When Hannah Parr was invited to take part in the Jo Malone London Spring Artist Series, her thoughts turned immediately to the orchid filled paradise that is the garden which surrounds the Villa Pancha estate in the Dominican Republic. Invited by the niece of the owner Gustavo Tavares while on an artist residency in the country, she foraged for pieces of reclaimed wood from a barn on the grounds of the garden and used them to create the sculpture Still Life (Villa Pancha). ‘I wanted to do something classic, with a sense of timelessness,’ says the British artist who is currently based in Zurich. ‘But also, something that would suggest transformation. So my mind went straight to the garden, a place where a significant transformation takes place in spring.’
The sculpture, in which found objects such as wooden door wedges and dried higüero fruit gourds are first painted white and then arranged carefully within a frame made out of a wooden crate, is a modern take on a classic still life painting. ‘Still lifes are interesting to me because they depict commonplace objects and scenes from everyday domestic life,’ says Parr, who does not shy away from the villa’s colonial past. ‘I saw the process of extracting and shipping these objects back to Europe as a kind of reverse journey and an effort to dislocate histories and to present us with a new trajectory loop.’ The monochrome white of Still Life (Villa Pancha) references white linen, which is ‘known for healing, but also transmission and rebirth,’ says the artist.
The accompanying piece, Still Life (Taller De Madera), continues along the same theme by using found ‘everyday’ materials which have a complex history. For instance, the large half circle of wood which dominates Still Life (Taller De Madera) was found in a furniture workshop known as the ‘House of Compassion’. Located in one of Santo Domingo’s toughest districts, the ‘Pais de la Réplica’ (Country of the Replica), it is where copies of replica baroque furniture and second-hand goods can be found. These have been combined with original colonial window posts from a gutted house in 'La Zona' in Santo Domingo and offcuts from a state-of-the-art workshop in Zurich. All the pieces of found furniture and wood are presented on an overturned wood pallet.
‘It’s similar to the process of making an observational drawing,’ says Parr when describing her approach to art. ‘You create a memorable moment and, unlike taking a snapshot with your camera phone, a deeper connection is made.’ The relationship she has with these found objects and materials is similar to the ones she has with people in that, ‘we don't forget the features of a person or place close to us. We forever recognise the smells, textures, and stories attached.’