Heather Phillipson's work at Notting Hill

Above: A detail from Heather Phillipson's photo-text series on the escalators at Notting Hill. Installation view: Oscopic.

The Repressed in Notting Hill

Generally, I strongly dislike the work of Heather Phillipson, but her "adverts" at Notting Hill Gate station on the escalators are brilliant. The work is a series of image/text panels which are presented in the same visual space usually given over to adverts. The installation is a text-book-worthy example of how the presentational context for a photo can be designed and manipulated to great effect. In the case of Phillipson's photo-text series the works are seen by the public in precisely the same spot as where usually there would be an advertisement selling a product. Many of the advert spaces down the escalators at Notting Hill are often given over to ads for fashion and cosmetics products. It is typical (and in fact defining) for photo-led adverts to be involved with idealizing, sanitizing, and glamourizing the human, and the human's activities. So, for example, Nike adverts about running never mention trainer odour or foot odour, not even in passing--it is a taboo; such references are antithetical to selling product. The general way of selling running products is to espouse elevatedness--the elevation of the human spirit, and human determination over adversity, etc.

And this is where Phillipson's image-text pieces come in: their subject is the things that advertisers usually prefer not to mention and discuss--things that are quite embarrassing. In Freudian terminology, the subject-matter of the art panels is the return of the repressed. French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan once described the quotidian in Freudian terms thus: "everything is arranged so that he [a person] doesn’t think about them--the stench and corruption that always yawn like an abyss. For life, after all, is rottenness."

Phillipson's photo-images are themselves "embarrassing" in their feebleness and intentionally annoying silliness, and over these the following is pasted one-line-at-a-time in block caps: "Oh Mother. It's that time of day. When I realise I'm an animal. I'm a salivating, spasming, excreting, bleeding, foul-breathing, nasal-dripping, belching, self-exfoliating, itching, crying, sweating, discharging, odour-making, pimple-forming, follicle-pricked, piece of meat, I'm microbial, I'm a downloaded egg." An authentically Freudian artwork which repays many repeat viewings.

(20 July 2018)