The Stuff of the Art Stuff

It’s a shabby, overcast and spittle afternoon in Portsmouth. We’ve had slow traffic through the doors. A few bodies sit, shrugged over hot chocolates, sniffling, in the café. Gallery 1 is all stillness and video flicker and ‘where are you, Bill?’ (an empty question asked to an empty room). Today is one of those days that have no use of art. Perhaps they are too compelling, visually, to need an artist’s enhanced focus. Rainy, dreary streets are the stuff of emotive drama, a cipher for thoughtfulness, alienation and unrest. We are all lonely when it rains, staring out of rain-shattered windows. Artists are the professional lonely, they become expert in sustaining a dialogue with themselves (it is make-believe that they are ever talking to us, just because the eyes of an artwork follow us about doesn’t infer a conversation is being had). On such miserable days as this, we’re all artists, we don’t need other people’s art. Or do we?

My own reasons for engaging with other’s art are always in flux. I used to aspire to the sheer audacity of being I felt imbued the exhibited work of artists. That still occurs, but nowadays I’m essaying the means, mode, the weight and concerns of artwork more. I recall the grievous shock I had on discovering not all artists are socialist. Not all artists are nice, some aren’t even creative. I always look to be moved by artwork (a plastic expectation – if the work in and of itself doesn’t effect me, the sheer material of it might). So, what if I stumbled into aspex today – what might I make of Emergency 5?

Taking a joy in material is not artistic in itself. We all know what we like. While some go for the sheer-lines and gloss of sports cars, others collect the biscuit-brutality of Troika. There are certain people who like to get sweaty in PVC, because it alters them, it confers a pleasurable difference on them. The material of objects has be important to us, we’re experience-educated, we’re brought-up touchy-feelie. So, let’s visit the Emergency 5 exhibition on a tactile, surface quality, material jaunt – see what delights the ‘stuff’ of the artworks offer up.

Okay, just to be clear, I’m not saying ‘touch the art’ – please, don’t touch the art – eyes are amazing things, they can speak to your fingertips, they’ll tell you what it would be like to physically touch – artists draw on this common lexicon of learned textures to compose their work – so, TOUCH WITH YOUR EYES

Kit Craig’s The Bracketed Space is quite the bi-polar bear of material substance – the rasp grey concrete discs contrasting hard with the brilliant white egg-shell blank of the flat surfaces. Especially in the context of the gallery’s white rectangle, the painted planes suggest walls, walls mapping spaces, space like unfinished rooms. The materials refer to construction, to building, to architecture, to Modernist aesthetics, implying a reference to Brutalism (visit the Hayward Gallery for an understanding of the term). Simply put, they are the stuff of a modern apartment, of those boxy Grand Designs self-builds. They are materials that speak of clean, empty space. And that’s there in the work’s title –The Bracketed Space. Enclosing, surrounding space. It’s not domestic, it got none of the paint-bruising, furniture-ravished dustiness of an emptied bedroom – it’s an organisational space, a modern institutional space. Like any emptiness, it elaborates on arrangement, on composition. The introduction of the framed image into the piece draws the gallery wall into the composition, into playing the role of a wall in the ‘bracketed space’. I can reveal, there’s a precise relationship between the pencil ‘x’ in the image and one of the two low walls above the sphere (the adjunct form). Again, a material reference to modern gallery environments, white walls, concrete and frame.

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There’s some conjuring with material expectation in The Bracketed Space, the concrete elements were cast from polystyrene, this makes them look light, a quality heightened by their hovering atop rods. These ‘mushroom’ forms remind me of the mildewy corner of a room I rented, weedy fungi started to grow from the muck-carpet – Kit’s are sterile fungi for Modernist corners (that’s just a trigger they’ve pulled inside my head, don’t go looking for this in the work – such thoughts are the bonus tracks).

Hania Stella-Sawicka’s Table of Practice is about construction too. The materials are planed wood, paint-coated metal, MDF, leather, plastic and avocado stones. The benches reference changing rooms: immaculate, unused changing rooms. With the ‘tool’-like elements about, the benches refer to IKEA, to a process of ‘putting together’ – the bespoke nature of the tool forms might represent the bits and bobs IKEA include, without which the furniture cannot be made. The leather of the pouches gives these MDF tools an air of authority, of fetishism. They might be the instruments of a highly-skilled professional, or the prized boy’s-toys of a DIY enthusiast. Then, like in Kit’s work, there’s the conjuring with materials: the precise, worked finish of the benches seems at odds with the MDF tools that it’s suggested made them. What is Hania saying about ‘practice’ – a word that’s been adopted by most in the art world as a means of professionalising artists (it avoids the need for ‘I do this, I do that’, it becomes ‘in my practice’)? Is there an answer to illicit from the curvy stacks and avocado stones? They say ‘vase’ to me, they’ve a candlestick form, a suggestion of a barley twist – they’re practical, it seems, they hold the avocado seeds in place to grow, they hold water. One holds a cream, an avocado cream, I think. The forms are a mechanism in the making of this cream, an engine perhaps. Looking carefully at Table of Practice, there’s sawdust and calibrating tools left underneath, suggesting adjustment or an unfinished state, or to signify the non-pristine nature of making – there’s a smear of something on one leg, it might’ve been applied on purpose (a tool is coated in the same goo) or it’s an accident, a missed issue, a clumsiness in the making amplified by the fine quality of the rest of it.

I’ll need to think about both works beyond the material, but I feel launched on the right ocean. I’m not suggesting the works are a conundrum to be resolved – looking and seeing don’t function in finites, they collaborate in making sense of things (sense isn’t a resolution – it’s at best an estimation or empirical guess). Sometimes, the work is all about the material.

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Dan Coopey’s Untitled (Stutter) are material as medium. They are drawings. They’re always site specific, regardless of where they’re placed. There are three shaped mirrors to each arrangement. Each mirror has had its silvered backing erased, so the planes are both reflective and transparent. The planes are overlaid. They were ‘drawn’ into position by Dan, they are very precise drawings too. Mirrors always discuss ‘us’ – you – the Janus viewer, looking into and out of. Transparency is a monologue, it shows us what we could already see. Here, the material conjures – the actual gallery is multiplied, tilted askew, and denied. You might not appear in the reflection, though you’re stood facing the work – instead you have become a hanging rope of gloss black orbs, or a tv. Polished mirror, heck, polished glass is always futuristic, classic and cheap ( as in Disco cheap, tacky-exotic) – it’s nightclubs, skyscrapers and nightmares. It’s silver, it’s jewels. We can share in Dan’s delight, in his revery with the substance of glass, mirrored or not, or we just shrug and move on. It has an effect on you, or it doesn’t.

There will still be chains of thought that’ll run barefoot through your mind after seeing Dan’s work, all manner of contextual, incongruous and perverse thoughts will pop into your head. It is inevitable. Immediacy doesn’t mean slightness.

Blue Curry’s two works are immediate. They’re uncomplicated, I think. The tyres sequinned with aduki beans, they’re such tactile objects – DON”T TOUCH – they’re so satisfying. They might not require any greater sense than existing (the way jewellery, or ceramics, or designer stuff doesn’t) – but the tyres have been Africian-ised. Africa and tyres. South Africa and tyres. In the 80’s vigilante’s in South African townships, often in the name of the ANC, used ‘necklacing’ as a form of lynching. They’d place a tyre over the head and shoulders of the victim and set it alight. Gruesome. Consider Blue’s work again. There’s that conjuring, the distraction of the material disguising the darker narrative. I might be wrong (but I don’t care – if you ask the artist, they could or could try and explain away a work, only that’s negating their raison d’état – if you’re to enjoy Visual Art, you must always ask the artwork your questions.

Introducing…Tom Iriks

The only photographer whose work will be shown at EMERGENCY5, Tom hails from Antwerp, Belgium. His sumission for the show consists of images taken in the subway in Brussels.

Tom Iriks

Tom’s work highlights a space that rarely receives much attention, due to its nature as a place that is just a trajectory, a part of a line connecting one place with another in the urbanized world.

Tom Iriks

Tom Iriks

To see more of Tom’s stunning images take a look at his blog.

It ends in stillness…

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It hasn’t been a frantic installation. I’ve experienced a few skin-of-the-teeth installs, many f’ing & blindingly tense installs, but this was a steady affair. The first artist to arrive, Hania Stella-Sawicka, installed her work in an empty gallery on Sunday. Scott Mason was with us on Monday – and we experienced a setback, the Mac Mini I’d set-up to run Scott’s digital work failed. Then, the replacement fell out with the monitor. We ended up switching monitors with Charlie Tweed – phew! Tuesday, three artists rolled in – Blue Curry, Dan Coopey and Kit Craig. They set about installing with minimum fuss, which was cool. We took delivery of Julian Brown and Duncan Swann’s work on Wednesday, and hung it (what else). Finally, Tom Iriks arrived with his photographs today. So, it’s all up. The projection room is finished for Christine Sullivan & Rob Flint’s audio/video piece (hand-painted screen, hand-rollered, using plenty of thin coats of emulsion and three even coats of Off Broadway, this plush light-reflecting paint, sweet). Job’s a good un.

Audio is always tricky. More so when there’re three works with audio tracks. Ours isn’t a large enough gallery to pool audio sources (where the closest sound overrides the rest). We’ve a work that is essentially an audio piece – so that plays open, out loud (though the recording could’ve benefited from a second mic). The other two are videos, they’ll use headphones (TWO pairs of Senneheiser closed cup, two pairs Lindy noise reduction). Yep, it’s a compromise – or is it, when there’s no alternative? Artists need to consider, to take responsibility for, the means of exhibiting artwork – with video, how can it be shown (which isn’t the same as how you’s like it to be shown), can it be projected or screened on a monitor etc. Most galleries have a limited store of tech, if an artist is too prescriptive their work is likely to be dropped, it all comes down to budgets. Still, good galleries will attempt to find the right tech for exhibiting a work. And, when it comes to space, what can a gallery do, it’s cloth is cut – it must remember that fact when organising a show, and so must the artist (don’t scale yourself out of shows). Also, when submitting work for consideration, do include useful dimensions – minimum floor space required, minimum height, not just the physical dimensions.

Anyway, tomorrow, my role in achieving a successful exhibition is done (bar maintainance) – every show for me is a flurry, this tumult that ends in stillness, when everything is still, held in the aspic of the lamp’s light, then, hey do, I’m away, headed to the next bustle. It’s almost impossible to know an exhibition until some weeks after installation, when it’s stripped of personality, issues and over-familiarity. I think this is a strong show, I’m guessing it won’t be devalued once I can really appreciate it – what I can’t even consider (because Emergency 5 is a competition) is the individual merit of the works, which should be deemed a winner. It’s not an aesthetic or even a truly critical judgement that the selectors make in deciding the winner, it’s an assessment of readiness, timeliness and benefit of a solo exhibition for the artist. The year or so between Emergency5 and that solo show is not very much time, it isn’t, the artist will have plenty of other commitments (or the selectors have missed something) – and, yep, there’s life to lead, with rent or mortgages to make, money jobs to be done (studios to be found, paid for – forget storage!). The winner of Emergency5 must be well on the road to sustaining a solo exhibition. I couldn’t select, it would be like slaughtering one turkey for Christmas when you’ve given the all the birds names. Nearly every artwork in Emergency has a face attached, came with a hand I shook, with a decent human being attached. Bloody artists!

Introducing…Blue Curry

Some of the sculptural elements of EMERGENCY5 will be provided by Blue Curry, an artist born in the Bahamas, who now works both in London and Nassau. aspex will present two of his works in Gallery 1, which according to Blue Curry, ‘float ambiguously between the ethnographic object, the cheap tourist souvenir and slick contemporary art.’

Blue Curry Untitled (used car tyres, beans)

I’m looking forward to seeing how both of these sculptures sit within the gallery space, particularly the second piece, a bundle of fishing buoys that look like a giant necklace, made from polished resin and crystal rhinestones. aspex is an apt setting for this artwork, seeing as the gallery is so close to the sea, and just around the corner from the Camber. Maybe it’ll start a trend for blinged-out buoys among the local fishermen.

Blue Curry Untitled (rope, polystyrene buoys, resin, crystal rhinestones)

Introducing…Julian Brown

Born in Dorset, Julian Brown lives and works in London. aspex will be showing two of his paintings in EMERGENCY5, Buccaneers and Zapora, painted in acrylic on canvas and linen.

Julian Brown, Zapora

According to Brown’s artistic statement,’ the imagery in my work is heavily influenced by nostalgic visions of the 1980s and the folk art from my mother’s Polish heritage. Both of these worlds have a handmade geometric quality that has a playful and primitive relevance to the world we now live in. I try to explore this ‘clunkiness’ with tactile images that sit somewhere between order and chaos, structure and collapse, expression and control. While the underpinning of the process is held together by predetermined structures, the freewheeling application is purposely engaging and ambivalent to the expressive urge to dictate the paintings.’

Julian Brown, Buccaneers

Next year watch out for Julian’s contribution to the Big Egg Hunt, one of over 200 unique eggs created by leading artists, jewellers, architects and designers which will be hidden around London, starting in February 2012.