Surface Gallery

I’ve started this review many times in my head. Turning it over and over. Unsure how to approach the prospect of reviewing my peers, possibly even my friends. The first show of a collective of Nottingham Trent’s most recent graduates from 2009; Sixes and Sevens – Part 1 at Surface Gallery, Nottingham.(….road name etc…?) The year that were above me. The creative ego is a delicate thing. When they asked me if I could review their show, I imagine to rise their profile, I was more than happy to help. But the difficulties I faced became apparent very quickly.

How can I give an objective review? Should I? How can I/should I use my knowledge to further illuminate or expand on the show, its works and their makers? How brave should I be in my approach? Why not spout some propaganda material? What is the purpose of these reviews anyway? I guess they can be used for many different reasons; publicity, reflection, insight, a platform for discussion, a confessional, a diatribe, an artwork….? The reviewer is in the privileged and unfortunate position of being essentially alone with a keyboard and maybe some thoughts.

I listened secretly at the private view for any insights. I’ve inquired about different perspectives on the show as a whole, and individual sections after from a variety of people. I’ve been party to conversations with the artists about their own intentions. And this all just confused me more. I realised I was trying to conduct a mental survey in order to eleviate my responsibility from this review. I was trying to chicken out.

What bound the works for me were the artists themselves. The themes they set out of an unknown state in flux perfectly captured the varied nature of content held within the walls of the gallery. And I was in a privileged position in knowing the artists at the establishment where they met. So for me it was their individual development, specifically from their degree show pieces which held the most interest.

Emily Birrell’s ‘Think Tank’ literally took the audience inside the mysterious confines previously explored in her degree show piece, and for me was one of the strongest works at the Surface Gallery. Some people thought it was a very imposing masculine black structure dominating the end of the gallery space. Until they stepped inside. I totally agree, inside had a serene, almost womb-like (?) quality of peace and calm. Especially at the private view, when the buzz of ‘who’s-who’ can often interrupt the full appreciation of works, ‘Think Tank’ provided time for contemplation amongst this noisy milieu.

David Bance’s collection of 6 paintings seemed to show an artist freed from the shackles of intellectual self-referentiality and justification that a fine art course can impose. A real engagement with the medium shone through, allowing the paintings to speak on their own terms. These terms were subtle and sombre possessing a welcome dry wit. Simon Franklin’s ‘No Longer Showing’ also held such humour. Showing the continuing refinement of his practice in being made entirely and lovingly from paper, his suggestion of a boxed artwork awaiting shipment complete with packaging tape and a beautifully crafted stanley knife disoriented the audience. With the laboured execution of the piece in opposition to the seemingly unresolved presentation of a work hidden and packaged in order to be shipped away. I couldn’t help think ‘No Longer Showing’ alluded to Simon Franklin being chosen for a show in Eindhoven over summer. Again, dry wit in action that I appreciated.

Elsewhere Samuel Minton’s ‘Residue’ apparently took Simon’s believability to further heights and was cleared up by the cleaners believing it to be rubbish. Meg Tait’s deadpan ‘Live Art/Evil Rat’ was so deadpan, one could almost believe she arrived from a fancy dress party to view the work with the rest of us. Antonietta Sacco’s precise paintings had more focus than her sprawling degree show piece. Dan Green’s amazingly titled ‘Wanderer Above the Sea at Zennor OR Listening to Trewhella’ shows himself looking through the gallery walls in a distinctly romantic pose. The title leads me to think Dan Green may have been responsible for the show’s accompanying literature concerning Sixes and Sevens ‘…current movements.’ But where his title was so ridiculous to be absurd, I found the literature to be too indulgent to be clear. Sorry Dan if you didn’t write it, I should have checked before now.

With James Huyton’s ‘Prototype’, careful attention through the envelope-made ‘windows’ was rewarded with paintings within the carefully constructed bag. Lotti V Closs’s ‘Dymaxion Crossings’ held a strange untraceable power. And did remind me of the caves underneath Nottingham, viewed as a plan from above. Sarah Duffy’s ‘All my ideas sound better on paper’ were almost overlooked on the way in, but provided another wry smile on the way out.

I enjoyed ‘Part 1’. I thought it showed a group of individuals foraging boldly into exhibiting on their own terms after graduating. What this terms are, as they fully acknowledge, are still in the process of being determined. As it should be I believe. But its a step in the right direction.