Review: Remedial Phantasmagoria: Frances Disley’s ‘Pattern Buffer’ at The Bluecoat

Figure 1: Image of Pattern Buffer in Gallery Three at The Bluecoat. (2020) Taken from artist’s own website

Words, Reece Griffiths
Image credits at end of article

Combining themes of science-fiction and everyday aesthetics with a focus on mood-influencing and wellbeing, Pattern Buffer is Frances Disley’s retort to the elitist, and somewhat traditional, conventions of beauty for which she has so often shown contempt. It is a curious, nostalgia invoking, amalgamation of an exhibition. Entering Gallery Three (see Figure 1), you come under the suspicion that you’re intruding upon a recreational space of those generated in the video game franchise The Sims. This impression initially leaves you squinting about at corners, anticipating the moment when the virtual inhabitants will walk out of the walls, as if the environment itself is still in the process of rendering.

Figure 1: Frances Disley, Pattern Buffer installation view, image, courtesy of Bluecoat (2020)

Unfortunately, no one does appear, but what makes up for this are the details. Beginning with the exhibition’s hallmark and most defining feature: graph-paper-esque grids, inspired by the Holodeck of Star Trek: The Next Generation, that cover the floor and walls of both installations. Littered between these spaces are objects; and this is an exhibition of objects. Everywhere you look there is an object distinctive to the emotive response Disley wishes to evoke.

Gallery Three focuses on themes of nature, featuring an array of flora and greenery. Three custom made dominoes tables with accompanying plant-print jigsaws and dominoes sets line the back wall, while flesh thick bromeliads potted in moulded tree trunks dot the room’s periphery, their miniatures mounted at intervals along the pastel green walls. At the opposite end of the space, a television plays a video of a hairdresser and her friend engaging in conversation whilst she braids her hair, its background a pale duck egg blue, a foreshadowing to the colours of the other room.

Upstairs, in Gallery Four (see Figure 2), the atmosphere is more distilled, manufactured, artificial. The central space of the gallery left bare to allow visitors to enjoy the buoyant bounce of the grid patterned carpet that covers the floor. Upon entering your attention is captured by a large, SCOBY like semi-circle of red and yellow fabric that dominates the middle of the back wall. On either side of this, on adjacent walls, are two television screens looping videos of cheap-looking metallic incense holders – the epitome of a seasonal tourist’s idea of the perfect gift for their teenage grandchild – as they burn and fill a crystalline background with smoke. The audio of these videos features a soothing, vaguely hypnotic, meditation walkthrough, designed to impose distraction from the fizzle of the outside world. Although this piece does, occasionally, come across like the introduction to a cheesy theme park ride, making it difficult to take seriously at times.

Figure 2: Frances Disley, Pattern Buffer installation view, image, courtesy of Bluecoat (2020)

There is a shelf of multi-coloured towels rolled up like ham; window seats with pint-sized allotments featuring epiphytes – plants which survive through a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship with their host plant; forest green fabrics hung on the windowed wall dyed by hand with powders mixed in a saucepan (see Figure 3). Everywhere you look there is evidence of scrutiny and expert curation. It is peculiarly beautiful; both rooms blending into each other in a luxurious fashion. Even the lighting is tailored to ensure a calm transition between the spaces.


The key to this immaculate cohesion is a focus on the sensory; and colour is crucial here. The whole experience plays out visually like a kaleidoscope of blanched, anaesthetic pigments. Each room has its own compendium of shades, like a Dulux colour chart, and the result is something of a three-dimensional mood-board, as though curated to arrive at the destination of a particular emotion. In each of these rooms you can’t help but be forced into role-play. From the invasion of the imitation jungle flora downstairs – which makes you think of the humid winds of somewhere in the Caribbean; to the computer chip landscape of the gallery upstairs – with its flowers printed on fabrics that perspire scents of incense and myrrh – you feel as though wading into an ocean, a marble white strip of imaginary sand imposing itself on your retina. There are gaps left with the intention of the audience filling them, and the grid is created exactly for this purpose.

Frances Disley, Pattern Buffer, Bluecoat Installation View, 2020.

Interaction is avidly encouraged, and each of the textures on display are tailored to seduce the visitor into touch. This, oddly, lends the space an air of respect; more than once I witnessed a viewer set a domino piece parallel to its board, or lift the leaf of a bromeliad with their fingertips as though pruning it for their own garden. Overall, the result feels something like what a hallucinogenic reaction under the influence of homeopathic herbs would be, something only describable in abstractions, like descending into a bath at room-temperature, or the cooling of the blood after leaving it: almost tangible, but not quite.

In a previous interview with the Liverpool Biennial, Disley referred to her use of installations as three-dimensional expansions of paintings which often require ‘activation’ through audience interaction and/or scheduled performances. The aim here is to create fluidity, as much between mind, body and spirit as a blurring of the lines between artist and audience. Disley wishes her viewers to become a part of the work, for each of them to change the space and how it is perceived, to remove the passivity of spectatorship and explode the image from the frame, bring it to life so to speak. She wishes the space to be as much ours as it is hers. She would like, I think, to establish an atmosphere that induces synaesthesia, for people to enter the space she has created and view it as strangely familiar, though not quite knowing why, to enter and exhale – the simulacrum of the end of a good, honest hard day of work – saying, ‘Ah, that’s better.’, before promptly settling in and falling asleep on the spot. She hasn’t made a half-bad effort at her goals, though there are still a few elements of her practice which require polishing. However, the exhibition is most certainly, non-conventionally, beautiful.

– Reece Griffiths

Index of Sources

Pattern Buffer. (2020). [Exhibition]. Liverpool: The Bluecoat. 13 March – 21 June 2020.

Disley, Frances. (2020). [Website page]. pattern buffer. Available at (Accessed: 04/04/20)

We Are Where We Are: Presented by Liverpool Biennial with BALTIC. (2018). [YouTube video] Available at (Accessed: 04/04/20)