Avril Corroon at TACO!

In times of 'permacrisis', do we need to re-evaluate how we communicate urgent ideas and lived experiences? Of course the answer is yes, but in the domain of the visual, how might the urgent messages of our time become the art? This pertains especially to decidedly un-sexy topics, ones that are less easy to market and commodify, yet every day scream out for awareness and action. Largely, they are either not deemed to be aesthetically pleasing, or relegated to further alienation by society. With these ideas in mind,  I explore Irish artist Avril Corroon's solo exhibition Got Damp at TACO!, which, as part of a two-year research project, highlights the daily realities of people living with damp in their home across London and Dublin. 

Installation view: Avril Corroon, Got Damp, 17 March - 30 April 2023. TACO!, London. Image courtesy of Tom Carter. 

My prior experiences of the artist's work focused on engaging the viewer's senses; while of course it is dangerous to reproduce the effects of damp in a way that is overly concentrated,* the artist collected samples from participants' homes before presenting them in display boxes, with damp and mould cultivated to grow over domestic objects such as razors. For the show at TACO!, the installation walls within the intimate space are made from perspex to allow the viewer to not only observe and experience the space fully, but to highlight the damp collected, pumped and filtered through the interior of the perspex walls.

Even in the infrastructure of the gallery space, we are immersed in the subject matter immediately. Navigating through the walls from the entrance into the centre of the gallery space, we are met with a 30-minute film which combines a documentary format with aesthetic tendencies that serve to further illuminate the stories being told, such as heat-mapping people as they speak about their experiences with damp.

Although the film is personal and intimate, in that the artist interviews participants in their own homes, we are not introduced to them as individuals, by name; instead the focus is solely on the state of their homes, and the effects of this. Across London and Dublin, Corroon's selection of people, some with young families, are all seemingly renting, yet the accompanying press release reminds us that, of course, damp can occur in all kinds of homes; it is the social stigma of poor living conditions such as damp which exacerbates them and makes them a danger to health.

Installation view: Avril Corroon, Got Damp, 17 March - 30 April 2023. TACO!, London. Image courtesy of Tom Carter. 

Each interviewee has a reliably different story around the damp in their homes, including almost cartoonish holes in walls and ceilings. The stories being told are all sincere, and there is never any suspicion that the stories have been fictionalised or exaggerated. The gravity of the subject matter is arguably rendered most confrontational when one interviewee discusses their chronic illness as a result of the damp conditions, stating that "you can't fully relax in a place that's making you sick". Much like issues illuminated in the early stage of the pandemic, the question of home is once again brought to the fore. If one's home is making them sick, and is therefore uninhabitable, what is its real use? The shackles of capitalism and its poisonous cousin, landlordism, are most likely ensuring that each of Corroon's interviewees still pay extortionate rent prices despite despicable conditions. 

The very lynchpin of Got Damp, with its title nodding to the gallery's neighbouring community of Thamesmead in South London, which saw a collective movement of tenants mobilising against damp and poor living conditions back in 1971, is care. The film, and indeed the wider body of work, does not feel exploitative; while it is said that Corroon "collected [the participants'] damp as a material for an artwork", it is stressed that this is not only a social problem, but one that affects the mental and physical wellbeing of dwellers, with zero respite. Following the main body of the exhibition press release, the artist provides practical advice for her audience, making her commitment to the cause clear and proactive. It is also worth noting that participants in the film were provided with energy-efficient dehumidifiers and support. Given that there is so much art world rhetoric around social issues and various (sometimes tenuous and conceptual) forms of care, Got Damp shows us the real-world potential of embedding storytelling and care into a fine art practice that is meaningful far beyond the gallery space. 

Avril Corroon, Got Damp, 17 March - 30 April 2023. TACO!, London. 

Got Damp is also on display at Project Arts Centre, Dublin, Ireland, 21 April - 10 June 2023.


* Questioning how much of the participants' damp conditions should be pumped into the gallery space for the audience to experience reminds me of a current exhibition at DOX Centre for Contemporary Art in Prague, Czech Republic. The Pain of Others provides a thorough analysis of how individual and collective struggles are best conveyed to wider audiences. Although artists featured in this group show focus on larger scale devastation such as war and genocide, the granular and insidious themes within Corroon's work would fit well within such a show, bringing a domestic perspective. 

You might also like...