The Malt Cross
East Midlands

Beth Heaney’s exhibition at the Malt Cross gallery is described on its own plaque as the result of a “seven day residency”. The artist has used the space around her, and this short stretch of time, to explore her dialogue with drawing.

The work is very well installed; this gallery has, in my opinion, housed some relatively slapdash exhibitions, sometimes lacking in polish; reducing the overall impact of the content of the work displayed. This came across mostly in the installation of previous works, visible blu-tak and over filling of the space. Heaney’s exhibition, however, feels professional and considered. No pencil mark is unintended and elements such as the tracing paper over the window alter the ambience within the room itself. The lighting proves very important causing varying degrees of shadows, which Heaney captures within her residency.

Remnants of shadows are meticulously pencilled onto all surfaces, sporadically placed, the ghost of a stepladder leans against one corner of the room and an oversized brown paper bag floats, suspended, supporting more tiny pencil marks. It feels slightly intrusive: walking into the gallery is to walk into Heaney’s mind space.

The atmosphere feels oddly formal. Although always alone in the space when wandering around, there is a resonating feeling of thoughtfulness and precision. You can imagine the artist sharpening, following the shadows, tracing them, wiping away and reapplying her marks. The effect of this is, to me, the most interesting. The remains of pencil sharpening are recognition that this is the result of someone. The work relies on the durational aspect of its making and I see the artist everywhere. The performative nature of the work leaves her presence within the walls. It poses the question: ‘Is this a drawing, an installation or a performance?’ I enjoy imagining the soothing sound of scratching lead and the jerky hand movement used to create it.

In contrast, the roll of paper covered in scribbled lines of writing is the only piece in the room that feels aggressive and it lends another perspective to the work. Slightly unsettling in its obsessive nature, it reminds me of school detentions and prisons. This particular piece of work transforms the space into a sentence or punishing regime, yet the marks are so lovingly and carefully applied in all other areas that I feel a disconnect. I feel that particular areas are vaguely feminist (such observations have been made on Heaney’s previous works with never-ending tallies). Yet here this label feels totally irrelevant, the connotations of such delicate and intricate works do not appear at all girly or sentimental, nor do they indicate an entrapment within society. I feel as though this obsessive process of ’capturing time,’ is a task which is all together enjoyable to the artist, it is an exploration into the ‘mark,’ and what this mark means as a stamp, symbol or signature, as well as a documentation of the passing of time. As Heaney states, “It is a static mark yet I am keeping it animated, continuously recording. Keeping time in the present.” Whereas a ‘drawing,’ is ordinarily a still collection of lines and shades, this is a more progressive and lively piece of work. Her recreations of the mundane -shadows, cracks etc, are quite powerful in their simplicity.

It is still a collection of lines and shades, but it no longer feels like a drawing.