‘Having my third child in June, everything was a complete whirlwind,’ says Davey, who opened the space during Frieze week in October. ‘Then I just felt like it landed, and it was full of people. It was a little overwhelming and quite hard to get my head around. So now it's just sinking in, and I'm really excited about what we can do moving forward.’ Davey has done a lot already. Corner7’s inaugural exhibition, co-curated with artist and founder of the neighbouring Rochester Square Ceramics Studio, Francesca Anfossi, showcased no fewer than 28 artists, all of whom have passed through the studio, along with work by a class of Year 2 Brecknock Primary School Pupils – drawings that more than held their own in the maelstrom of Frieze week.
Arriving soaked with rain only adds to the sense that you have washed up here. Gaia Fugazza’s sludgy black Limpets (2023) dance Matisse-like on a wall. Swamp Pots (2023) by Anne Ryan are embedded in the garden. A glazed terracotta mask weeps tears with the aid of a pump in Ella Cairns’s Release (2023). Meanwhile, a ceramic mermaid dialling POSEIDON on her clam flip-phone side-eyes you from a neatly made bed, courtesy of Finty Cahill. This is ‘Mermaids’ at Corner7, a new project space in Camden run by the artist Rose Davey.
"the exhibition takes its title from the 1990 Cher film ‘Mermaids’ and shares its theme of in-between-ness"
On the subject of velocity and moving forward, the exhibition takes its title from the 1990 Cher film ‘Mermaids’ and shares its theme of in-between-ness. ‘In the film, every time a romantic relationship ends, Cher’s character moves, and she and her daughters set up again at a new home,’ Davey explains. ‘Family dinners are eaten on laps throughout with kebab skewers,’ and at the end of the film, symbolically, ‘they sit down to have this family dinner.’ Taking their lead from these interactions in domestic space, and by the hybridity of the mermaid (‘both land and sea, Human / Fish’), Anfossi and Davey blur the line between the white cube and the lived-in. ‘We wanted to embody that by enabling the work to directly interact with things, such as the mermaid on the bed,’ Davey says. ‘I don’t believe in this idea that you have to strip everything back in order to see the artwork. I just don't think that's how it works. That's not how things come into the world.’
What’s more, ‘Francesca discusses the way ceramics dance this line between being functional and being an art object,’ explains Davey. Indeed, ceramics have historically been dismissed as craft objects, characterised as women’s work. ‘When Francesca first came up with the idea, we were also talking about women as homemakers as well, and that's often a role that women quickly fall into, even today when men are so much more active in the building of the home and childcare,’ Davey says. ‘So often it's women who do make space feel homelier and that idea definitely came into play. Within the show, these ceramics are in there making the space feel more cosy.’
"I don’t believe in this idea that you have to strip everything back in order to see the artwork"
The mermaid myth is one of the world’s oldest stories about women, dating back to Atargatis in ancient Mesopotamia. Davey mentions our stories about sirens (‘but then when you get close, they’re actually a porpoise’) and The Little Mermaid’s Ursula (‘very smart, kind of fabulous’) and Ariel (‘the 16-year-old sex symbol’). ‘It definitely throws up a lot of interesting areas for debate,’ she says. ‘But I felt with our show, the mermaid was a great metaphor for things that didn’t fall easily into a category.’
For this exhibition, Davey, who is more typically a painter, found herself between mediums. ‘So much about making art, whatever medium you use, is about material and your own interaction with that material,’ she says. ‘So, I scavenged some bits from Rochester square next door that had broken in the kiln, and then in storage I had these pots of paint – some of which were colours I've had since I was a student at the Slade back in 2009. And so it was great to then get these colours back out and to start painting pieces of ceramic.’ Painting ceramic fragments and assembling them as if they’ve been swept into the corner after an unfortunate accident, Davey’s Washed Up (2023) anchors the exhibition with wit, playfulness and a cobweb-banishing curiosity of colour and form.
"ceramics dance this line between being functional and being an art object"
‘When I was thinking what to do for the show, I had a moment of “Oh, no, I can't do that.” Why can't I do that? I can do whatever I like, I'm an artist, I have the freedom to go wherever I want, creatively. I quickly build barriers within my own work, and I relish the opportunity to break them down again, when an opportunity like this comes along.’ Davey has undeniably made the most of her opportunity, but she’s generous with it too. Collaborating with local children as earnestly as with her cocurator, the resulting exhibition is expansive in spirit as well as physical scope.
‘Picasso said it best, every child is an artist, the trick is how to remain one. And it's so true – when Brecknock Primary school came in, they were so excited. Even the water fountain outside – they were just so excited to touch the water. Obviously, they all have houses with taps in with water that comes out, but when it comes out of a fountain, it's something completely different,' muses Davey. ‘Art is wonderful for turning these everyday materials into something else, something that's much more exciting.’
"Art is wonderful for turning these everyday materials into something else, something that's much more exciting"
Mermaids embodies Davey’s approach: art needn’t be serious. ‘So many people have said about the show that it is joyful, it's playful. And for me, that's really, really important.’ It is a sentiment that bears repeating, because so few exhibitions actually draw a smile. Fortunately, Corner7 is a fresh, salty breath of air. Mermaids have a way of making waves. The trick is how to remain one.
By Sammi Gale
Cover image: L to R - Milan Tarascas, *Sign of Things to Come, 2023, Finty Cahill, Radio Silence (Mermaid), 2022, Andrew Child, Various Ceramics, 2020-23. Courtesy of Corner7. Photo: Sam Ashley*
Mermaids, Participating Artists:
Francesca Anfossi / Salvatore Arancio / Ewelina Bartkowska / Simon Baylis / Nick Bond / Bea Bonafini / Year 2 Brecknock Primary School Pupils / Finty Cahill / Ella Cairns / Andrew Child / Rose Davey / Lilah Fowler / Gaia Fugazza / Hiromi Fukikoshi RC / Frances Gibson / Leigh Johnson / Lucie MacGregor / Gerald Mak / Lyson Marchessault / Paulina Michnowska / Keziah Philipps / Nissa Nishikawa / Anne Ryan /Renee So / Sarah Staton / Milan Tarascas / Peter Trnkus / Zoe Williams / Rafal Zajko