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Lazarides - Greek Street, London
9 - 30 May 2008
Reviewed by: Dan Green »
It seems that more recently the city has been the centre of the art world’s attention. A fascination with social breakdowns and the interaction between the citizens and their habitat, a ‘canvas’ in itself on which to work, or an environment ready to be exploited through peoples habits and perceptions. The city is still relatively new, a modern phenomenon itself beginning to define its surroundings, at times containing the whole world in one place. The city is the centre of the world.
The city’s conception has meant that what is outside of it has had to be defined. The countryside has emerged, its boundaries set by the outskirts of the city. The definition of this ‘outside place is blurred, at what point does one end and the other begin, or do they run into each other, merging and interacting?
Miranda Donovan seems to take a stance of contrasts. Her placement of recognised city facets over paintings of the country idyll set the two apart. The work at Lazarides presents us with a tension of grand proportions. Perhaps though we need to consider what these two entities have come to represent. The city, multifarious in its roles might symbolise progress, similar in effect to the futurist view of the machine, globalisation, interaction on a massive scale, an entering into a multicultural era where social boundaries are broken down and cross-cultural relations are commonplace.
Donovan’s status as a graffiti writer, however, begins to undermine this view. The traditional view of the writer as a member of the underbelly of society, trying to find a voice within the cacophony of sound in the city, making a stand for those with no other way to express their sentiments implies a downward view of the streets, perhaps a negative view of parts of society. The rise of the supermarkets is the subject of one work, ‘Takeover’, invading and beginning to cover the idyllic scene she presents us with. Social issues, competition and the power of money can all be read into works, the city’s streets no longer paved with gold for the hopeful, but becoming a place of struggle, run by those with financial and political might.
The country, on the other hand could be seen to be the opposite. The quaint view of slow, peaceful life set against a backdrop of trees and fields, mills and ruined churches, a happy place, a place removed from he tensions of the city. But if we look at this from the same angle of the city, we begin to find struggling farmers, land being sold for housing, and country towns where the problems of the city are harder to cover up. This might be seen as the result of the cities invasion, importing goods, globalisation and political decisions made out of context. The country is not always the idyllic place of the romantics, unless you are escaping the city for a holiday.
Donovan begins to deal with these issues. ‘Lost World of Innocence’ 1 and 2 show the city depicted through her sculptural use of cement brickwork, looming over the rural scenes. This ominous presence, suggestive of an apparition or monster overlooking its prey, becomes sinister, as if it has snuck in and taken a sleepy landscape by surprise. A threat allowed to grow. It is a heavy cloud on the horizon, a threat to the status quo, a Truman Show-esque barrier to escape.
The country is painted in a traditional style, referencing Dutch landscape painting. The added romanticism of using such an established form gives the impression of Donovan seeing the idyllic side of the country, a refreshing contrast to the city. This perhaps belies her city dweller status, the country as an escape, a refuge. It is perhaps inevitable that she therefore seeks to protect it. The painting is not only styled historically, but depicts tradition, whether that is a ruin or a thatched roof, it is a rural view of fields, villages and cottage industry untouched by the industrial explosion of Victorian times.
It would seem that the city is criticized, viewed as destructive and overbearing. Yet Donovan is a city dweller, more so an artist relying on the city’s character and subcultures to provide her with a backdrop for her work. Considering her use such stylistic elements demonstrating a knowledge and passion for painting and its historical play with landscapes and cityscapes, texture and form. The use of sculptural elements recognises Kiefer and demonstrates an inquisitive look at the structure of the city rather than just its overall form. We see a zoomed in view, right into the detail of its makeup. The critique is more than skin deep, it echoes into the heart of the issue.
One reviewer mentions Shane Meadows’ film ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’ as a way of ‘jabb(ing) at our assumptions of town and country life.’ Meadows leads us down a path of vengeance and destruction, stepping deep into the small town underworld, uncovering the harshness and mistreatment of one who is seen to be an ‘outsider’, or a modern day village idiot. The underground disillusionment and millitantism of society has always existed. It is not a creation of the city or the divide between the two, although its manifestation may be influenced by these changes. As the lead character mentions, ‘God will forgive them…. I can’t live with that.’ Does this parallel unlock a deeper vista into Donovan’s paintings?
Is the city destroying the countryside? Is there a line between the two? Does their relationship create or break boundaries? Donovan doesn’t answer questions, she prompts them. The viewer is left to question their perception of this perceived divide, to ask if it exists, to place themselves, to delve into the notion that the two may be at odds, or alternatively that they might work together as two entities which complement each others. This review ends hence, leaving these questions unanswered. Placing an opinion is a difficult thing, defending it against another is sometimes nigh on impossible. Assembling evidence is where all good judgements begin; the ability to piece together a balanced viewpoint is the struggle.
Brighton based artist, curator and writer. Member of Sixes & Sevens.
Lazarides - Greek Street
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