Visual art exhibitions and events with a platform for critical writing
Aid & Abet, Cambridge
1 - 30 July
Reviewed by: Benet spencer »
'Art As a Full Time Hobby' is not really an exhibition in any conventional sense. A group of artists, musicians and collectives have been invited to inhabit the space, with a view to producing work during the course of the show, in a celebration of all things DIY. Alongside, stalls display a range of output including zines, limited edition artworks and artist's books. Both production and product have equal focus: the informal nature of the artworks coming into being and the more formal business of presenting this to a gallery-visiting public.
Perfectly reflecting Aid and Abet's self-help philosophy, 'Art As a Full Time Hobby' profiles the relationship of the individual to the institution as an important aspect of contemporary practice. The emphasis is on the de-institutionalised presentation of art, with events such as a temporary stall by Permanent Bookshop, a performance by Bird Boy, as well as Bad Timing, an installation by collaborative musical artist Jo Brook, interrupting the normal flow of a fixed-life exhibition. This helps to create an improvised atmosphere that chimes with our age in providing a non-corporate alternative to the money-driven frenzy of mainstream international contemporary art.
In terms of overall design, we are treated to contrasting environments, with the gallery space turned into an artist's studio: wide-ranging reference material and objects of curiosity litter the loosely designated areas of production, with an adjacent viewing area offering a quieter and more focused experience of the elegant installation of the resulting artwork.
Alex Pearl is a compulsive producer in a wide range of processes, often using video to create humorous and melancholic 'mini epic' films of readily available materials and small-world constructions. Here, he is represented by intimate sculptural constructions featuring readymade objects that have been inhabited by miniature model figures - pioneering explorers of discarded canisters, furniture or toys. However, in contrast to the focused display in the rear gallery, the chaos of his studio space provides an intriguing insight into the weird alchemy of object and image that provides the starting point for the production of new work.
Gareth Bayliss brings a different angle to the boy-in-his-bedroom aesthetic. An inveterate doodler, his elegant prints are generated from spontaneous line drawings produced en masse, many examples of which are in evidence in his studio. Like others in the exhibition, Bayliss has a practice that crosses established boundaries, mixing graphic design with art and utilising the internet for the presentation of new work. Here it is his refined prints with retro 1970s kaleidoscope patterns that are featured.
In contrast, Annabel Dover draws and paints in loose painterly fashion the collected ephemera that is displayed on the wall in her studio space, distilling found images towards a poetic rendering that creates a greater resonance with the source material. With a knowing tip of the hat towards luminaries of contemporary painting such as Elizabeth Peyton or Chantal Joffe, Dover's washed out surfaces and choice of image make memory and nostalgia the primary experience. In National Velvet, her multi-part installation of small paintings, the inclusion of images from the walls of Anne Frank's house creates a haunting alternative reading of the small girl persona represented in the 1944 film of the same title.
Craig Atkinson's contribution contains humorous collages with titles such as Sex in the Mountains and Where's Adolf alongside a stall showing the multiple publications of Cafe Royal, the publishing house specialising in artists' books, which he himself founded in 2005. The direct physicality of his collages are very much in keeping with the improvised nature of the exhibition as a whole, while the publications show Atkinson's wide-ranging engagement with production and communication.
The 1970s knitwear images used by Martyn Cross present the kind of retro source material that seems ripe for exploitation. A mixture of implicit and explicit violence pervades these altered images, making these smugly self-satisfied protagonists the victims of the artist's assault - like Doctor Moreau on his island, using dissection as a means of playing God. The images are so much the better for it, with the occasional head lopped off, or the addition of excessive amounts of hair or strangely discoloured arms, the changes enacted cause the weirdly mundane suburban source material to become somehow mythical and extraordinary.
Hobbyism as subject matter has cropped up in various places over recent years, with exhibitions such as the Tate's 'Abracadabra' (1999) seemingly paving the way for a period of playful and interactive art, and representing artists that on the surface at least appeared not to take themselves as seriously as immediate predecessors. Of course, the DIY philosophy is now firmly established as a path for artists to empower themselves through self-initiated projects, with the 1988 'Freeze' exhibition often held up as the best example of such activity. In contrast, Aid & Abet do not propose a one-off event, but have a long-term view of how to galvanise the production and reception of contemporary art in the East of England through an ongoing series of exhibitions and events. As such, their underlying remit is clearly ambitious and has echoes of other innovative artist-run galleries such as City Racing in the 1990s. Situated next to Cambridge station in a large warehouse, the immediate environment is not the historic picture postcard centre of town, but a more neutral space that, although destined for redevelopment, at this point remains an area of post-industrial landscape that artists typically inhabit - the perfect blank canvas for projects such as this with its open examination of the creative process.
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