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24 November 2021

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Today, Tomorrow and Somewhere in between

11 November 2021

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6 November 2021

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15 October 2021

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22 October 2021

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16 October 2021

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23 September 2021

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PLATFORM ISSUE 04: CROSSROADS

10 September 2021

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23 August - 19 September 2021

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30 August 2021

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6 September 2021

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8 September 2021

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30 August - 5 September 2021

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10 September 2021

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Imagining Disaster: Contemporary Art X Science Fiction

2 September 2021

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19 August 2021

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9 September 2021

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Return To Nature

30 July 2021

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22 May - 4 July 2021

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We Are Nature

30 July - 14 August 2021

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16 July - 15 August 2021

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8 July - 31 July 2021

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8 July - 19 September 2021

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23 June - 27 June 2021

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16 June - 20 June 2021

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24 June 2021

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10 June 2021

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10 June - 20 June 2021

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21 May 2021

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21 May 2021

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22 May 2021

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3 June 2021

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Jonny Briggs — Unpalatable Truths

Ruth Monks — Reflections on Unpalatable Truths

‘Usually it’s the topics that are the hardest to voice that are the ones that need to be spoken about the most.’ – Jonny Briggs

In 2006, the States of Jersey Police launched an inquiry into allegations spanning several decades, describing child abuse which had taken place across the island of Jersey’s various care homes and institutions. Two years later, Labour MP Austin Mitchell called for the UK government to hold an inquiry, expressing no confidence in the public inquiry undertaken by the Jersey authorities. The investigation saw in excess of 160 victims and 40 suspects.

The phrase the “Jersey way” described a system where serious issues were being repeatedly ignored, and in an apology to victims on behalf of the Jersey government, Senator Ian Gorst, stated that ‘too often, children were not believed. Unpalatable truths were swept under the carpet because it was the easiest thing to do.’ It is from this apology, the title for Jonny Briggs’ work is taken.

Jonny Briggs is a multidisciplinary artist whose practice reflects on the fictive nature of photography. During his time spent as Photographer in Residence at Archisle: The Jersey Contemporary Photography Programme in 2017, he began to direct his artistic inquiry towards the island’s dark history; as told through the Société Jersiaise Photographic Archive.

The product of this residency, Unpalatable Truths (2017), tackles a societal issue, from which audiences are often repelled. By identifying an audience who have historically been passive, dissociated and removed, Briggs explores the importance of dealing with difficult histories. Through his photography, he attempts to question ‘issues of censorship and the use of art as [a] method for saying the unsayable.’ Briggs’ work visualises a frequently avoided sense of horror by using the one common experience that all viewers, no matter how diverse, have experience of; the human body.

Viewing through the Language of the Body

The use of the human body in contemporary practice is often used as a tool to reflect on identity. In this case, references to the body are intended to provoke connections in a viewer’s relationship with honesty, trauma, and exploitation. As well as the unmistakable, visual references to the human body, the curation of this piece considers the importance of the act of viewing from the human perspective.

Hung at the height of a child, The Bailiff of Jersey’s Microphone gestures towards the disturbingly young age of the victims. Surrounded in a thick black box frame, the viewer bends to look at the imposing object. It’s intensity demands empathy for the extreme pressure put on those who gave witness statements. Crouching to this height, audiences may find themselves posed as though talking to a child, they echo the trauma of the adult victims returning to their childhood in order to recall their experiences.

To the right of this, protruding from the installation wall, The Royal Court Witness Box faces upward, towards the ceiling. The coloured wood-grain texture matching the surrounding frame is theatrical, bordering on sculptural. Walking past, you are drawn closer, to look downward. By bringing the audience’s gaze down, Briggs calls out any internalised superiority and demands viewers reconsider how they approach the subject. Audiences are forced to question their distant perspective.

Visualising the Human Experience

Visual references to the human body in Unpalatable Truths run throughout. By departing from the convention of two-dimensional photography, Under Oath shows two hands, printed in colour, breaking through the grey-scale faces of the sitting figures. The movement of the hands reaching across to grasp one another is a gesture often understood to imply friendship, a deal made, or even the possibility of collusion. The tight grasp, pushing down on each hand is one that can be felt, it is uncomfortable.

The theme of teeth is recurrent throughout this work; the direct realism of which is contrasted by unconventional composition, of which could be compared to the work of Frances Bacon’s ‘Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion’ (1944). The manipulation of teeth naturally evokes feelings of both horror and discomfort for a number of reasons. Trauma to the teeth is a primal fear, one that creeps into dreams during periods of stress. Additionally, teeth can be universally understood as an indication of the threat of a predator.

By looking down on The Royal Court Witness Box at the centre of the installation, viewers are confronted with a set of teeth, encased within a claustrophobic hole. They appear upside down, with the jaw sitting at the top rather than bottom. This creates a dilemma in the viewers mind which is abject, for reasons which may feel buried deep within the subconscious.

Speaking Through an Object shows not only teeth, too wide for the frame of the face in which they sit, but the underside of a tongue. It is rare that we observe the inside of someone’s mouth; the view feels too bodily, too intimate and familiar. Combined with the formal composition of the portrait, the image becomes deeply uncomfortable. The mismatched emotions between the posed eyes and bared teeth and tongue provokes a carnal fear. The combination of realism and the abstract is abject in a similar way to Kiki Smith’ Hard Soft Bodies (1992) or Sarah Lucas’ Chicken Knickers (1997). It grasps any internalised preconceptions about the human body and questions them through graphic imagery.

Red is central throughout ‘Unpalatable Truths.’ It is a colour which often indicates fear; bringing to mind injury, flesh, and blood. Closing Opening is concealed with a bold red lipstick. For Briggs, this uncommon material ‘evokes the inside of a human body and references the closed mouth and the use of make-up in covering up.’ The red of the lipstick is echoed in the pixilated curtains of Spotlight Series 2B, Jersey Police HQ Blinds, which frames the installation. This image appears reminiscent of the production design of the Red Room in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. The curtains which separate one state from another, like actors from an audience, hide two worlds from one another. Unpalatable truths shines a spotlight, both literally and figuratively on these concealed and divided states.

By subverting the conventions of traditional photography through the abstraction of archived materials, Briggs questions the authority of photography and its role in manipulating the truth. In creating such a visceral photographic work, these previously ignored Unpalatable Truths are now on the way to being given the spotlight they had once been denied.

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