Visual art exhibitions and events with a platform for critical writing
Stroud House Gallery, Stroud
1 November 6 December
Reviewed by: Dominic Thomas »
Although metal was the given theme of this group show, you could not apply the term 'heavy' to a lot of the work here. That's if you put aside Sidney Brouet's great Pile of Pants a work whose cerebral lightness is inversely proportional to its physical weight. A large pile of ample Y-fronts cast in lead sit on an old wooden chair, the legs of which appear ready to break. In stark contrast Sally Griener's diminutive baby clothes delicately crafted from wire wool, float up the wall with all the solidity of smoke. These wire wool forms continue out through the gallery toilet window where, now rusting away, they merge into the fabric. In fact the combined themes of metal and clothing or fashion come together in several of the more interesting works in this show. There is also something distinctly creepy about much of it. Deborah Lewis' Steel Dress and Sleeve set the scene, creating tension between their feminine forms and masculine material. These ideas are expanded and dealt with more successfully in the work of Katherine Sullivan. Constructed from steel struts and wire mesh, Period Piece is part Victorian bodice, part architectural iron work and part insect. The mesh is almost imperceptibly patterned with a floral design that, far from softening the impact of the rigid steel structure, makes it somehow even more menacing. It may be my Freudian male hang-ups that produce this scary reading, but the Freudian response does suit the nineteenth century vocabulary used in the work. Sullivan's other architectural piece Tower appears equally disturbing: a cage-like folly with inexplicable openings and apertures that seem designed for something far more sinister than merely providing a view in or out of the structure.
An impression of tortured bodies appears to carry on in the work of Madeleine Furness. A series of photographs depict sections of a body or bodies foot, torso, arm, neck all replete with scars in the shape of, for instance, a boot's metal eyelets, a zip fastener or a necklace chain. But these photographs are only the starting point of a project that opens up a number of interesting avenues of exploration for the viewer. Lightning Safe Jewellery is based on the observation that the victims of lightning strikes are often scarred or 'branded' by the intense heat generated in any metal objects that happen to be in contact with the skin. Furness has decided to combat this statistically microscopic danger by creating a whole range of rubber-coated metal objects from coins and keys, to necklaces, bracelets and earrings. It's a paranoid gesture that negates the very qualities of the material gold, silver, steel that once made the items attractive, stylish or wearable. Everything is rendered in a uniform dull black detail-erasing finish and the whole exercise is perfectly encapsulated in Furness' publicity catchphrase, "real solutions to unreal problems". Yet beyond the undoubted humour of this absurd venture lies a serious questioning of an increasingly health and safety obsessed world of control and litigation. A world where chance and accident can supposedly be eradicated through the judicious acquisitions and the correct lifestyle choices. And then again on closer inspection, this super-safe jewellery does actually have a certain cool, stylish quality of its own, a kind of neo-industrial chic. What really clinched it for me was hearing that Furness is apparently doing rather well selling her Lightning Safe Jewellery through department stores in Japan. It is one of those rare artistic gestures that bridges the gap between concept, object and subject by actually becoming part of the world it so successfully critiques.
Dominic Thomas is an artist, writer, collaborator & cook. His practice focuses on critically and socially engaged collaborative production, and self-organisation and self-education within artist led activity. He is a member of critical collaboration a.Group and is programme co-ordinator at SVA (Stroud Valleys Artspace) and is currently guest editor at aliasart.org
Stroud House Gallery »
Station Road, Stroud GL5 3AP
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