Offsite Projects Archive

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  • Morag Keil 'Public Hanging'
  • 4 July to 27 August 2011

‘Public Hanging’ is a new project by Morag Keil commissioned especially for Southend-on-Sea’s town centre. Keil has manufactured seven wall-mounted back-lit photographs to be hung in sequence on the exterior walls of The Royals Shopping Centre during July and August; produced with the specific purpose of being shown outside of a gallery, these works extend the artist’s concerns with painting, film, publishing and collaborative activity to focus on the role of public art in small communities.

Keil’s series of photographs of contact lenses being applied to human eyes, alternate with what appear to be unrelated scenes, such as a picture that depicts a tree branch that has grown out of control to become entwined with metal fencing, or a close-up view of insects living in dead roots. The artist’s intention is to look at the diverse ways in which nature has been adapted, from the purely optical transformation of vision and perception, to modified urban environments: combinations that eventually become dependent on one another.

By examining the interface between the natural and the man-made, and by incorporating elements of the familiar and the alien, Keil draws parallels between science’s aiding of nature and the sometimes incongruous relationship between contemporary art and the public sphere. Physically speaking, the artist’s project is literally grafted onto the wall of a shopping mall; her illuminated photographs siphon electricity from the heart of the town centre in order to power themselves. With the work placed in an environment dominated by chain stores and franchises characteristic of an identikit regional town centre, ‘Public Hanging’ addresses the act of looking anew within such a context, and proposes an alternative to the normal processes used to create and display images in a space subjugated by commercial advertising.

In one respect, the viewer or ‘consumer’ of these works might respond to the psychology inherent to Keil’s chosen images in different ways. A close-up photograph of an eyeball, for instance, contains a heightened sense of the grotesque,

which deliberately coerces the spectator to pay attention to it, while the artist’s images of nature acknowledge the possibility of entropy, and the environment regaining control. Through this, these works aim to subtly question the location within which they are situated, and provoke debate around the potential effect of art and culture within the local population.

Guided tours will take place each Saturday throughout the duration of ‘Public Hanging’ between 9 July and 27 August 2011. Each event will be led by a different speaker and begin at the site of Keil’s work on the High Street at the top of Pier Hill. These discussions will aim to provide perspectives on the artist’s project, as well as the town’s varied cultural history. For further information, please subscribe to Focal Point Gallery’s online mailing list for free email updates by visiting the following address:

For further information and images on the exhibition, please contact Saim Demircan Focal Point Gallery Curatorial Associate – Offsite

Projects +44 (0)1702 534 148 / or Lib Fox, Focal Point Gallery Exhibition and Marketing Officer: +44 (0)1702 534 108 /

Morag Keil ‘Public Hanging’ is generously supported by Arts Council England and Southend-on-Sea Borough Council.