Performance still from ‘Small Holding’ part of On Holding a group show at Lambeth Court House
- a text by Vanessa Garrett
Court Room 2
Claimant: Jasmine Pajdak
I arrive at Lambeth County Court in plenty of time. A sign says DO NOT ENTER but the door to
Court Room 2 is open. I hesitate, and even though I’m given the nod, still feel a frisson of
transgress on entering.
The emptiness and quality of light is unexpected. The chamber is spaciously silent. Through tall,
arched windows natural light falls on white-washed walls, on a symmetry of unsat-upon chairs (red)
and untyped-upon desks (green). It falls on the hierarchy of wood-panelled separators and bench
(brown), on the absence of judge, plaintiff, defendant, clerk and usher (gone). It’s June 2021 and
there hasn’t been a session here since September 2017.
In its heyday the court dealt with nearly 5000 possession claims a year - most of them made by
social housing landlords trying to evict tenants who were in arrears and unable to pay the rent.
Austerity measures by the powers that be have divested the courthouse of original purpose and
would have left this courtroom to subsist as a vacant lot but for the work currently occupying its
Small Holding is the unassuming title to the body of evidence on display in Court Room 2. It may
not sound like much but that which can be held indicates something of substance, something to be
held onto. Possession may be nine tenths of the law, but owning or occupying a plot is only half
the story. The material matters; that it can be transformed matters even more. In transformation it
becomes open to multiple interpretations and different ways of seeing. There is no judgment in
this place now. No one telling to be set above another. In no particular order the light falls on
gelatine, wax, concrete, calcium carbonate, crude oil, cellulose, sand, fibre, plastic, pewter, wire.
Falls on an assymetrical placement of forms that would have been defiant but for the subtlety of
colour and curation. The eye sees the things the artist made, the brain reads them as it may.
In my case, I saw ghost snails corralled in an unlidded container: their waxen forms laid to rest with
grave goods of pressed cabbage leaves and rings of dehydrated courgette; cordoned off
by a string of twined nettle - the fibre of the landless. More stripped nettles lay in throws, like
stranded and decaying judiciary wigs. There were more and other objects to be reckoned with.
Semi-transparent, a gelatinous cloth was draped over the bench like a suddenly abandoned bridal
veil or a cape cast off by a magician. When things undo and disappear, what remains? According
to a small bowl in the plaintiff’s booth, when the flesh of cherries is consumed you’re left with the
pits. On the other side, in the defendant’s place, what may have been meant for escape only
connects one thorny question to another. A braided grass rope spirals between two metallically
resistant bramble patches.
On a desk I saw a funereal bouquet of buddleia - its free-seeding wildness encased in bitumen, the
shiny, spiky blackness counterpointed by a gritty enclosure of four rams’ horns cast in sand.
Light falls through a covered panel, illuminating the pressed red cabbage in its window frame to
stained glass. I saw bruised skin, and a violence and tenderness in the exposure of veins and
Against a window a pendant cast of half-eaten pomegranates in chains brought Persephone to
mind - her capture, release and return. Light falling on exposed seeds silvered them enticingly.
Against the back wall, behind the judge’s seat, a gravity of the same fruit hung suspended like a
plumb line. While as if from underground and against all odds, a pale wiry weed pushed up through
the flooring and, from behind a chair, delicately put out leaves.
In a corner, I could not decide whether a sculpture of interconnected, eroded oyster shells was
ascending or descending the wall, to or from a gridded vent. For all I know the up and down, the in
and out of things may well be simultaneous. And yes, the time has come to talk of many things.
After the seeing, came the hearing. Having eaten of the fruit, I had to return.
Court Room 2 (two days later)
Intervention: Ella Belenky, Jasmine Pajdak, Romany Pajdak
When I enter the chamber again, three motionless and silent figures occupy its space. One stands
on a windowsill, armoured in a fine slip of chainmail, her back to the room. Three red plastic cups
of water have been placed on the sill, by her feet. Another sits upright and veiled at a desk with a
stainless steel bowl before her. The third lies raised above the bench on what looks like a black
bier, her body covered in a sheet of material made from pulped grass. Only her feet are visible.
Nothing happens. They are as immobile as the other exhibits on display. Their faces concealed.
Objects in a room. ,
Then it starts. It starts with sound. One sound triggers the others. A gurgle, the sound of water
being gargled in a throat, coming from the window, sets off a movement of hand in bowl, drawing to
it a crushing, pulping sound. Sets off a movement of feet and breath, uncovering a rustling within
the sheet. As soft as wind crossing a meadow, humanity enters the room and discloses its hidden
self. Intimate and interconnected.
It stops. Suddenly as water is spat out, splatting into the bottom of a small, white plastic bucket,
hands stained and dripping with the blood of pomegranates are lifted and smeared on a cloth; feet
halt, breathing stills. The timing of mouth, hand and foot is perfect, synchronous. Three as one.
The sequence repeats until three red cups stand empty on the sill. There is nothing to say. The
graces have left.