How Long Have You Been Gone

6th – 11th February, open daily 11 – 6pm
Private view 6th February, 6 – 8pm

J. was only thirty-two years old when she overdosed in 2018, inside her childhood bedroom in Vancouver, Canada. She was as ‘normal’ as she was unique; she loved video games, animals, soda, rap music, and pancakes. How Long Have You Been Gone? is a poignant recollection of her life by her beloved cousin Emma Windsor-Liscombe. The title How Long Have You Been Gone? was a recurrent thought that the artist had after awakening from sleeping months after her cousin had passed away. This project is an exploration of the artist’s journey navigating grief and nostalgia through the themes of addiction and healing, trauma and recovery. The word ‘nostalgia’ descends from νόστος (nóstos) – ‘homecoming’ – and ἄλγος (álgos) – ‘sorrow’ or ‘despair’. This duality informs the curatorial intention of this exhibition. The storytelling foregrounded is anchored in a sense of loss, both at the impossibility of returning to a happier time, entangled with grief with one’s acceptance of the end of childhood and losing a loved one.

Taking inspiration from female characters in ancient myths, How Long Have You Been Gone? introduces Windsor-Liscombe’s idea of a ‘contemporary mythology’. J.’s presence is in all works displayed; she appears to the viewer as a child, young adult and woman. One might recognise the influence of Ovid’s metamorphosis, for instance; the abduction of Persephone by Hades mirrors J.’s own descent to addiction, while her mother Demeter’s fierce searching for her daughter resembles Windsor-Liscombe’s own search for her cousin in the everyday life. Moreover, classical mythology often ambiguously amalgams love with violence as tales of romance allude to sexual assault. In many ways, Windsor-Liscombe’s portrayal of J.’s story resonates with the familiar feeling of unease that resonates with women’s experience of sexualisation and harassment. As scenes of birthday parties, dance recitals and family portraits enfold, the artworks suggest a sense of violation, implying the possibility that darker truths might reveal themselves in plain sight while being unnoticed.

Finally, How Long Have You Been Gone? situates J.’s life within the larger canon of women’s history. The Wall of – (2019-2023) presents 30 portraits of historical women entangled with portraits of J., as an attempt to demystify the assumption that only certain ‘types’ of people go through certain forms of trauma, male violence and addiction. This body of work humanises the female role models that we admire; women whose lives have often been overshadowed by their mental health struggles, defined by the misogyny that reigns within the discipline of history.

Talking about mental health can sometimes be judged too painful or too overwhelming to be discussed in an exhibition space. How Long Have You Been Gone? offers an empathetic space for individuals who have struggled or still struggle with mental health challenges, have been exploited, understand what no consent feels like, and who have lived overwhelming trauma and addiction. J.’s story aligns with those who have longed (and have felt nostalgia) for a time predating traumatic moments.