Through her practice, Margaret Ambridge addresses uncomfortable topics and brings to the forefront conversations people generally shy away from, but they are conversations she is often privy to as a palliative care worker.
Beneath carries on from the 2017 exhibition ’til death, which captured the moving, harrowing, and lovely moments in death, but this time Margaret Ambridge is focusing on relationships, love and intimacy.
For the project, Ambridge interviewed 30 people, asking them: who had they laid their head next to, opened their heart to, and where were they now? She uses the notion of the bed as a vehicle to open the conversations we so infrequently have but often so desperately need.
“I was trying to get people to think about who remains with them and how fragmented the memories were, and to have conversations about what they were willing to share,” she explains. “I was hoping there would be some common threads that might come through that all humanity would be able to respond to.”
Ambridge uses charcoal drawn onto pillowcases sourced from the participants to create portraits that will be suspended from the ceiling at praxis ARTSPACE. The audience will move through the portraits, through the memories of loved ones, allowing them a space to reflect on their own relationships.
“These are intimate relationships and intimate conversations that we probably aren’t privy to in other people’s lives, however we all share these things in humanity,” states Ambridge. “Beneath provides an opportunity to walk through other people’s lives and see that we are all human and we are affected by other people and the relationships we have.”
The medium of charcoal on the pillowcases was challenging to work with. Ambridge found it difficult to create tone, and some old fabrics tore or wore out with the constant rubbing. However, it was worth it, as each pillowcase brought its own history and narrative to the work.
“The pillowcases have an essence of humanity of all the faces of the people who have lain on them. Each piece of fabric has this vast history and each one has been incredibly difficult to work on,” says Ambridge.
Ambridge interviewed a wide range of people including those in their 20s as well as others in their late 90s with the majority of participants in their 40s and 50s. This gave the project a broad perspective with the young looking forward and the old looking back but all were focused on the immediate.
Through her research, Ambridge discovered that the concept of love is different for everyone. It is also surprising and sad to learn that some people in their 50s and 60s don’t believe there is an emotion called love and they have never experienced it. Several of the young interviewees didn’t think they would remain with their partner for life and very few of the participants in all age groups were with their original partner. As a result many common emotions emerged associated with break-ups such as anger and despair. However, there were also many hopeful and positive conversations with those who later in life had found someone they wanted to be with for the rest of their lives.
In addition to the portraits on pillowcases there are also full-sized portraits of couples on bed sheets and an intimate and confronting video work with key phrases from the interviews projected onto a bed. There is another work that looks at Tinder and online dating and an installation piece where participants reflect on their first kiss and the names of those who’ve remained in their memory over the years.
Beneath is an immersive exhibition where Ambridge asks the audience to think about their own relationships both past and present and consider how they have shaped their lives.
“The generosity of those who joined this relationship with me is overwhelming. I hope they can see some of what I imagined in the result,” says Ambridge. “I hope those who see it find a way to open a conversation with someone close to them that perhaps they couldn’t before.”
Margaret Ambridge: Beneath
July 19 – August 16
Opening: July 19, 6-8pm
Artist talk: Saturday, August 10, 2pm (A panel discussion with several of the participants and the artist, moderated by Gabi Lane)