Flowers Gallery is delighted to present an exhibition of recent work by British photographer Simon Roberts. Beneath the Pilgrim Moon (2021) is a collection of photographs taken at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum while it was closed to the public in the second COVID-19 lockdown. Photographing the marble sculptures housed in the Dorothy and Michael Hintze Galleries, which at the time were covered for their protection during the site’s renovation, Roberts conceived of the veiled statues as metaphors for our wider experience of the pandemic. He says: "The images speak of the extraordinary events of the past years, of us as a nation shrouded by PPE and covered up behind our masks, suspended in time, restricted of movement and freedoms. We were forced to separate from one another, or if we were to meet, to hug through thick plastic sheeting, or wave through windows.”
Roberts is well known for work that explores the relationship between people and place, often focused on spaces in which people gather to share a sense of collective history and cultural identity. Recently, by contrast, he has turned his attention to more introspective themes, including The Weeds in the Wilderness (2017-2019), a meditative take on our cultural and sociological insularity post Brexit, and Cathedrals are Built in the Future (2019- 2021), a typological compendium of unoccupied Cuban places of worship. In Beneath the Pilgrim Moon, the images reflect an empty museum where the shrouded sculptures, once passed and admired by thousands a day, stood solitary for almost a year. Photographed at night, and isolated from their environment and one another by darkness, they appear immersed in their own, private worlds.
The photographs in this exhibition fuse ancient mythology and elegant eighteenth-century neoclassicism with the harsh sterility of twenty-first century plastic and gaffa tape, a juxtaposition that is at once eerie, disorientating, and compelling. Roberts's decision to photograph the sculptures from unusual, unexpected angles gives the images a further sense of unease and vulnerability. In his image of Foggini's Samson and the Philistines, he crops out the scene's hero, concentrating only on the wailing victim, while his choice to photograph just the protagonist's pained face behind the plastic in Claude David's Vulcan (or possibly Prometheus)chained to a rock gives the appearance of suffering. His photograph of Canova's Theseus and the Minotaur taken at a sharp side angle and captured from a distance, appears despondent, pensive and lonely.
Roberts says: “they speak, to me at least, of their own undiminished materiality, and yet there is a fragility conferred upon them by their more humble, temporary circumstances. This paradox is so compelling. It’s a pause before a revelation. Maybe even, a hope of what’s to come.”
A central image, Shrouded Sculpture #8(Monument to Lady Winchilsea by Lawrence MacDonald), is presented on translucent mesh fabric, tethered to the ceiling of the gallery. It was first shown in the outdoor exhibition curated by Meadow Arts entitled All Alone, held in the grounds of Croft Castle, Herefordshire in 2021, and is installed here in a gallery space for the first time. The printed fabric is subtly responsive to airflow and movements of passers-by, which endows the frozen marbles with a sense of fluidity and vitality, chiming with Robert's desire to "animate these figures and breathe life into their static forms."