Text by Field Notes

Mary Trapp is an artist whose practice explores the abundant yet disparate relationships between the body and water. There is a fluidity to her work – exhibitions form a punctuation point in her process, allowing components of her practice to be drawn together into temporary formations, which place as much emphasis on the spaces between things as the objects themselves.

Hand blown glass forms perpetuate Trapp’s work  – a solidification of the aqueous, clear, heavy and abstract. She pairs these with poppish pink fabrics which offer a softer and more tactile fluidity, and with plastic maritime objects – buoys, life jackets and other floatation devices. Each assemblage is constructed to convey human presence, sometimes a body is evident almost in its entirety, but more often it is suggested; by a soft bound limb like form, a glass globule in place of a head or by the careful suspension of clothing to indicate the absence of the wearer. 

There are multiple tensions in the work; between the implied lightness of suspended or air filled components and the weight of glass and stone; between loosely placed disembodied objects and those that are bound or strapped; between sugary pink tones and an unsettling sense of trauma; and perhaps most significantly between the omnipresence of water as a theme and its total material absence. Trapp’s scattered installations create a sense of detritus, a riff on the remains of an aquatic disaster once the water has receded. The suggestions of partial and absent bodies in this context bring to mind a myriad of poignant contemporary resonances, from the migrant crisis to the floods and tsunamis that are the consequence of global warming. 

Trapp did not set out to make political work, her fascination began from her personal experiences of the power of water, the liberation of floating and the terror that can ensue when control is lost to the power of the ocean. Her practice has developed through explorations of the ways in which the materiality of water can describe how we, as bodies, are connected to our environments and to each other. This is the stuff of Hydrofeminism, as first articulated by Astrida Neimanis in her 2012 essay ‘Hydrofeminsim: Or, On Becoming a Body of Water’. In Neimanis’ words “Water is between bodies, and of bodies, before us and beyond us”, the principle (much simplified) being that all water that exists in the world today existed at the formation of the earth, that it circulates through the bodies of everyone who has ever lived, through every species of life, linking every materiality and every part of history. This interconnected – transnational, trans-species, trans-corporeal and posthuman – understanding of water opens up ethical debate on care: how might we care differently when we understand the individual to be part of a continuous and connected ecosystem?

Trapp sees her sculptural process as performing acts of care. Materials are found, carried, wrapped, and stitched together in gestures of nurture, which sometimes veer well beyond the gentle. Suggestive perhaps of the often perilously delicate balance between help and harm, for bodies of water of both the human and ecological variety. An awareness of the ecological impact of the work itself, along with a growing fascination with seaweed is currently driving Trapp’s practice forward into new material territories. Her next watery explorations are taking her and her camera below the surface of the water, to experiment with methods of filming new to the artist, and which she admits she has limited control over. A move that incorporates water yet further into her practice, both by granting the visual presence that until now has been withheld and by edging towards a sense of shared authorship. 

Text by Field Notes – commissioned by Cultivator Cornwall