195 Mare Street is richly etched with stories from another time.
Built as a country house in the 17th century, the handsome structure has variously served as home to East India Company merchants and slave trade abolitionists, a refuge for former women prisoners, a working men’s club, a squat, the Vagina Museum and latterly a pop-up art gallery.
Its current owners, who are in the process of renovating the building for residential use, have given over the space to a series of temporary art shows, including Sam Hodge’s captivating exhibition Every Contact Leaves a Trace.
Hodge has delved deeply into the spirit and fabric of 195 Mare Street – quite literally. Her biomorphic collages are inspired by the ways in which natural and human-made materials interact with each other, and some of the most striking images on display are made of pigment extracted from ground bricks sourced from a demolished back wall of the building itself.
The artist has processed the material via her own monotype printing method to produce a series of abstract but symmetrical dendritic shapes reminiscent of organs, plants and other organic forms.
There is an element of indeterminacy in the artistic ‘traces’ that have resulted from these transient encounters of people and the material world.
I met Hodge just as she was putting the finishing touches on exhibition documentation, and she explained that the methods she used to generate this series were intentionally designed to generate surprises: “I was never sure what would come out; I was not exactly in control of the process.”
There is also ample openness in how the pictures are interpreted.
“People read different things into the work, like a Rorschach test,” says Hodge.
Indeed, what I saw as a pair of soot-blackened lungs, another gallery visitor took for angel wings.
The exhibition includes a range of the artist’s exchanges with the natural world – images made with coal pebbles from the banks of the Thames, found objects from the Lincolnshire fens, and discarded carboard boxes marked with the ochre cliffs of the Devon coast – all reflecting her interest in the “cross-over of human and non-human”.
Particularly enchanting are a small clutch of ethereal photo polymer etchings of plastic matter from riverbanks that has been ravaged by the elements to resemble flowers, squid and other natural forms.
Hodge’s haunting prints linger in your mind long after you have left the elegant Georgian Hackney house, a trace you’ll welcome as you enter back into the urban maze.
Sam Hodge: Every Contact Leaves a Trace runs until 11 June at 195 Mare Street.