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This black and white photograph shows a young woman, the artist herself, standing on her hands on a beach. The beach is almost empty and the tide is a long way out. A small, darkly dressed man walks along the distant shoreline. It is unclear whether this figure is facing the water or is looking back towards the artist and the viewer. On the far left of the photograph, a floating harbour is visible. It is a clear day; wispy clouds in the sky contrast with the patterns the receding tide has made on the vast expanse of sand. In the foreground, the woman, dressed in a long pleated skirt, is captured doing a handstand. Caught by the wind her skirt billows in an arc to the left, obscuring her head and torso but revealing her legs pointing skywards and her hands rooted in the sand. Her satin skirt and pale tights are incongruous on the beach front. The sleeves of her dark top match her be-ribboned espadrilles.
The photograph was inspired by a snapshot of the artist’s mother as a young woman, doing handstands on the beach with a friend. Finn-Kelcey has commented that she was struck by the image of her mother as youthful and carefree. In setting out to create an image which suggested a similar sense of freedom, she revisited a beach near Dungeness, Kent, where her family had gone when she was a child, and took a series of photographs of herself performing handstands (conversation with the artist, 1 December 2003).
The image appears to capture an exuberant, impulsive gesture but the work’s subtitle suggests a divergence between the experience of the subject and what is visible to the spectator. This inconsistency between internal experience and external observation is a theme that the artist continued to explore in the 1970s. For her later installation, Book and Pillow, 1978 (collection of the artist), Finn-Kelcey modelled a ‘small being’ into whom she projected the unconfident side of her own personality. She claimed this character had a negative influence on her ability to communicate, making her speech clumsy and clichéd. She explained, ‘The outward appearance is of my continuing to participate and even lead the discussion. While internally I’m fighting, panicking’ (quoted in Brett, pp.7-8). The seen position is calm and controlled while the felt position is self-conscious and anxious.
In the mid-1970s, Finn-Kelcey started staging performances. She began by enacting scenarios herself, but moved to a strategy she called ‘vacated performance’, which involved a combination of live-action and recorded elements with installation. She has said, ‘At the time, I wanted to be both inside the work and yet, as it unfolded, to also be an objective viewer’ (quoted in Brett, p.8). The Restless Image suggests a similar ambivalence about the artist’s position as creator, subject and viewer. A self-portrait in which the artist’s face is obscured, the photograph anticipated the gradual diminishing of the artist’s physical presence in her later artworks.
The work’s title is taken from The Restless Image: Sociology of Fashion, 1974, a study of dress by René König (1906-92). The work exists in an edition of ten small scale prints, the first of which was made in 1975, but the work owned by Tate is a unique large scale print of the photograph which was made in 2002. It is twice the size of the prints in the original edition, and was made specifically for Tate. Finn-Kelcey recounts that, when she showed a print from the original edition in the group exhibition Live in Your Head at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, in 2000, she was encouraged to reprint the image on a larger scale for a museum collection. The first print of the 1975 edition is in Tate’s Archive.
Guy Brett and Rose Finn-Kelcey, Rose Finn-Kelcey, exhibition catalogue, Chisenhale Gallery, London and Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, 1994, reproduced on cover.
Clive Philpott, Andrea Tarsia, Michael Archer and Rosetta Brooks, Live in Your Head: Concept and Experiment in Britain 1965-75, exhibition catalogue, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 2000, reproduced p.81.