A stone’s throw away from London Waterloo station, The Morley Gallery houses ‘City Storeys & Folk Tails’ - artist’s Cara Rainbow, first solo show. Rainbow received the 2016/17 Zsuzsi Roboz - Morley College Scholarship, which supported her in experimenting with various processes, through studying at Morley College for one academic year.
Upon entering the gallery, the audience is greeted by a group of porcelain seals displayed on a glass cabinet; No bigger than children’s toys, the seals make up a limited edition - where each seal bares distinct characteristics in terms of glazing, texture, colour and markings. The individually named marine mammals are also dotted around the main exhibition space - some in smaller groups and others arranged in larger formations.
Hannah, Malachi, Matt and the rest of the seals are accompanied by readymade porcelain figures and organic, rock-like ceramic structures in the main space. The centre piece of the exhibition, the ceramic installation, features all of Rainbow’s objects resting atop a bed of soil, with a strip of newly sprouted grass circling them. The micro ecosystem Rainbow has set up unveils glimpses of a narrative to its observers through the positioning of the characters, which resembles a social gathering.
And that’s not all… Rainbow’s solo exhibition showcases a plethora of works brought to life through her Morley College Scholarship. Amongst other works, a series of small-scale mosaics assembled using glass, seashells, cut-up porcelain figures and other materials. A large papier-mâché structure painted in grey tones - titled ‘Robber’s Cave’ - expands on the wall opposite the mosaics, completely covering the gallery’s window; the view from the outside consists of porcelain figurines and flowers embedded on the walls of the cave. The walls of Morley gallery are also taken up by a series of silkscreen prints depicting faceless busts decorated with flowers, and an edition of laser cut cardboard books named after cities - featuring Rainbow’s own writings.
Perhaps the most unexpected feature in City Storeys & Folk Tails is live performance; a group of three performers dressed in long costume made of cardboard, painted to appear as skyscrapers, are stationed around the main exhibition space. These ‘cities’ - as titled by Rainbow - narrate the city stories written by the artist. Three more performers dressed in khaki body suits, covered by artificial tree branches, stand still within the space - or so it might seem; these ‘trees’ are slowly animated throughout the course of the piece - putting a smile on the audience’s face as they wobble from one place to another. The performance is accompanied by a video piece titled ‘Are You Local?’, which features the voice of a narrator telling a story about the changing relationship between a city and a tree, to the sound of a wind up music box.
Having experienced the show in its entirety, it becomes apparent that the visual richness of the exhibition is met by a heartfelt quality through Rainbow’s work, which stems from her use of signs that populated our childhood such as toys, story books and porcelain figurines - which would be found in everyone’s grandmother’s living room. The nostalgia these objects evoke, paired with the clash of the ‘big city’ and the ‘countryside’ seen throughout Rainbow’s exhibition, summarises the shared experience of many Londoners, who come from smaller places. It is thus clear how the audience’s emotional investment towards these objects activates Rainbow’s work, making it impossible for them not to feel a little warm inside.
Truly a hybrid of the City and the Country Mouse, Rainbow puts forth work telling tales of appreciating life in a big city, whilst also yearning for the closeness to nature associated to one’s upbringing in rural areas.