected a waft of chlorine to fill the air, but while the idea was clear, the presentation felt slightly clumsy in comparison to the sea installation.
Strangely, it’s the rigid theme that prevents a clear representation of Farrell’s Lebanon to break the surface. While some individual photographs allude to an insider’s eye and knowledge, overall, her series lacks the drowsy, sun- kissed effect of the French fields and seaside of Faucon’s Summer Camp series, or the Californian sizzle of Hockney’s A Bigger Splash. While an impressive undertaking, Teal is perhaps flooded by its own watery theme.