Megan Jenkinson's series of photo-collages, The Virtues, is 40 strong - a series of works that offer us a new version of a very old world, personifications of virtue both refreshing and comforting at once. The concept of the Virtues developed in Greece and Rome where, as female figures (here played by the artist) in painting and sculpture they represented moral role models, behavioural guides as to the correct way to approach threat or temptation. In Plato's Republic, the Cardinal Virtues (which included Temperance or Temperantia), were used to promote the founding values of an ideal State. The early Church pitted virtues against vices, lining up Patience (or Patientia) against Wrath for example, in their campaign to restore and buttress faith against any lesser moral or spiritual integrity.
It is Jenkinson's intention to rescue the Virtues, once such an instantly recognisable part of everyday life, but now often considered quaint and archaic. The trials and moral dilemmas we face today are as real as they ever were, but in losing the Virtues, we have less recourse, less ability to face such dilemmas today. Jenkinson has described this exhibition as her attempt "to reawaken the struggles the Virtues must eternally experience, with the hope they they may again assist us in our own trials". Unlike the reassuringly composed figures of Classical tradition however, the Virtues of Jenkinson's photographs struggle when placed in the modern world, where attitudes have been reshuffled and re-aligned. So Dialectica courts life's biggest question...and in an age where outcomes are no longer predictable let alone optimistic, Temperantia reminds us of the unsustainable nature of consumerism and excess.
Jenkinson's vision then, is a complex and hybrid one. Images are woven and spliced together - indeed, it is almost as if Jenkinson's art revolves around her ability to draw with photography, a process of grafting and manipulation that takes place within the shallow space of each boxed frame. Latin subtitles lend to her research the language of the academy. The aegis images that accompany each photograph are subtle and evocative reminders of the original function and perception of each Virtue. They add I think, to the sense that we might learn with the hindsight of history, and they serve as an elegant counterpoint to the drama of each principal photograph.
The Virtues highlight the uncomfortable and widening distance between the calm reason of the Classical world and the complexity of today's society. But Jenkinson's is a subtle take. She does not rant or hammer, preferring instead to cajole and tenderly persuade. Her images are steeped in the multi-layered rituals of spiritual art making, right down to the sense of handmade colour which pervades her works. These are beautiful things which ooze with implication and a timeless sense of telling. She feels I think, that the solutions of the past can still be useful tools to use when addressing the issues of the present.