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20 February 2 April
Gallery No 1 and New Court Gallery, Repton
Reviewed by: Dan Green »
The notion of working biographically, of delving into the annals of history, re-emerging with a new artefact that communicates something of a person's life and creating a fresh perspective on a historical narrative is intriguing. For 'Meteor', (a title borrowed from Karel Capek's novel where three characters discuss an unconscious, anonymous fourth) Oliver Basciano asked seven artists to re-examine the life of notable (but not necessarily famous) alumni of Repton School.
The viewer is not told what (or should I say who) they are observing, but instead invited to create their own narrative; in other words, the viewer is left to decide whether or not they need to know whose life is depicted within each work, or whether this source of information becomes merely a starting point for each artist to create. In one sense, the works become meta-narratives, yet they also function as monuments to unknown figures and, beyond that, as artefacts in their own right. The viewer effectively acts as one of Capek's characters, providing their own perceived links between the artwork and history.
The resultant artworks are as diverse as the figures they might represent. Each figure has roots within the school where they would have been shaped and developed before heading on a trajectory of their own. This reflection of the journey might sit well with the process of making; each artwork similarly shares a root with the school (and its Wikipedia page) from which its creator has shaped their own path to producing the work. This is no groundbreaking statement, in fact it is seemingly obvious, but there is an inherent truth in the idea of process that allows for the unknown and unexpected to greatly influence the outcome. As the press release states, "truth is only evolved from a multifarious series of fictive ideas".
It is hard to escape the fact that the gallery is within a school. Artist George Henry-Longly's tables could have been removed from a classroom minutes before I arrived, but closer inspection revealed lovingly decorated wooden tops on the functional metal legs, destabilising their accepted conventional use. Similarly, Paul Housley's two portraits are easily assumed to be of a headmaster, his authoritative pose challenged with the heavy brushstrokes employed and the expected backdrop of academic regalia removed. Whilst the two portraits seem to accentuate differing aspects of character one is small and beautifully rendered with delicacy, the second more like a fury-less Bacon both are concerned with colour and form but also questioning whether what we see is a portrait or a still life.
These two portraits sit well with Ian Whitfield's painted offerings. Similarly painted from deconstructed images they have an architectural feel to them, as if all the colour and texture was lifted from city scenes and dropped onto an inconspicuous background to accentuate activity they depict. His third work, Gulled, is a ceramic seagull with a man's legs trailing from its underbelly. All three works bear the bracketed title of 'Sketches for a Life of Mr Norris', notably a reference to Christopher Isherwood's eponymous character in a work often cited for its look at how we find the vulgar and repulsive fascinating.
Dan Coopey presents us with two red sheets of fabric, tethered at the top and bottom by steel rods with two sheets of glass leaning against them, stretching the fabric to create sculptural angles whilst transforming the glass in creating a mirror-like reflection. Justin Jaeckle's Untitled acknowledges Basil Rathbone in its subtitle as well as declaring that it might be considered 'Art for Children'. The re-working of a Magritte Ceci n'est pas une pipe creates an aesthetic that sits with posters made for teaching spaces, mounted on silver paper as if it had been made by a pupil, irreverent yet also in homage.
Maria Georgoula's Reverend D'Ewes Coke is the only work to directly reference its source, a sculptural re-working of a portrait by Joseph Wright of Derby featuring the Reverend with his wife and son, here represented with ephemera that includes duck tape, plastic spoons and a meringue all incorporated into a plinth (this section of the work is laden with meaning enough) placed in front of a green geometric shape painted onto the gallery wall with an unidentifiable object on top. The reveal of the subject adds confusion rather than removing it, forcing the viewer to connect the disparate found objects into a narrative.
These works could be considered akin to a meeting of alumni, back in the old squash courts. Iori Wallace's script almost advocates that, depicting a scene in which all six characters appear to be writing scripts for others' lives. The viewer here becomes a spectator in the theatrical sense, confused by the blank spaces in the script yet nonetheless observing a play within a play.
Brighton based artist, curator and writer. Member of Sixes & Sevens.
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