Castle & Elephant

The Castle and Elephant Gallery, Coventry, is situated in a medium sized, slightly run down shopping arcade in the centre of the city. Amidst the commercial units the gallery’s open shop front window displays a series of high stacked blocks of paper with edges marbled black. A large wooden structure dividing the space within and an MDF plinth with a plasterers’ bowl placed on top are also visible.

The exhibition is open 3 days a week: Thursday through to Saturday. ‘The Three Day Week’ as an appropriated title could suggest much about the current recession climate but in fact has more to do, in the artist’s mind, with the life of an art object outside of the exhibition opening times. The show is at least partially visible throughout the week, unlike many commercial galleries with limited public access.

The unfinished nature and sense of experimentation makes each object in the exhibition at first approach feel accessible. For example ‘Window Sticker’, a bowl filled with stickers of a flaming meteor takes a populist medium and invites audience participation. The image itself, a symbol of doom, and the idea of choosing to take that away and make it a part of your own life suggests a subtle and downbeat humour. This playful interaction with the audience also neatly links back to the idea of art existing outside of the exhibition.

The exhibition comments on the nature of commercial galleries. This idea of the on/off art work provokes an interesting debate, even if it is perhaps more of a concern of someone involved in the process of running a gallery. Equally where Tom Godfrey directly addresses the specific characteristics of the building he explores this grey area in being involved in both showing and making art work. Installations intervene in the ceiling, bisect the room or can only fully be appreciated from the exterior. The accompanying invitation hints at a secondary room not present and the quality of its ceiling’s paint job. The benefit of putting the site and audience experience first is clear.

Tom Godfrey’s practice seems heavily impacted by his involvement with running a gallery space. The exhibition is a comment on exhibiting as much as it is the genuine voice of an artist in his first solo show. There is something knowing and a little bit uncomfortable in having a multilayered explanation through both a printed interview and an interview as an event at the private view. It became difficult to bring my own reading to the works as independent ideas or as a thematically linked body. Where is the point where the art is separated from the artist’s rationale? Is the work an in joke? There was an overload of information which made it difficult to appreciate what was in front of me.

Disentangling myself from the knowledge of Godfrey’s intentions is problematic but to try to concentrate on the works I find myself confused as to how many there are. To take just the objects in the room would be to miss the point; if the exhibition title is also a piece it dominates the room. Physically the largest is ‘Balloon’ a video projected on to a constructed wooden screen. Unless the screen and its oversized wooden stud backing are separate elements in the exhibition? The plinth on which a plasterer’s bowl is placed, filled with window stickers, has been very deliberately selected as it is made from MDF which brings the mind back to the shop interior setting (or does it? This is not the way I saw the work until it was mentioned in the interviews). The question arises where each work stops and its presentation begins.

‘Balloon’ (2009) is a video work in which interplanetary exploration is referred to and deflated (sorry) with little fuss. Marbled balloons filmed at close crop are pierced allowing the water inside to drain. Similarly ‘Bad Painted Ceiling’ (2009) is a photograph of a badly painted ceiling. Using lo-fi materials and a title, which seems to attempt to throw the audience off the scent, the exhibition almost has a casual feel before further investigation. Criticising any of the works in the exhibition as ‘in-jokes’ is unfair because as with any work of art the potential readings may not correspond with the intention of the artist. However, without being independent of background knowledge there is a sense of not having at first fully understood a dry sense of humour.

The work/works ‘Architecture of Resistance’, again a ready-made title, are hinged light boxes integrated into the ceiling in a way that is subtle and pleasing. The materials, the mdf of the main body, the rougher stud wood that attaches them to the ceiling and the material that makes up the rest of the ceiling, sit together without jarring visually despite being additions and clearly out of place once fully seen. The florescent lighting in the room is changed by the hinged panels but more interestingly they represent the interplay between an object with a function and a failure. These are a work in progress but feel right for the shop context, with its leaking pipes and standard-shop-fitting flimsy panelled ceiling.

This seems to be in keeping with the sensibility of each sculpture, a small intervention in design or in an existing object. There is an air of practicality, a dead-pan tone in the face of try-hard-art. The materials and populist formats, the small gallery space still feeling sparse, all add to this sense of confidence in the strong title and a deliberate and subtle approach to making art. Although there is a small and unanswered doubt that a cool detachment is an excuse for not committing. Attending this exhibition was an experience to take away and consider.

Interview in print:

Tom Godfrey and Richard Paul

Interview as private view event:

Tom Godfrey and Jenny Syson