South East England

GIFT showcases work by The Ideas Exchange, a group of artists working in and around Oxfordshire. The ‘gift’ theme expresses the group’s commitment to exchange and reciprocity.

On entering the gallery the viewer immediately encounters Alex Buhagiar’s When the first 200 letters came… where members of Amnesty sit writing letters of support as a gift to people imprisoned for peacefully expressing their views.

We are offered the gift of human interaction when we meet Ann Rapstoff in her role as representative of The Office for the Dissemination of Sympathy. After filling in a questionnaire to determine where the viewer might need sympathy, Rapstoff offers quirky antidotes that resonate with a sense of poetry. We are prompted by such genuine exchanges to question the value of intimacy and connection within the art institution.

Vicky Vergou’s Blood and Water seems to deny the gift in a traditional sense and sensitively emits a sensibility of something lost and the acceptance of this. Two sleek black columns each holding a bulbous glass vessel; one containing water, the other tiny containers that are used to collect blood, protrude in front of a film showing two changing images that appear clinical yet organic. A voice rises out of each column, one speaking of water and the other of blood. The cool and minimal aesthetic of the piece contrasts sharply with Rapstoff’s convincing office set.

There are a number of video and projection works on show. George Mogg’s ethereal casts of light sweep across the back wall of the gallery and Louise Taylor presents potent and visually succulent imagery in her video Persona non Grata.

The rich visual offerings continue through to the gallery’s first floor where Jo Thomas’s installation of images and curios compel us to contemplate our sense of place. We are made aware of the constant give and take between place and people. Catherine Charnock’s paintings are expressive and fluid. Witch Hole portrays a scene from Maine’s Acadia National Park which was developed through different land owners giving land to preserve a particular area or scene.

Kay Sentance and Darla Rae Oglesby explore notions of the integrity and value of creative giving. In Gift LTD Sentance plays on the word gift. She offers pencils and a territory for the public to be creative in order to promote their own gift or talent in a gallery environment. Oglesby’s The Givers is an audio poem and consists of fragments of thoughts and articulations based on conversations with people who give their artistic skills and expertise to others.

The exhibition expands beyond the physical confines of the gallery. Katy Beinart’s Origination is largely based at Oxford Botanic Gardens where the gift is explored through botanical and cultural inheritances. As well as a dynamic and experimental ongoing performative drawing on the gallery walls, Clare Carswell will carry out a series of performances offering gifts through Bluetooth technology across rural locations in Oxfordshire that reference and rethink English folklore fertility rituals and customs.

GIFT is guaranteed to delight; whether your preference is for oil paint or action and interventions, this show delivers. It presents a diverse group of artists that uniquely tease out meaning from the idea of ‘gift’. However, what ultimately shines through beyond the underlying theme of the exhibition is the strength and integrity of the individual artworks.