Creativity requires a leap of faith that is not limited necessarily to the making of art, but also in how we approach it or attempt to engage with it. The sentiment comes from the title of this week’s blog post, a line from the Auden poem of the same name, ‘Leap before you look’. As I understood it, the poem, (in the context of first coming across it during my art degree) is about taking risks, having the courage to move forward, indeed even leap into the unknown. For all this 'leaping' we may be rewarded with progress, innovation, revelation or new understanding.
Therefore appropriately titled, ‘Leaping the Fence’ the first exhibition in the newly reopened Hestercombe House acknowledges this same conviction of pushing of boundaries and pioneering exploration undergone in the practices of sixteen selected contemporary artists who have contributed to British art over the past thirty years. Although it is also asking its audiences to do the same in challenging their perceptions of what contemporary art is within the context of Hestercombe House and what are already well-established Georgian and Edwardian gardens that would have been groundbreaking in their own way upon their creation.
On Monday 26th May, I went to have a look at ‘Leaping the fence’ (never really being one to sit comfortably on it).
|(pictured left to right) David Batchelor 'Colour Chart Painting 33 (green)', Steve Johnson 'Binoculars (charm no 9), Adam Chodzco 'Untitled stile (teenage version)'|
It should come as no surprise to find that there are a significant number of works in the exhibition which are distinctly garden and/or landscape themed. Perhaps the title of the exhibition inspired from Adam Chodzko’s turquoise glossed stile (pictured) that stands proudly, mixture between kitsch piece of aerobics equipment and ‘pimped-up’ take on the familiar countryside hurdle. It is a fence of sorts but sadly, despite the temptation, not for leaping over, at least not literally. The theme continues in what, joy for me, is Gavin Turk’s ‘Desert Island Scenario’ (pictured) a mahogany carved spade. Likened to Duchamp’s similarly conceptual ‘In advance of the broken arm’ whereby the authorship of the object is questioned, Turk takes the debate one step further by crafting his ‘ready-made’.
|Gavin Turk 'Desert Island Scenario' (2003) Mahogany, 8 x 103 x 19.5cm.|
Another tool-based piece in the exhibition that appealed to me (in the sense that it is probably the one I would most like to draw-and probably will) is Mark Hosking’s ‘Untitled (Lowland Rice) two steel sculptures that appear to be utilitarian pieces of farm machinery in bright red (pictured) and sage green. They appear at first like two abstract Anthony Caro works, their forms reminiscent in my view, of the late artists balancing/minimalist sculptures. In this sense the work operates on two planes, being sculptural for their form, colour and context but in also having a functionality that the artist has created from a United Nations pamphlet on sustainable development and survivalist technology. I’m not entirely sure what these contraptions are actually for, some sort of digging/sowing, I assume but am more interested in their ambiguity. In past discussions about tools and their uses, I’ve often found that the more interesting tools both visually and conceptually are the ones which cannot be easily defined in their use and/or being classified as a tool. The ambiguity of the objects imbues them with more potential than if their exact purpose is known. In Hosking’s work does this duality as art object and functional one help us, as stated by the catalogue, ‘question the clash between contemporary art and reality of life for large parts of the world’s population’? Perhaps, it goes someway to doing so, but I find it harder to escape its reality as an art object more than its connotation to the wider world of farming/survival. Man’s relationship with the earth is explored deeper (literally) in Tania Kovats sculpture ‘Sunk’ and in Janice Kerbell’s social/scientific digital drawings garden design is determined by the climatic, architectural and functional conditions of a range of indoor environments. In an adjacent room, Marc Quinn presents a series of prints of frozen gardens of plants which would never grow together naturally.
|Mark Hosking 'Untitiled (Lowland Rice)' (1998) Steel and paint, variable.|
The exhibition also features painting by Clare Woods, sound installation by Susan Philipsz and film from Spartacus Chetwynd and Mark Wallinger (the Chetwynd film being the stronger of the two for me). Did I mention Tracy Emin is in this show too? Well, her work’s here and maybe lends a certain amount of popularity and recognisability along with the shows’ other five Turner Prize nominated/winning artists, but other than that her neon poems/phrases, like the one featured in this show don’t do a lot for me personally (I think I find them too obvious) however I do not doubt will appeal to some. No stranger to this blog we also see a painting by David Batchelor whose green gloss blob has seemingly inspired a similar green arc filling the top floor of the gallery windows. It’s an impressive sight when you come down the stairs or driveway to the front of the house (pictured) that reaffirms that something new, lively and fun inhabits within. Largely, the exhibition is well placed with the different rooms each giving their own atmosphere/context to the work. It particularly works well in the case of Bill Woodrow’s ‘Clockswarm’, a cast bronze in the shape of a mantel piece clock of a swarm of bees which sits as though it were built for the space on the fireplace opposite Ruth Claxton’s sculpture featuring, possibly what could be a bee-eating bird. Mark Nelson’s installation ‘Taylor’ (pictured) also works well in the building completely filling the room on the ground-floor. A raft of barrels tied (expertly!) together with rope supports a small tent and supplies for a journey. Where is it going? I’m drawing up my own recollections of the recent floods on the levels...Nelson is best known for his labyrinthine installations, ‘Coral Reef’ shown at the Tate in 2000 being among one of the most ambitious, disorientating and filmic pieces I have seen. ‘Taylor’ similarly has filmic connotations referencing the character, George Taylor from ‘Planet of the Apes’ who tries to escape upon a raft in vain. This work was site specific to Liverpool as one of the last centres for the British slave trade and references the political plight of refugees from Haiti and Cuba.
|Mike Nelson 'Taylor' (1994) Metal, canvas, wood and mixed media, 250 x 336 x 456cm.|
To ‘art tarts’ (so I’ve been told!) like me, then this exhibition will come as a shining example at a time of great losses in contemporary arts in Taunton and is therefore a glimmer of hope for the future. It deserves every success and is a delight to be able to enjoy and see these works on my doorstep. To the unconverted, undoubtedly there will be those who come to Hestercombe with more traditional expectations of painted landscapes, flowers and botany. To those ends you are probably best suited to looking at the gardens, but if are willing to not just look, but to leap into embracing or attempting to understand something new, something challenging, something difficult then you will be rewarded with an experience that is every bit as colourful but in many ways more, joyous and contemplative as the gardens themselves.
It is also a refreshing reminder that regarding creativity, sitting on the fence is a good vantage point but it also stops us from moving forward. This proves that it sometimes pays to do away with the fence altogether and venture into the unknown. Let's hope art at Hestercombe continues to do so.
'Leaping the Fence' is on at Hestercombe Gallery until 14th September 2014.