20th May - 11th July 2021
Kickstarting VOLT’s 2021 exhibition programme is Clutching at Straws, a solo show by Olivia Sterling. Sterling’s paintings depict surreal domestic scenes, combining overlapping limbs, gesturing hands and symbols of traditional Englishness. Underlying the cartoon-like style of these images is a deeper exploration of racial and national identity, alienation and othering.
Clutching at Straws showcases a new body of work, made in response to Some Sussex Superstitions Lingering From 1868, which documents a number of strange cures and remedies from English folklore. The absurdity of these remedies (which include passing under an ass’s stomach three times to alleviate fever) are used by Sterling as an allegory for the ignorance and irrationality surrounding nationalism and xenophobia. Featuring an old English idiom, the title ‘Clutching at Straws’ questions the persistence of these ideologies even in the face of conflicting facts and shifting cultural attitudes.
Sterling aims to parallel people’s attempts both then and now to make sense of the world and to feel safe in the face of the unknown. By recreating 19th Century remedies in contemporary painting, she questions how we can address social justice at a time when xenophobia and racism persist.
A Recent RCA Painting Graduate, Olivia Sterling grew up in Peterborough and now lives and works in London. Her painting practice continually asks difficult questions about race in British society and history by creating spaces where absurdity and normality collide.