Josie Swift (she/her)
Searching for material that I feel is representative of modern Scottish mythology, my work draws upon a variety of philosophical theories, ancient Celtic folklore and specters from my day-to-day. The focal point of my practice highlights the place where these worlds intersect. In doing so, the work explores a cultural undercurrent of magic and fantasy, lying just out of reach of our commodified existence. I use a variety of mediums to convey these ideas; working primarily with installation works: featuring moving-image, text, sound and performance.
Growing up surrounded by ideas of nature-centric religion and tradition, I question how that manifested itself within my every day. As a working-class Scottish woman, living in the middle of a city, to worship the earth is to worship my reality- a reality made from concrete and tarmac. This thought inspired me to dive into the bizarre banality of my every day; calling upon a bank of found-imagery, from the idolisation of Susan Boyle’s X-Factor performance, to the absurdity of the patterns on Mega-Bus’s chewing-gum laden seats.
Scottish spoken-word tradition is a constant source of inspiration in my work; language and community sitting at the forefront of my practice. Both written and spoken prose-poetry feature heavily throughout my practice, whether in print, ritual or chant. Through this, I aim to acknowledge the power of language, rhythm and tone to dive beyond a one-dimensional narration, enriching the dissection of philosophical terms.
I view my practice as a conflation of my own personal history with a wide array of social histories and generational memory. My installation works represent ‘non-spaces’ familiar, yet obscure, where time hangs loose and normal rules don’t apply. I look to the power of domestic spaces, dance culture, the internet and technological advances to produce an allegory of spiritualist realism. Fantasy worlds set within bleak Scottish cityscapes.
HARLING is an installation work, consisting of one central film work, a pebbledash sofa sculpture, a lightbox photograph and a recording of my own written text ‘HARLING’S PRAYER’, performed by a community of women from my home in Leith, Edinburgh.
As you enter into ‘HARLING’ you are surrounded by a warm orange glow, reminiscent of childhood nights spent playing on the streets outside, picking the stones off pebbledash walls under the glare of streetlight. You enter into a domesticated outdoors, where normal rules do not apply. A vast pebble dashed sofa beckons you to take a seat, its hardened edges molding around your body. A low murmur of childish excitement is interrupted by a chorus of voices. A woman with pebbledash skin meets your eye and commands your silence. The prayer to the Gods of harling has commenced, “And so, we would bathe..”
Harling (the scots word for pebbledash) has long been a symbol of Scottish working-class identity. This rendering technique was at one time more popular than brick in Scotland as it provided a cheap, functional shell of protection and forgave even the shoddiest of brickwork. Dating back to Roman times even the most grandiose buildings such as the Parthenon has been touched by the Gods of harling, its ceiling bejewelled with stone. Often associated with uniform rows of neat little houses, no two pebbledash homes can be the same- the process of applying harling categorically unique by nature. Once a valued refuge to many, harling is now widely understood as an emblem of poor taste.
Harling encompasses past, present and future, class and status, uniformity and uniqueness. Harling is complex. An absolute façade and a very real fiction.