Project Space, Alice May Williams: An Unreliable Witness

Alice May Williams

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An Unreliable Witness is a new commission by artist Alice May Williams comprising audio and visual works, the first stage in an on-going project exploring alternative and undocumented oral histories belonging to women. This initial phase brings together components of research for a new film, screened during the exhibition (Jerwood Space on Friday 26 June).

Alice May Williams’ work explores what it means to be part of a social group. Considering both individual and collective identity and identification. This project takes its starting point from a found audio recording of Jessie Ayers, Williams’ great-great grandmother who lived in South London from 1865 to 1959. The recording was originally an attempt by a young man to create an accurate audio document of her life but, upon being interviewed, Jessie avoids tying the specifics of her life to the historical events on which she is questioned. Instead she weaves a meandering counter-history of her own, one full of tangents, exclamations and withholding, knowing chuckles. She is a slippery subject who speaks for herself, refusing to allow the male interviewer to tell her personal story.

This original recording has been interwoven with general conversations between the artist, her mother and grandmother, and is accompanied by a printed script which includes selected transcripts in addition to quotes from Virginia Woolf, whose writings on biography and identity have been central to the development of the project. By collectively presenting these snippets of recounted personal histories of past and present London, Williams attempts to question how we can accurately represent a full life lived, and the decisions that govern who is a legitimate subject for biographical treatment. A wall drawing, which takes the form of a semi-fictional family tree, connects Williams’ female family members to various figures from her research, and printed fabric hangings and Perspex laser cut drawings all act as visual accompaniments to, and large scale illustrations of, the audio and print narrative.

Project Space provides exhibition and development opportunities to emerging artists offering a small grant to develop new experimental work for exhibition in the unique environment of Café 171 at Jerwood Space, adjacent to the galleries. Since 2004 it has presented new work from artists including Luke McCreadie, Paul Schneider, Rhys Coren, Anna Bunting-Branch, Emma Charles, Alec Kronacker, Meg Mosley, Sara Nunes Fernandes, Johann Arens, Matthew Johnstone, Katie Schwab and Jamie George, Ben Senior, Ralph Dorey, Mindy Lee, Patrick Coyle, Gemma Anderson, Annabel Tilley, Alice Browne, and Holly Antrum.

Alice May Williams, An Unreliable Witness, 2015. Image: Anna Arca