AirSpace Gallery
West Midlands

When I first heard about the title of Airspace’s latest exhibition, I was instantly intrigued. ‘Journeymen’ features David Blandy and Antti Laitinen who explore the idea of what it is to be journeymen, experiencing unfamiliar sights and encountering new experiences and skills along their quest.

Antti Laitinen presents his latest commission for Airspace, ‘Lake Deconstruction’. Laitinen is known for his performance work and his ability to use his body as a tool within the work normally demonstrating sheer physical endeavour in order to see a project through and this piece is no exception. Consisting of two short films and three prints, ‘Lake Deconstruction’ sees the artist attempting what the title states, to deconstruct a lake. The two prints ‘Lake Deconstruction 1’ and ‘Lake Deconstruction 2’ beautifully show how the artist has created an intervention by cutting square sections of ice from the lake creating a grid like structure of square section of water and ice. The cut sections of ice have then been carefully placed in such a way to create an immense ice structure resulting in a transformation of the lake. These two beautiful images are complimented by the film ‘Lake Deconstruction’ where we see Laitinen undergoing the intervention of the natural space; armed with a chainsaw the artist cuts through the ice with force dissecting the ice in a precise manner. It’s clear to see the physical challenge that this work presents as the artist struggles to get comfortable and has to undergo tremendous physical exertion to cut, lift and relocate the ice before then proceeding to build the structure. The battle between man and nature continues until Laitinen completes his task and produces the finished ice structure. From here we see the artist battle with the structure once more in ‘Growler’ where the artist has preserved the ice structure only to see him move it across the very same lake, but during the warmer summer months where the lake is fully liquid once more. The physical task is emphasised as we see the artist slowly tug the ice structure behind him as he rows across the lake, whilst simultaneously seeing the ice melt and return to its origin. This is portrayed with the final print also entitled ‘Growler’ as we see a section of irregular formed ice floating on a lake, capturing the final moments of the remaining man-made arrangement. For me, ‘Lake Deconstruction’ questions our values as humans over Mother Nature and our perceived ownership of such things. The artist realised from the start that creating an ice structure presents challenges of preservation, so is an impractical approach overall and this is realised in the outcome of ‘Growler’ where we see how the lengths that the artist has gone to, to preserve the piece, are all in vain. This project presents a journey of ownership and control and the realisations that present themselves once we try and manipulate and extend our levels of domination.

David Blandy sets the scene with a visual spectacular of Manga inspired prints and a life-size cardboard cut-out along with miniature figures presented in a format which suggests they have commercial and collectible appeal. Situated along side of these is a fully working arcade machine which features the game Street Fighter where Blandy has programmed the software to play against an identical character, or to play against oneself. Three films also feature, ‘Crossroads’, ‘Barefoot Lone Pilgrim’ and ‘Child of the Atom.’ After viewing each film it is clear that Blandy is fascinated in discovering how we integrate ourselves in society and how the media we are exposed to, can impact on this. I appreciate his tongue in cheek approach to what are clearly serious matters that pose questions and challenges to us daily; and it is with this approach that he creates a surreal world of exploration. The lines between reality and fiction do become merged as we are exposed to mixed footage of Blandy and a child along with Japanese inspired animation in ‘Child of the Atom’. The intensity of this film is heightened greatly as a result and you can really sense the chaos building throughout the animated sections as it contrasts with the moments of stillness as Blandy takes a small girl on a tour of the Hiroshima Memorial Museum. One sentence that is narrated during the film sums up everything that Blandy is searching for. “My father said that if all those people hadn’t died at once, he wouldn’t exist, I wouldn’t exist. I guess I wish it was different, but a wish is only a wish.” Haunting words of what the small child will come to realise in time as her innocence and naivety fades with age. As with ‘Crossroads’ Blandy explores the history of Blues, it’s origin and how its impact on future generations would not have been achieved if it was not for the repression of black people and the parodies that followed such as the minstrel show. It demonstrates a searching of knowledge and to be like the ‘masters’ that we idolise to an extent, but without realising initially what it took for such things to exist and form. It summaries how we are shaped as individuals over time and seek to be like the representations that the media presents to us.

What both artists have demonstrated is the level of time and commitment that was required in order to make this exhibition possible and each work in itself demonstrates a quest of the artist to develop their understandings of their practice and exploration of the world that they inhabit. This exhibition presents something that I feel most artists can relate to and even those that do not work in a creative field; where we all struggle to learn, understand and better ourselves through the interactions we encounter each day and throughout our lives.