Surface Gallery
East Midlands

The idea of pseudo-scientific artwork is one that intrigues me greatly, as it embraces the oddly linked worlds of art and science in their lust for knowledge, explanation and understanding. At the same time however, there is a certain gauche apprehension for artists as they venture into a foreign, possibly daunting, realm of maths, physics and facts. It is from this stance that I encountered ‘Measure and Purpose’ at Surface Gallery, an exhibition of work from two Fine Art MA graduates.

My first encounter was with the small framed works in the entrance by Pippa Gatty, displaying painted and cut pages of old books. Two images of mountainous landscapes were entitled ‘Happy Mountain’ & ‘Sad Mountain’ and I was amused to see these sentiments visible in the curved mouth-like contours of the landscapes. Cut-out circles from these initial images suggested binocular-vision, but slightly disconcertingly also served as the mountain’s eyes looking back at the spectator. Throughout this exhibition there is an odd relationship between landscape and viewer, with the search for understanding always drawing our attention back to faraway horizons and foreign lands with a longing for the unattainable.

Surface Gallery is a difficult space to fill, but this exhibition uses dramatic contrasts in light to deal with this well. As in the back of a dusty library or a room full of stuffed animals, an eerie sense of mystery and knowledge pervaded the space. This is not a knowledge that is accessible however, and there is a definite sense of playing pretend at being a scientist. A large triptych of paintings by Brigden for example, seem to depict small collections of obscure items, yet are so unrecognisable as objects that they cannot sustain interest. In a similar manner, museum-like presentation boxes on the gallery floor draw attention with bright lights and peculiar numbered articles within. Hinting at archived discoveries, and labelled artefacts of intrigue, there is unfortunately a meaninglessness from these white, bland objects that is almost the opposite of all that is exciting about the aforementioned. Also problematic, were the numerous ceramic stars adorning much of one wall. Appearing childlike in their roughly cast form, I considered the possibility that they were mapping out a real constellation. Yet even if this was the case, they failed to achieve a balance between amateurism and expertise – erring far more toward the slightly naff.

Placing itself successfully in this equilibrium however, was the wonderfully simple projection of Pippa Gatty. Two circles of moving image suggest the gaze of binoculars, yet what we actually see appears to be crumpled paper and a wavering green light. What is created is a beautiful murky landscape of snowy mountains lit by aurora Borealis. Filled with a sense of wonder, it is something that we don’t understand, and yet it is just paper. On the opposite side of the gallery space, a similarly mysterious set of black panels were lit intermittently by the light of an endlessly circling torch attached to a record player mounted on the ceiling. On closer inspection, these panels seemed more like granite, containing tiny star-like flecks. Feeling like I was watching a lighthouse scan the infinite night sky, I was reminded of the vast questions faced within science and a sense of futility in trying to answer them.

The work of these two female artists undoubtedly draw some interesting parallels, but I found Gatty’s work far more convincing, and well executed. That of Kate Brigden seemed amateur in it’s method of creation, yet if this was purposeful then it was not pushed as far as it could have been. In ‘Measure and Purpose’ we are presented with collection, study, seeking patterns, correlation and order. But what does it all come to? The concept is rich and exciting and with so many artists such as Sophie Calle and Joseph Cornell concerned with this area , it is unfortunate that here it has come to fruition in a slightly aimless collection of work. The intensity and atmosphere coupled with an innovative method of creation embodied in Gatty’s projection is missing elsewhere. Perhaps she achieves these qualities in her work by ‘the act of pretending and believing’ [Surface Gallery], as she builds a reality, even if existent only in her mind, that can be drawn upon.