TROVE recently invited artists Justine Moss and Vicky Cull, to exhibit work on the themes of gold and silver respectively for Au & Ag. The premise of this exhibition was derived partially from the concerns and interests of the two artists, as well as being influenced by TROVE’s historically-rich site in the heart of Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter.
TROVE is not a white cube gallery, but an evocative semi-derelict space filled with history, dust and traces of the building’s former lives. Located in the former Elkington Silver Electroplating Works, the site later became Birmingham’s Museum of Science and Industry until its closure in the 1990s. The site was therefore a particularly fitting context to display works connected with gold and silver. Firstly in conceptual terms, the site has specific links to manufacturing, to jewellery and to the idea of the museum as a place for keeping safe objects of value. Secondly, the visual contrast between the unfinished condition of the site and the sparkling opulence of the works on display was rich and compelling. TROVE has had a number of exhibitions, Glorious Rubble and Show of Science in particular, which have drawn on these contrasts, as well as the history or possible histories of the site. For me, these have been some of TROVE’s most successful projects to date, and Au & Ag is one of these projects.
The first piece of work I encountered upon arriving was 5 Kilos of Silver Glitter by Vicky Cull, an installation positioned at the entrance of the gallery which you were required to walk through in order to enter the building. Traces of sparkling footsteps were left throughout the space. The exhibition text described the inspiration for Cull’s work as taken directly from the history of TROVE’s site in connection to the electroplating process. Her glitter installation was specifically influenced by stories of the silver dust which collected on the floors of the former-factory, which meant they were extremely valuable commodities in themselves. For Au & Ag, Cull also showed a sensitively displayed collection of manipulated postcard works. As well as an interest in ideas of value and beauty, more broadly Cull is interested in notions of history, place and mass-produced imagery, with this installation and others in her D.I.A.N.A. and Family series of postcards explicitly addressing ideas of royalty and fame.
Rather than being directly influenced by the specificities of the site, the work Justine Moss produced for Au & Ag took influence from a visit the artist recently made to Russia. Moss showed a large sheet daubed with writing in 32 ½ carat gold. The text was taken directly from diaries she kept documenting the opulence of the various palaces she visited. The curtain-like sweep of Moss’ installation provided a theatrical backdrop to the large space. Moss’ installation looked to address similar conceptual concerns as Cull, though from a very different cultural perspective, and with a more wide-reaching symbolism. Although Moss exhibited one very large piece in comparison with Cull’s series of small works, for me her installation was a little overshadowed by the quality of Cull’s more intricate pieces.
TROVE’s clever use of the space complemented the selection of works. For instance, the raised concrete blocks which form part of the site where used as alter-like structures for Cull’s works, and candles were used to give a warm golden light to the space. There was an atmosphere of reverence and slight unease throughout the exhibition, which was owed in part to these tools. For me, Cull’s 5 Kilos of Silver Glitter was the highlight of the exhibition. This installation, like the exhibition, was simple but engaging and delightful on a very child-like and charming level.