2nd April – 7th April 2007
By Anna Francis
What has been going on in the bowels of the airspace gallery? Shortcuts, the first AirSpace members’ show, seeks to answer this question, giving the viewer a unique insight into the varied investigations being undertaken in the studio space below the gallery. This is an unusual show in a number of ways, not least due to the quick turnaround, from conception stage (let’s have a show) to completion. It is rare that the viewing audience is allowed access to an artist’s work at any stage other than resolution, but Shortcuts opens the dialogue between viewer and artist at varying stages of the respective creative processes. The overriding idea that what is being presented here are selected parts of the studio artists’ continuing practices, when what we often expect to see when visiting an exhibition is the endpoint, by no means diminishes the impact of the work shown.
On entry to the gallery the first thing I was confronted with was Bernard Charnley’s mammoth figurative painting. Charnley describes the works here as ‘interrogations into the iconic attributes of the human figure as sign’ this is wholly supported by the physicality of the 16ft No Standing and the only slightly smaller Parade. This nod towards semiology, provided by the short artist’s statement invites analysis; the human figure is obviously recognisable, but it is not me, the viewer, but something else, somewhere else. This is not a body, a person, but a figure, with no prescribed identity. These are sculptural paintings, putting one in mind of Giacometti’s elongated figures, there is something destitute about these works, like a Holocaust memorial – they are outside of my life’s primary experience, but are still recognisable for what they may represent.
Katie Shipley’s Plato’s Wax is Forgetting demonstrates for the viewer the frustration and loss of identity associated with Alzheimer’s disease – tiny assemblages of photographic materials and personal trinkets embedded in wax, displayed with a looped sound piece. The irony of the doctor’s insistent, relentless questioning were not lost on me, having spent time in the company of sufferers of the disease. Questions form the daily reality for the sufferer, and their carer, as signifiers lose their meaning and faces of loved ones dissolve. The blank labels attached to each disintegrating piece signpost for the viewer the violent destruction of a life, punctuated by the tautological probing of the sound piece.
In New Life Tez Roberts focuses on the cyclical structures of organic life. The suggestion here is that in all things there are possibilities. This is a positive take on the processes of life and inevitable death, suggesting that even in the deconstructive stages there is bound to be something worthy of attention. The piece consists of small containers of moulding matter, these in themselves may solicit disgust in the viewer, but the accompanying microscopic photographs reveal them to be subtly inviting landscapes. Perhaps this is the artist’s way of asking us to view our surroundings differently, in which the pay off may be that we are rewarded by finding beauty where we least expect it. I was expecting to find it in Yu-Chen Wang’s Reconstruction. East-Berlin is an area of frenzied activity, the fall of the Berlin wall has seen developers flood in, and reconstruction sites can be found all across the city. I was expecting Reconstruction to be a poetic account of this regeneration process, and perhaps a portrait of a city in renaissance, but it seemed more of a matter-of-fact document, showing the physical changes being administered to a city. The people moving through the film seem to show their adaptability, being able to negotiate the city, even as barriers spring up in their paths. It did not seem materially important that this was Berlin, it could have been any city anywhere.
Brian Holdcroft’s Path delivered the viewer out of the city, to a barely formed landscape. The fragments making up Path give suggestions of a journey to be embarked upon, a series of broken clues which ultimately frustrate the viewers sense of place. It was with this piece that I was reminded that this show was not about end-points but rather possibilities for future enquiry. It will be interesting to see how Holdcroft’s investigations resolve themselves in future practice.
In Play Christopher Simcox has embraced the speculatory feel of the show, allowing the abandoned factory’s personality to reveal itself. This is an attempt to connect with the architecture of the space and the objects/remnants which remain from the Gallery’s previous incarnation as Pottery factory. Simcox describes the opportunity to work intuitively with the space as a liberating chance to explore materials and their potential, without the sometimes suffocating weight of conceptual reasoning. The assemblage using light, built structures, treacle and unidentified hydraulic parts culminates in an unobtrusive intervention, working with what is given and suggesting alternative realities or improvements for the space.
Andrew Branscombe is also working in sculptural assemblage, but this time with Analyser mk II the viewer’s participation is imperative to understand the function of the machine. Branscombe’s machine consists of a stone wheel attached to a handle, operated by the viewer, which when turned creates a sound picked up by a biscuit tin featuring a friendly dog, this primitive amplification device is then fed through to a computer, which displays the effect of the viewer’s intervention through sound. This complicated system results in little more than a blip on the computer’s monitor, leaving the viewer wondering why, and what exactly is the point. This, it seems, is exactly what was intended for Analyser mk II, which is a commentary on complex scientific equipment.
If Branscombe’s sculpture can be seen as an exercise in futility then David Bethell’s Absence might be viewed as an answer to the riddle of disenfranchised activity. Absence is the swansong of the creative mind, trapped in a prison of pointless or unfulfilling employment. Anyone who has experienced the joyless treadmill that is working in a thankless job may recognise the devices employed here, to make what is intolerable, bearable. What is presented here is the desk of some unnamed proletariat; the wall is plastered with the protagonist’s inane doodlings, fashioned perhaps in the attempt to appear productive. The double-bind here is that the alternatives offered are just as fruitless. A replica of the same space is being beamed to the desks monitor, from a filmed model found in the desk drawer, where the sense of resigned inactivity is amplified to infinity.
This sense of time standing still is echoed in All the time keep feeling the need to destroy, the video offering from Vikki Brown and Richard Brammer. The video presents us with a mundane world, inhabited by a couple from an unfathomable period. They are engaged in everyday activities around the home, taking tea, reading, building model aeroplanes but generally getting under each others feet, while thinly disguising their disdain for one another. The film had the feeling of a sketch, not yet finished – two-dimensional characters waiting to be fleshed out through purpose or dialogue. As a viewer it was difficult to care about or truly believe in either character, although the proposed notions for investigation are present, it is not yet clear whether we are viewing an art film or a pastiche of a dramatic production.
Finally, with Tilda Swinton Matt Roberts provides barely a hint of what his practice might be about. We are told that Roberts has invited Tilda Swinton “muse to artists such as Cornelia Parker and Hussein Chalayan” to the shows opening, with the intention that she will not attend. The viewer is left unsure about the intended purpose of the proposal, and Tilda Swinton remains inconspicuous in her absence.
Shortcuts, on the whole, has provided a long awaited introduction to the very broad-ranging practices of the Airspace Team. It has shown that while some artists thrive under the conditions of producing an exhibitable piece quickly, others clearly require a more considered approach. Despite the lack of an overriding theme for the show (which can be seen, perhaps, as a burden lifted) there are still common concerns which can be identified, and the show comes together in perhaps surprising and previously unconsidered ways. The quick turnaround may have provided an opportunity for some of the artists to investigate an area which may have been left unexplored if given more time. These conditions can often throw up exciting and surprising results. Shortcuts offers a real sense that the team is able to deliver interesting, thought-provoking lines of enquiry and raises the question of what could be possible with further investment. I, for one, will certainly be watching this space.