- The Space In-Between
The Space In-Between project: 'Forensic'
Artists: Linda Duffy / Mo Lewis / Stuart Mayes / Joao Ornelas / Dolores Sanchez Calvo / m p villaseñor / Mandy Williams
Dank is a sensation that steals into your nose. A starker backdrop than the glare of the whitest walls, it has the potential to drain artworks' precious command on your attention. But it has an allure. How many old warehouses, windowless dirt-floored and generally creepy environments have I stepped into to indulge myself in some art? Advantages exist: if it's a giant melting ice cube like Anya Gallaccio's, then the damp and dinginess makes practical sense; if it's a show exploring alienation and subjectivities like "strangers to ourselves", then the inhospitable is the perfect mood enhancer. But you don't usually want to stick around. 55 Leroy St is a space whose lower floors are dank. Over a hundred years old and with very little to show for it, the prospect looks bleak. Forensic is a show that brought selected artists together to respond to and occupy number 55.
Mo Lewis installed herself before anyone else, to include a deserted building in her cycle of photographed interiors. But after a few shots she put aside the camera. She discovered that at a certain time of day she was joined by an assembly of patches of pure sunlight that hit a corner of the space like a burning message. As cosmic rules will have it, the earth and sun shift into a position from November to March to direct beams that steal across the wall and disappear. The photographer left her instrument of light, to pick up a stick of compacted carbon to trace this phenomenon. The concept of forensic exploration led her to forgo her clean images fused with light, and run with smudgy tracings of the black stuff. Taking the matter of light literally into her own hands she made a scrawling connection between the dingy wall and our local star. It's as if the marks span lifetimes.
Light and dark, inside, outside, the promise of an exclusive peek into the bowels of the building was set up by Stuart Mayes. Naming his work after Janus, the Roman two-faced figure that gazes into the future and the past, Mayes creates an axis, an imaginary shaft of vision running through no.55. The visitor mounts a step ladder to peer into the velvet dark of unlit space. No more no less, no tricks. A precarious seductive stillness. Then down to a peephole in the floor directly under. On your knees with your breath raising the floorboard dust-mites, vision itself is proved imaginary as it is blocked by the impenetrable concrete ceiling underneath. Dolores Sanchez Calvo, whose suitably dank industrial door opens onto solid wall reinforces the feeling that projection is futile. The bunker-strength of the building's fabric confines artists' visions to their quarters, but nevertheless they resist. Joao Ornelas breaks through partition walls with glee, and frames the damage. The rest is archive and scratchings.
Once ringing with the racket of light industry in the manufacture of undergarments, m pi villaseñor recalls this history with impossibly delicate porcelain casts of her friends' donated knickers, pants. You duck to avoid shattering the clay surrogates that hang like a ghostly clothes line, reminiscent of the terracotta soldiers and their bid for immortality. Dankness is fertile as Linda Duffy, artist and curator of the show found, when she performed a series of investigations, collecting evidence in the form of scrapings, labelling the jars, mapping the samplings, discarding nothing. On another wall, cotton thread and pins create a circular timeline radiating with clusters of facts that relate to the material worlds that emerged to make up a history of people and businesses.
Patterns emerge in an asymmetrical way as the web suggests how the fabric of an unadorned, essentially dull building in a monotonous backstreet of Southwark has been turned inside out by curiosity. To enter the show is to confront detailed detritus as the histories of the building are displayed. m pi villaseñor ‘s grid of used teabags commemorate its past as a tea store while the long scroll like photograph of Mandy Williams that hung like a length of wallpaper patterned with images of women's hands and the goods they manufactured – clothes hangers, hooks and eyes – recalled another phase of no.55. Patches of wallpaper are scratched away to disclose the years of interior decorating changes while a row of random objects collected by Duffy, such as tea trays from Sydney, Australia, a wig, pairs of shoes, recall human occupation and past businesses like a shrine.
What does all this investigation reward us with? To make damp decrepitude friendly is a feat in itself. But before renovation gets underway to make no. 55 emerge as a shiny new residential development, it is more than good and worthy to enjoy this brief moment of reclamation by artists with scalpels, hammers and pieces of charcoal. It is good to be reminded that sunlight will trace the same paths across the walls, as long as they stand with a window by their side.