Annabel Lucas | Collection Manager & Exhibitions Curator |  UH Art Collection and Galleries

A house constitutes a body of images that give mankind proofs or illusions of stability. (Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space)

Arabel Rosillo de Blas’ new immersive installation Freehold, pivots on the human aspiration to own a house and create a home. This aspiration is perhaps nowhere more apparent than in St Albans – an affluent city steeped in history where many people seek to settle and own property.

Arabel is interested in the motivation behind our dreams of home ownership and the stability, security and protection it promises. Her artworks created for Freehold undermine and challenge these motives and suggest instead that the ‘house’ can be a site of chaos, disorder, claustrophobia and even violence.

The impetus for the installation was a group of intriguing objects, photographs and architectural drawings from the Museum of St Albans collection. These relate to post-war housing developments in St Albans, including estates such as Mashalswick and later Jersey Farm, and demonstrate appetite for lone ownership and fresh beginnings.

Arabel has worked with these original materials to create handmade sculptures and drawings that are typically intricate and highly finished. These function both as beautiful new artifacts and also as social commentary. As ‘visual metaphors’ they encourage visitors to connect otherwise unrelated objects, ideas and histories, to open up new connections and conversations. Yet often their ‘decorative’ appearance belies uncomfortable and sinister content – usually suggesting issues related to the position of women within domestic environments.

I am exploring wider issues of power relationships, exploitation and inequality through material culture and women’s tactile environment. I draw attention to the subliminal violence inherent in traditional domestic tasks: knitting, soap rubbing, or the sharp knife skinning a rabbit   (Arabel Rosillo de Blas)

The new works featured in Freehold are each located within a series of disjointed spaces that disrupt the usual gallery environment. We are invited to walk over Cathedral tiles immaculately cast in soap, breathe-in a brick wall of green ‘Falcon Household Soap’, re-consider our own reflection in a full-size mirror, climb a property ladder to view a vulnerable dolls house, and scrutinize architectural plans drawn in human hair and brick dust.

The choice of materials is significant and poignant – they connect directly to the body and are insubstantial or fragmented. Each carry strong associations with domestic tasks associated with women and seek to provoke responses of claustrophobia, oppression and isolation.

Arabel won UH Galleries’ Eastern Approaches open exhibition in 2014 with a delicate yet disturbing sculpture created from dolls-house furniture. The themes of decoration, domesticity and chaos suggested by this piece will continue and develop through this exhibition. Arabel creates a fresh narrative about the aspirations and values associated with St Albans; an interplay of commercial forces and human emotional need. She invites us to re-consider our relationship with our own domestic environment, asking whether these intimate spaces offer us the stability and safety we are seeking from a vast, often threatening world outside our door.

UH Galleries Eastern Approaches’ annual open submission exhibition has marked itself out over the past decade as the definitive annual showcase for regional artistic talent. The overall winner of Eastern Approaches is awarded a solo exhibition with UH Galleries.