- Gage Gallery, Ball Street, Sheffield
There can be an extra frisson about a two-person exhibition, particularly when there is no obvious elision between the artwork, and even more so when curated with sensitivity and verve.
‘Return’ features work by Sue Griffiths and Iris Harris. It appears very different yet there are subtle, underpinning connections. Both practices are a personal and spiritual exploration. Sue’s guides us towards quietly reflecting on who we are, and restates the need for contemplation, to catch up with ourselves. They serve to buy us time out of the hectic nature of modern life; to tune out the noise and tune in to an altogether more peaceful state. Iris addresses contemporary existence more directly, using newspaper clippings and a string of existing and invented aphorisms to interrogate her own place in this world. Through her engaging and open tactics we are also invited to ponder similar questions. She is a modest yet fearless conduit.
Sue’s work is purely abstract. Any sign of motif, any resemblance to anything identifiable, however vague, would affect the effect. Similarly, were they utterly flat, block colour we would surely not be so engaged by a cool, undifferentiated field. We need to see the trace of the authorial hand to truly connect. This is what the artist has presented us with and we are to make of it what we will, should we feel so inclined. The artist’s task is sparking that inclination in some way. It is so easy these days to move on to the next thing, to something seemingly more spectacular, louder and with more glitter.
There are elements of the butterfly mind in the work Iris has presented, and the way it is dotted thoughtfully around the gallery, replicating her restlessness and curiosity. Looking at the detail of some of the pieces, amorphous shapes are sewn onto paper or card. The lines of stitching don’t always follow the form, veering off distractedly like a jazz trumpeter improvising around a theme. Some of the works could be greeting cards – some carrying text, some bearing just the smallest fragment. The text itself is a marvellous jumble of profound, moving thoughts, notes to self, and silliness, adding to the tapestry of what it fully means to be. These are the multiple focal points of postmodernity.
It is brave of Sue to offer us so little, in some respects. Yet it is also a limitless, infinite space.
‘Radical’ is a luscious orange with hints of hues emerging as our eyes adjusts. It is the warmth of the sun, beckoning us closer. A misty form gradually appears. It is a cross. So it has taken our attention and holds it to the point where we are immersed. It is calming and we are allowed to put aside our troubles and exist in the moment. For now, it is always now.
‘Blue Fold’ stands at the far end of the gallery, an understated altarpiece. It is torn down the middle to reveal its wood support, again in the shape of the cross. In its way it is a dramatic statement, the daylight let in upon the magic, the curtain literally pulled back. It is the one piece of Sue’s that interrupts our ability to simultaneously contemplate everything and nothing. We must merely ponder the rationale. The artist has presented the work with its apparent imperfection. The fissure is intentional.
’Return’ is an exhibition of contrasts – timeless versus time-stamped, hypothesis alongside fact. Great credit must be given to the artists for their boldness, and to Naomi McKibbin for arranging with such intelligence and panache.