Behind The Scenes: Holly Davey and the Nameless Grace

Behind the Scenes gives you an insight into how our performances and exhibitions are created and why we think you should come and see them. It’s a mix of interviews, video, pictures and insights which opens up the artist’s processes and will enrich your experience before, during or after you visit.

Artist Holly Davey uses photography, drawing, installation and film to explore ideas surrounding memory, place and archival collections. Through a collaboration with The Holburne Museum, Bath and Edge Arts, Holly was invited to research the museum’s collections and archives, leading to an exhibition. Holly’s new work exhibited at The Holburne Museum in autumn last year, with a second installation to be presented within the contemporary context of Edge Arts this summer.

Holly’s practise often deals with the blurring of fact and fiction – something we all do when re-imagining historic events. The exhibition at the Holburne invites audiences to create their own version of history, using tantalising glimpses of the sisters gleaned from the Holburne Museum archives.

Q Why did you choose Mary Ann Barbara Holburne as a focus for your exhibition?

A The Holburne Museum’s permanent collection represents her brother William’s story and travels, with very little mention of the sisters –probably  a result of the times in which they lived.

During my research, I discovered that Mary Ann Barbara, the youngest sister by 10 years, was the strongest voice. Even so, very few facts remain; she never married, the whole family gave substantially to the poor, and there are brief mentions of her appearing at balls at the Assembly Rooms.

Q Did you find any objects to help you piece together her life?

A A few objects came to light.  There was an agate locket (a mourning stone in Victorian times), a probate inventory listing furniture and the books she read, plus an old scrapbook.

As I started researching the period more widely I began constructing the lives of the sisters, blurring fact with fiction; was it because she was an aristocrat that she never married? There were only a few hundred aristocratic families in Britain at the time and you could not marry outside of your class.  Held back by the social diktats of the times, did she dream of escape?  Every clue leads you to imagining another part of her life, but the truth is, we will never really know.

Q Why is the empty golden triangle the image for the exhibition?

A I found a scrapbook, called Melanges which uncovered more of Mary Ann Barbara’s and the other two sister’s hidden lives. The pages were filled with drawings of delicate dragonflies, watercolour flowers, poems and cuttings, all in gold frames – you could buy the gold border on a roll.

I turned the page and there was an empty frame.  Time collapsed and I was in the moment with her. A triangular void, like a window.  All that potential with nothing filling it.

Another page in the scrapbook gave me the exhibition title, The Nameless Grace.  It was a Byron poem – She Walks in Beauty Like the Night – copied onto the page. The Nameless Grace seemed so apt.

Q Which objects ended up in the exhibition?

A I made the decision not to use lots of the objects I found in the exhibition. The intention is not to give answers, rather to create space for people to reflect on her life, and on their own lives too.  Amongst other things I have created a video installation of the sea, a representative portrait of Mary Ann Barbara.  A few other items will help each visitor create their own version of Mary Ann Barbara, so in a sense the viewer will become a part of the exhibition.

I always think there are three elements to an exhibition – the artist, the exhibition itself and the viewer and each element is of equal importance.

Holly Davey is an artist working with ideas surrounding memory, object and archive. Since graduating Goldsmiths College, London in 1998, she has exhibited widely in solo and group exhibitions in the UK and internationally. She lives and works in Cardiff.