North London's Cultural Guide

MUST DO: A Constant Companion, Free Space Gallery

Artist Zara Carpenter examines life with a chronic illness at Bartholomew Road's creative space

One of artist Zara Carpenter’s earliest memories as a small child was laying in bed at night rubbing her legs to soothe them.

Pain has walked beside her for most of her life – a constant companion – she says, in this new show at Kentish Town’s underrated gallery space.

Carpenter’s practice investigates the hidden aspects of living with a chronic invisible illness: her interdisciplinary, rather textural work combines print-making and photography, while often using materials of an ephemeral nature.

In this absorbing solo exhibition the artist shares from both past and present projects exploring pain, including the ritual of taking medication in The Painkiller Prints.


“These were created over the period of a month when I was in a severe fibromyalgia flare-up,” she says. “Each time I took my prescribed codamol painkillers (morning, noon, evening and night) I would make a print, changing the emphasis from taking the pain away to an act of creativity. From tiny pills infinite constellations can be formed. The number 86,062 on display refers to the number of pills I took for pain relief from the age of 15 to 35.”

Meanwhile, visualising both physical and psychological trauma is what drives her latest on-going series, Distress (pictured above). “I use a range of different materials and techniques to degrade, damage and consume the image surface,” she says. “This allows me to be in control of the act of creation, but at the mercy of the process. The process is repeated over and over again forming ghosts or echoes of what was before.”

In short, she says, “my artistic practice explores the body – a fragile vessel containing the emotional and psychological.” So true.

Free entry. Catch Zara speaking about the project on 19th June, 630pm. A Constant Companion, open Monday-Fridays 830am-630pm, Free Space Gallery, until 30th August, 2 Bartholomew Rd, NW5

Main image: Zara Carpenter’s Distress series installation shot at Free Space (SE)

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The award-winning print and online title Kentishtowner was founded in 2010 and is part of London Belongs To Me, a citywide network of travel guides for locals. For more info on what we write about and why, see our About section.