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Chris Miller reviews The Space Between Things

POSTED: 05 March 2019

A life-altering series of events serve as the genesis for the Kenyan-British artist Phoebe Boswell's new work: an emotive interrogation of trauma, healing, and the poetics of endurance.

Chris Miller is an artist at Submit to Love Studios in Hackney – a collective of artists, all of whom have survived brain injuries. As part of our March Thursday Late event in collaboration with the studio, he reviews Boswell's powerful exhibition at Autograph. 

Boswell’s exhibition starts with a beach; films of her walking along white sand and the sound of waves, surrounded by very large beautiful self-portraits. Slowly, gradually you come to realise there is something not quite ‘right’- whatever ‘normal’ is. She has a deeply damaged left eye. Upstairs there is larger-than-life footage of Boswell in the throes of agony and real footage from the operation to save her eye, which is almost too painful to watch.

The show brought to my mind Un Chien Andalou by Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali. It is full of disjointed, uncomfortable, horrific, and deeply Freudian events. The infamous and horrifying opening scene, much like Boswell’s exhibition, involves cutting an eye: a man, Bunuel himself, takes a barbers razor and appears to slice the pupil of a woman’s eye. Its premiere in 1929 was attended by Andre Breton, Pablo Picasso, Le Courbousier, and was a key event in Surrealism. As with Boswell’s exhibition, the film includes walking on a beach. Being a surreal film, there is no logical link between these events. Perhaps there is a link between Boswell and Bunuel, or perhaps it is subconscious, like surrealism itself, the connection only being in my mind.

Boswell’s work in The Space Between Things focusses on the eye. I have an obsession with ears. I am a 66 year old man who had a brain injury seven years ago. It affected the right side of my body: my hand, my walking, my face, as well as speaking and eating. I draw versions of my face with extra-large ears. At first I didn’t think about the reason, I just did. I later realised that my brain injury arose from an operation on the nerve that goes to my right ear. Through Submit to Love Studios at Headway in East London, I have come to express my disabilities in my art. I often decide on a recognisable painting by a famous artist, and paint myself as the central figure.

Like Boswell, I use my art to explore, for myself, what it means to be me. It is cathartic: to get the problems, difficulties and horror out there on paper, so that they don’t linger in my head. I can communicate things with art which would be impossible to convey with words, even if I did not have speech difficulties.

In a similar way but on a larger scale, Boswell has literally and metaphorically exposed her body, her wounds, her life, her difficulties to the public gaze. We are forced to come to terms with her metamorphosis and what it means for us and our humanity. I prefer this kind of art to the pretty and comforting kind.

For me, art is at its most beautiful when it brings together, combines and juxtaposes beauty and horror as it does in Boswell’s work. The works of Caravaggio, de Ribera and Frida Kahlo are important to me, as are Francis Bacon and Goya’s black paintings. Kahlo especially as she - like me - was a disabled artist, and - like me and Boswell - was obsessed by producing art that portrayed her own body and face. Not because she was interested in publicising herself, but because she was exploring how her broken body was perceived by and related to a sometimes hostile outside world.

On 7 March, Submit to Love Studios artists Sam, Affiong, Cecil and Mohammed are displaying their work at Autograph’s Thursday Late. Like me, they are disabled artists who all have, in different ways, survived a brain injury. Their disability may not be the main focus of their work, but having a brain injury is an important part of who they are and of their art. Even 'normal' people without a brain injury or who haven't experienced trauma can find something in these works that shows them what it means to be human.


Thursday Late: Submit to Love Showcase

7 March 2019 6-9pm

VISIT the exhibition

Phoebe Boswell: The Space Between Things

Until 30 March 2019


Submit to Love Studios at Headway East London

See more

See more of Chris Miller's work


EXPLORERS project, delivered by Project Art Works, a three-year programme of art and conversation working with 12 national art organisations. The EXPLORERS programme is informed and led by neurodiverse communities, placing them at the heart of social, civic and cultural activity. Based in Hastings, Project Art Works is the UK’s leading artist led organisation working with children, young people and adults who have complex support needs.

Supported using public funding by Arts Council Englane
Headway East London
Project Art Works
Project Art Works
Explorers Project

Images, from top: 1) Chris Miller at Phoebe Boswell: The Space Between Things exhibition at Autograph, London. 2) Sam Jevon, from Submit to Love Studios, detail. 3)Phoebe Boswell, film still from Rapture [detail], 2018. Single channel video. Courtesy the artist and Sapar Contemporary, New York. 4) Phoebe Boswell: The Space Between Things at Autograph, London. Photograph by Zoe Maxwell. 5) Phoebe Boswell, On The Line [detail], 2018. Wall drawing, 25 metres long. Commissioned by Autograph. 6 and 8) Chris Miller, Submit to Love Studios artist.