Saturday, 25 March 2023

Nadège Mériau: TENDED



Nadège Mériau

Curated by Paul Carey-Kent and Jessica Carlisle

Private View

Tuesday 28 March 6-8pm

 28 Mar - 1 April 2023

12-6pm or by appointment


Somers Gallery, 96 Chalton Street, London NW1 1HJ

In ‘Tended’, Nadège Mériau finds light and beauty in darkness and constraint through linked works emerging from the successive challenges of the Covid pandemic and her own cancer diagnosis. The healing qualities of plants are key to dealing with both imperilments as she grows, harvests, displays and eats them.

In the lockdown series 'Cropped', we see the artist’s hands holding vegetables. Careful examination reveals that these are not photographs but scans, in the course of which Mériau has moved the vegetables to provoke analogue distortions which add a painterly touch while reading as digital glitches  - suggesting the clash of nature and technology - and also suggesting the presence of water. The frame of the scanner acts as the limit, cropping the crops. Mériau grew the food herself and consumed it twice – first through a bodily performance and then putting it into her body. 'Cropped' foregrounds caring, but there is also some earthy humour in how a phallic courgette is held, and an almost religious treatment of radishes or squashes as improbable icons.

The series 'Scanned' is also made with a flatbed scanner, but this time it relates directly to medical scans, of which Mériau had plenty during recent – successful – cancer treatment. ‘There was something comforting’, she says, ‘in scanning my body in a different way’. By staying slightly ahead of the scanner’s movement, she conjures an ethereal self along with such natural elements as seaweed and peelings of beech bark, the latter rhymed with clumps of hair she lost during chemotherapy. A different sort of care-driven beauty comes into focus.

Those series are the results of performances not seen directly, so it not surprising that their themes feed in to Mériaus filmed performances. 'Future Facing' is a playful yet unsettling precursor to 'Scanned': we see Mériau Photoshopping the anticipated side effects of chemotherapy as she braces herself for an experience she’s termed ‘un-selfing’. 'Traced' sees her treading a remarkably well-balanced, Zen-paced path around the edge of a square. That reminds us of the limits of the scanner’s frame, evoking constriction and even imprisonment. Yet the square is made of light, countering the surrounding shadow. And 'Shared' has not just movement but sound, as Mériau makes music of a sort by pouring water between three differently-sized pots. She teases us with the possibility of a sequence as she measures out the liquid, an action which refers to sharing, exchange and family, but also suggests urination – back to that earthy humour – and the sort of ruefully futile repetition you might find in Samuel Beckett. There will also be participative Kinhin walks with artist, daily during the show’s run – adding an extra dimension to the sense of sharing.

Finally, Mériau herself does not appear in 'From Times of Fearing Touch', but her unseen presence is evident in how she films ‘blindly’, her hands feeling their way along walls and underwater with a small camera. The title evokes the pandemic, and the work explores not only the sense of touch and our need for it, but also our sense of belonging: to and from one another, our environment and all that is beyond the human. Mériau says her inspiration was snails’ tactile approach to exploration and communal encounters.

In tribute to that, Anna Frijstein will perform as a snail on 1 April. 

Put the whole of ‘Tended’ together, and what’s striking is how delicately Mériau keeps several related themes in play across apparently simple actions: that integrated richness generates a sense of optimism from what could have been plain adversity.


Paul Carey-Kent, March 2023




Daily Kinhin Walks (with Artist): 12.30pm

Artist in Conversation with Janine Catalano: Thursday 30 March 6.30pm

Performances by Anna Frijstein and Paul Carey-Kent: Saturday 1 April 4pm




Nadège Mériau is a French-British artist based in London. She completed an MA in Photography at the Royal College of Art in 2011 and was shortlisted for the Bloomberg New Contemporaries and the Conran Award in 2011, nominated for the Arts Foundation Fellowship and the Arles Discovery Award in 2012 and the Prix Pictet in 2014. Mériau is principally a photographer yet she spins a varied practice from that core which frequently sees new systems emerge from the conjunction of natural and human. 

Paul Carey-Kent is a writer and curator. In addition to his weekly column in FAD art news and his monthly interviews for Artlyst, he writes freelance for Art Monthly, Seisma, STATE, Border Crossings and World of Interiors.

Jessica Carlisle is a contemporary art professional who has worked variously as gallery director, curator, project manager and artist agent. In 2014 she established a gallery programme presenting exhibitions first in Knightsbridge SW1 and thereafter at 4 Mandeville Place W1. She is currently Managing Director of Artistate, an organisation assisting artists and artist estates with legacy planning.

Janine Catalano is an art and food historian, with a particular focus on modern and contemporary art. She completed a Masters at the Courtauld and has since published on the relationship between food and art, featured in conversations at Tate and on BBC Radio 4, and taught and lectured at the Victoria & Albert Museum, the National Gallery, the Courtauld and beyond, alongside designing and delivering curated culinary events and leading gastronomic tours of London. She is currently Director of Strategic Partnerships & Alumni Relations at Sotheby's Institute of Art.

Anna Frijstein obtained her MA from the Royal College of Art in London in 2019 where she currently lives and works. Frijsteins practice involves performance, painting, drawing, collage, video, and sculptural installations executed in a playful manner. Beneath the playfulness lies a more unsettling layer of dark humour provoked by thoughts and feelings around socio-psychological and ecological issues. 

Friday, 24 March 2023


In order of composition, newest at the top. 

Photographs from Ashurst, New Forest unless indicated otherwise.


I shouldn't have taken this photo. 

But, having got away with it,

My reason to want it has faded right away.

(London Original Print Fair, Somerset House) 


Do you do coffee with milk?

Do you serve humans?

Do you get fed up with questions like those

and this?

(Black Sheep Coffee, London)


Rain was due

Now it’s fallen

and isn’t dew,

though it does have the glisten.



A year

of flag-supported war

is not enough

yet far too much.

When a drink

is drowning

who can tell what used to be

from the cause of its demise? 

(Peckham, London)

I assume these are adverts

for an exhibition of abstract paintings

imitating torn-off posters -

which, one might argue, aren't abstract at all.


The flagrant mismanagement and their now-redundant staff

do thank you -

but it's only fair for them to point out

that you should have bought more, you bastards!



I can’t complain

I was warned that I wouldn’t be warned

and now no bike is there.

Lucky I don’t have one.


Water is straightforward

but how do tarmac rivers work?

are tributaries joining at the major crack,

or is the main line splitting into two? 



is high,

but secular is higher - 

or closer...


(Kensington, London)


How brazen

to dump such an enormous cup -

even while exhorting us

to dispose more thoughtfully of our humbler sizes...


(Aldgate, London)


Which way to go

in yellow land?

Towards the gold, the sun, the heavens?

Or just the humdrum train?


(Southampton Railway Station)

Just as I suspected

There will be no change

other than as caused by how, in its absence,

everything will go down the pan.

(Kings Cross Underground Station, London)

No sign of trains

despite the lack of adverse weather,

engineering works or strikes.

Perhaps I'll have to fly.

(Bournemouth Railway Station)


The art of fencing nothing off

or, rather, of fencing off nothing

has been perfected here –

but why?


If you’ve had your fill of daffs

you may have had your fill of life,

be what the Welsh call ‘daffod ill’.

I still love them with a will.


Would it be better to be a tree

Your wrinkle-equivalents on the inside

so no-one can guess your age

until you’re dead?

Out of the way!

My check-in closes at X o'clock

and it looks as if

it may be that already!

(Schipol Airport, Amsterdam)


The Dutch

are the tallest 

nationality in the world

but even they can stretch to the max along this bench in full reclining comfort.


This is the last letter

I expected to find

in 'A for Amsterdam'.

But who wantz all their expectationz met?



We are not paving stones  

we are mere props in the service of notices 

for roadworks far more important than roads –

let alone pavements.




I can understand

why no-one has eaten this portion of chips yet 

and though I'm keen on bucking trends, 

this may be where the buck has to stop.




This pony is stupid

leaving lush growth to wither away

while its focus stays determinedly down

among the weedier nibbles of the pavement.




Why are they complaining?

I was firmly on the stairs

and braced, come to that, against the bannister

as I shouted for my mates to hurry down.


(Hotel Continental, Amsterdam)


Some boring items

Complete a sort of circling round  

and back to oddball interest

Underground car parks don't.


I am a post, not a shadow

My physical manifestation

is entirely contingent, 

reversing - and yet reinforcing - Plato.


(Amsterdam. The post would appear to refer on the one hand to the parable of the cave, in which the shadows are taken to be evidence of a different reality, and on the other hand to the doctrine of ideal forms, taking itself to be the ideal form of the physical post.)



Here are the layers

Window; the rain on it; reflection of me;

a light that believes it’s a moon;

the rush of the fleeting without.


(Train Amsterdam – Maastricht)


As you can tell from this photograph

Dutch pigeons

are nothing like their British cousins.

It’s probably the pot.



Van isn't van

and hare isn't hair, I don't suppose,

but it makes me think that ‘The Well Groomed Hare’

would make a name and logo for a barber. 


(Amsterdam - in fact, 'van' id 'by' and 'hare' is 'hers' )


It goes without saying –

why have I said it? –

that the obvious should not be stated,

least of all in a poem.




We're rubbish at clearance

I can't think why anyone uses us. 

Phone box ads

can't have persuaded many.

(Hackney, London)

Shall we set out to sea

or should we wait

until the wind is steadier

and the tide is on the turn?


One becomes four

albeit the additions

will be keyhole-sized

and harder to show off than their plasters.


After the laparoscopy 

my bladder’s full 

but I can't pee the way I must

before they'll tell me to piss off


(Southampton General Hospital) 

Would you be the green

disrupting the blue

or even the yellow, 

making a point of your absence?


(Mayfair, London)



what the iron can do

and ask yourself:   

what role remains for the cane?


(King’s Cross, London)      

I'm in Euston


and pretty square in most respects.

Do I get a discount?

(Euston, London) 


The differences between catkins and worms

lie in colour, biology, season,  

activity, substance and  reproductive methods.

Perhaps I should have started with the similarities. 


It seems the last leaves on this tree

are kept in place by their branch having broken.

I’m tempted to read this metaphorically

but can’t quite work out how.

(Totton. The reason for this phenomenon, incidentally, lies in the fact that leaves don’t simply fall off or get blown away from deciduous trees, they are actively thrown off by the tree. Shorter, colder days trigger the hormone abscisic acid, which sends a chemical message to every leaf causing ‘abscission’ cells to appear – a thin line of bumpy cells that push the leaf, bit by bit, away from the stem. Any breeze is just accelerating the task. But if a branch is broken, there’s no connectivity of vascular tissue, no hormones, no cell growth, no leaf fall)

Surely we’re too cute

to be chomped up for chocolate?

The wrapping would be plainer were we going to be 

Ouch! Those were my ears!

To make a solid cup of coffee

keep a quarter tin 

of Azera instant Americano

for two years past its use-by date.


The empathy of objects

is a lesson to us all:

see how one wall protects another

that’s fallen on hard times.

(Totton )

They’re laying down the line

in a most assertive yellow.

If only the line were


(Southampton Railway Station)

What doesn’t this place promise?

Only, it seems,

the food and drink

it actually provides…


(Fitzrovia, London)


The bag of bags

holds bags of bags,

of course it does, and bagging rights

over plastic, hand and carrier alike.


I understand

how you leave an umbrella,

forget a phone or let a glove fall. 

But how do you drop a sock? 

(Mayfair, London) 



When the countryside comes to London

I tend to take notice –

even while suspecting

it’s just a horticultural simulacrum.

(Piccadilly, London) 

Say what you will about the railways

they do excel in one regard:

finding ways to waste  our money

on anything other than running the trains.

(Southampton Railway Station)


I was, of course, hoping

to get a duck in this shot,

posed near enough to be reading the sign.

But not even a seagull substitute flew in.

(Hampden Park, Eastbourne)

Raising the questions

Do they bake swans?

Do swans do the baking?

What is the setup if neither of those? 


(Swan Bakery, St Leonards on Sea) 


Five hours later

no-one had arrived. 

I was rather cold but not surprised.

Did they mean five months?

(St Leonards on Sea)


Just how    

did the Buenos Aires Guesthouse land in Bexhill?

Did the owners suppose that guests wouldn't mind

the 6,885 miles of inconvenience? 


(Buenos Aires Guesthouse, Bexhill on Sea – I guess its name may be intended to evoke fair winds and good air in the locality, rather than make any Argentinian reference)



Not all plants

are born equal,

so why should every human be?

Then again, why not?


(St Leonards on Sea)              


Now that beauty

is just another product 

can we get away

from linking it to virtue, or to truth?                  


(Beauty Factory, Eastbourne)


What’s the point of this root

free of soil as it loops the loop?

I suppose its aim must be

to make us wonder what its aim is.


By 8 a.m.

some subtlety's apparent in the frost...

I can’t say the same for the creeping thistle’s

sharp-cut crenellations. 

An abstract mouse

is still  a mouse.

You can't remove its mousiness

by making it hard to see.


I skip to the shops

past a scatter of scooters

that I’m tempted to take as proof

that skipping is best.


Grow where it will

the crocus is my redemption plant.

All I need to work out now

is how to be redeemed. 

But what can you fix

by screwing it up?

Other than a sheet of A4 paper

that wants to be a Martin Creed sculpture?


(Southampton: refers to Martin Creed’s notorious ‘Work No. 88 - A sheet of A4 paper crumpled into a ball’, 1995)


I like a good tangle

Especially with my wife…

And brambles are exemplary, 

whether they’re embracing or fighting each other off.



The teasing prickle of teasel heads

makes for a justified test:

to sleep in a museum

you really have to need the rest.

(Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, Bournemouth)

This is a pipe

to nowhere.

I suppose Magritte would say

‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’.


(René Magritte’s ‘The Treachery of Images (This is Not a Pipe)’, 1929 depicts a pipe but plays through the inscription ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’ on the fact that it is a painting, not a pipe. Might complete dysfunctionality have a similar category-shifting effect?)


My name is Stuart Dapple

though I’ve taken off my scarcely-dappled skin.

My friends, who are admittedly bananas, call me Stu.

Shall I bowl round super-naked with my cloves?

(stewed apple)

... because it looks so very closed 

and I'm not sure I want to know

why what arrives

is not the pizza / pasta that I ordered.

(Deptford, London)


Here’s a tasty scene

The zing of lime

blended with

the subtler tang of orange.

(Camden, London)


Were I to return to table tennis

it could be with a frog on board

to leap around distractingly

and give my shots the unexpected.

(from Cinzia Ruggeri's show at Goldsmiths CCA, London)


Step to it!

But not in shoes

at least a size too big -

as did the last six steppers.


(from Cinzia Ruggeri's show at Goldsmiths CCA, London)


How soon is soon?

Unless we're talking geological time

I don't believe this restaurant-as-was

is soon to be a restaurant-as-is.

(Lancaster Gate, London) 



Maximum fluffage

in the matter of grass

puts me in mind

of tickle-wiping my arse...

(Hyde Park, London)


I see now

what I hadn’t thought through:

that when a willow weeps

it's more a matter of twigs than of leaves.

(Hyde Park, London)  

These four distributions

foreground natural equalities 

of a sort we humans can’t achieve

even when we’re trying.


(Being the ungoverned spill / spread of leaves, lichen, pebbles and petals)


This gap in the fence

comes complete with the proof - 

or does it? - 

that there was once a fence where the gap now is.


In the land of long shadows 

a ball cannot compete

with a tree,

or even with me.

(Awbridge, Hampshire)


How much astronomy

do trees comprehend

when they reach for the moon?

Do they expect to touch it?

(Awbridge, Hampshire)

What is it that’s fragile here?

Surely it can’t be the tape

proclaiming itself so vulnerable

it really shouldn’t have been exposed like this?


Some like it fresh

Some like it older.

Some like it ancient.

Some don’t like it at all.


(New Forest pony poo)

Big orange meets little orange

but I’m well aware that the seniority

could be reversed

if I only took a different perspective.



You might get away

with a redundant second chain if

(a) you didn't tangle them; and

(b) you didn't demonstrate so close-by that one is quite enough.



Even at Christmas

the Belgians prefer an anorexic tree

to a one with enough burgeon

to cope with decorations.



What kind of pet

is a pigeon?

I wouldn't want one

and this chap seems to have four.



They could fit

the full ‘Copenhagen’ here

with room to spare.

It’s the frontage that needs to be abbreviated.



Losing an eye was traumatic

of course, but to be

fucked up the arse by a post

until someone takes pity...



The illusion being

that a giant blackboard scraper

has combed the mud 

into some semblance of a hairstyle.



Yuri Geller

bent his spoons with no purpose

beyond deception.

Here is how to fold them into function.

(Hotel Amigo, Brussels - I admit the function is rather spurious) 



A chambermaid knocked

to offer me a ‘turn down service’.

‘Can we fuck?, I asked. She turned me down.

‘Thanks’, I said, ‘I guess you can go’.


(Hotel Amigo, Brussels, 20.00. Apparently a luxury hotel’s‘turn down service’ involves preparing one’s bed for sleep and tidying the room and bathroom. I turned it down. The conversation above is somewhat imaginary)



Life Lesson 277

Even something

as simple as a pavement

can intersect with complexity.

(Aldgate, London)

If you’ve had a bad break up

I sympathise. The more so

if you are a road

and cannot – as your users will – move on.

Last night was cold

I fear for the deciduous

when even the evergreens

have wrapped themselves in scarves.

Conversation between logs

‘Length is the thing.’ ‘What about girth?’

‘Plainness is the thing.’ ‘Or lichen décor.’

‘Smoothness is the thing.’ ‘I like myself rough’.

Inverting the dance

between shadow and substance

the shadow is the frost

and what isn’t shadow has no substance.


They walked past

in the muddy past.

I walk past in the muddy present

which has now passed.

(Flattened box in Chapel Market, Islington)


The post-Christmas caterpillar

is as hairily unlikely

as a hippy who thinks he's an angel

come down from rather higher than a tree.

(Kensington, London)


Is a handle on its own still a handle? 

Does it hold onto to its former life

or pass right out of being 

with no body left to be lifted?

(Mayfair, London)


It seems you can park here...

Well, somebody has…

But I guess one car is not allowed

to park on top of another.

(Mayfair, London)



The bodily side

of bricks is revealed:

they do have flesh,

although I’ve never seen them bleed.

It turns out that a wall can bleed

but I didn’t expect that the blood would be red -

given the yellow of sea cucumbers, the green of leaches,

the blue of snails, or mortar's greyish white.

(Shoreditch, London)


Bad news

I suppose

if you like pasta

for how you've enjoy ed it to date.

(Kensington, London) 


You have to hand it

to tropical palms

carrying on, calm as ice,

fingering the frosty air.



Down by the tracks

the sleepers rest.

I guess the trains might wake them

but it hasn't happened yet.

Life should be embraced 

in all its ups and downs.

Here's a good place 

for a slip.



The shadow world

is not my world, though it may well be yours:

I prefer to focus

on the fire of its cause.


Pointless enquiry No. 638

Why does frost 

disappear faster

from some sections of tarmac than others?     


How should I use the mystery tube

in light of my fear –

even with breathing arrangements in place –

of live burial?

What happens

if I like a photo

but cannot think of anything to say?

It's quite a conundrum.

(Warren Street, London)


If you plan to eat

a rock with a spoon,

you’re going to need

a little bit more water.

(St Stephen's Canonbury churchyard, London)


I'm not surprised 

they're talking to each other - 

probably, like all of us today,

about the serial failings of the railways.

(Winchester Railway Station)


Think you know Disney?

If so

you may not have caught up with the news

that its HQ is now in Halifax.



We have not yet arrived

at the point at which the world –

or even binmens’ livelihoods –

is threatened by lack of waste.

(Islington, London) 


Is this a wasted opportunity to deal with waste?

Or an invitation –

I’m not inclined to take it –

to post it to uncertain effect?

(Canonbury & Barnsbury station, London)

Even signs

needs to lie down from time to time

for a proper rest -

assuming that this isn’t a strike.

(Bethnal Green, London - rail, bus, health, civil service, university and teacher strikes were ongoing in January 2023)

The moon is bright

but blurry tonight.

Perhaps it's enveloped in a luminous mist

dispersing around from the unseen side…

(through windscreen on M4, near Swindon. The car's movement may also explain the blur)

I could have been a bricklayer

Not through any aptitude,

but judging by the standards

required around here.


You need a fair old press of leaves

to realise that they - that trees -

have veins flowing through them

in line with their role as the heart of the earth.


I realise I should concentrate

but life is not so simple

as its homilies suggest.

What’s that over there?

(Sign in Southampton General Hospital car park)


I don't know the purpose

of its level of protection

but the holly by the hospital

is masked to the max.

(outside Southampton General Hospital)

It may have seemed unlikely –

‘Classic flower in leaded glass

seeks post-modern body in gaffer tape’ –

but here it is. 

(The Red Lion, St James's, London)

It's all very well

for a sign to indicate

which way it wants to get out and about

but has it the means to follow its own directions?

 (St James's, London)


The rumours

that this road is going to be renamed 

are almost as groundless as the suggestion

that it will then be Andrew Street instead.

 (St James's, London - in honour of Prince Andrew, Duke of York,KG, GCVO, CD being stripped of royal duties and publicly funded protection)

The cypress

is a synecdoche:

the leaves contain the form  of a tree

just as the tree’s replete with leaves.

These are not my holes

but I do feel

they’re just where I’d have drilled them

had they been.


(The holes were probably made to allow herbicide, intended to kill the tree stump and prevent any regrowth, to seep inside and be absorbed by the roots more quickly)

Lichen snow

is here again

its mystery quickened

by how rarely I’ve seen it fall.



Three sentries guard the pavement 

I don't know what against,

but I doubt that it’s me.

I shall approach.



When the paradigmatically

flat and stable pavement

is all at sea

what are the chances for you and me?




It looks as if

they ran right out

of wiggle room

in the company accounts.



This isn't a stream

but a floodle. The streams

are currently rivers, the rivers lakes,

the lakes on their way to seas.

About Me

My photo
Southampton, Hampshire, United Kingdom
I was in my leisure time Editor at Large of Art World magazine (which ran 2007-09) and now write freelance for such as Art Monthly, Frieze, Photomonitor, Elephant and Border Crossings. I have curated 20 shows during 2013-17 with more on the way. Going back a bit my main writing background is poetry. My day job is public sector financial management.