Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Whose line is it anyway?

One particularly blustery spring morn a dot went for a walk and consequently found itself on a train to Honiton before arriving  at the Thelma Hulbert Gallery ‘Drop me a Line’ exhibition where it was then joined by lots of other dots that then became a bunch of lines that came from all over Devon, Somerset and beyond...
It was too difficult to resist the obligatory Paul Klee reference when beginning to write about the current exhibition of line inspired work at the Thelma Hulbert Gallery created, curated and installed by Somerset-based artists Louise Baker and Michael Fairfax. Klee even more relevant when you take in to consideration just how playful (literally) this particular exhibition is due to its concept of viewer/participant interaction as part of the work which is to be told in two parts (so as to avoid a one liner!) at the gallery throughout 2015.
Ahem, the current and first, ‘Drop me a Line Part I’ also sees the gallery divided into two halves with Michael Fairfax’s installed piano wires, strung in a series of constellation-like configurations (to be plucked or bowed by the viewer) in the downstairs rooms whilst upstairs Louise Baker’s  lines on paper feature hundreds of mixed-media drawings (in the broadest sense of the word) collected as result of an open call to any ‘line-makers’ out there that sought the opportunity to drop her a line of their own making (interestingly many but not all have been sent by artists). The received lines have then been collated into a huge wall work by Baker where the lines are revealed not just drawn but dribbled, daubed, gilded, stitched, collaged, burnt, printed, written, smudged, stained, sketched, scribbled and torn. There are lines which are solid and fixed others that are more fluid and temporary, varying from the completely abstract to the more representational; each one as different as the handwriting of the individuals who made them (should you feel compelled you can also create your own line to add to the series to be shown later this year). You seldom see such a wide variety of mark-making all in one place and it was both fun and fascinating to try and guess the work/marks of any artists I recognise (with more mysteries than that of being solved!)
I imagined what a delight it must have been receiving these unique drawings individually in the post, each with their own story/ journey they’d undertaken. Therefore in some ways, I felt a little disappointed that the  joy and surprise of each drawing’s uniqueness/subtlety felt as though it got lost in presenting them all together on a wall. The intimacy of each one sometimes a struggle to see in the gallery space and having to contend with the surrounding drawings around it so the sense of an overall journey, chronology or line was a little confused. I speculate that Baker, also a maker of extraordinary hand-made art books, will collate them into a book at some point which I can only imagine would help resolve some of the issues I had with seeing the work presented in this way. Something of a mark-maker myself though I still found much I could relate to and be inspired by, in addition to this work Baker has also displayed a series of threshold lines (pictured above) made from graphite which has been crushed/brushed/stepped on by the feet of visitors as they enter/exit the doorway to her studio space at Hurstone in Somerset. They are a poignant reminder of the beauty in the simplicity to be found in everyday, incidental mark-making and the traces we create unintentionally. More personally too they were reminiscent of my own tribulations with using a hammer and graphite to make drawings during my MA. 
Contradictory, Fairfax’s work downstairs reveals the other side to installation by which the work has been installed to fit the space so much that the room and gallery walls become part of the work itself. The piano wires connected by tuning pins attached to the walls are composed in response to the architecture of the room and form their own shapes, patterns and lines of varying lengths and degrees. It is a sensorial experience for both sight, sound and touch. With the use of either their hands or bows (provided) viewers are invited to pluck, stroke, strum and listen to these lines whose sounds are reverberated in different walls around the gallery. To aid the hearing process viewers can also pick up, what for lack of knowing its official name, I’m going to somewhat crassly call a ‘piece of wood’ (pictured below) to listen to the walls more intently creating a sharper/deeper sound. Viewers can also record and send their sound interactions which will become the basis for work made in the second ‘Drop me a line’ exhibition later this year. I love the idea of listening to walls and the old saying of ‘if the walls had ears’ as a way of people responding to and interacting with a space in a way they would never normally have the opportunity to; would the walls of an old cob walled cottage sound different to that of its modern brick counterpart? There’s that and the fact, that regardless of one’s personal musical abilities it is fun to be able to touch ‘the art’ as it is fun to make sounds and noise by plucking piano cords. There are even many dualities between this work and the drawings upstairs in the way we talk about rhythm, pace, depth, richness, sharpness and resonance as qualities within the work. It is these variables that will mean that the range of responses generated by these drawings and sound recordings will be vast. My attempts weren’t so much spaghetti western as they were random noise but I enjoyed the experience none-the- less.

One of the most remarkable and special things about art is that sometimes you can make a lot of work out of very little and what ‘Drop me a line’ does is take something very seemingly straight forward and as simple as a line, as its starting point and creates opportunities that invites copious possibilities from its participants which are both fun and revealing at the same time. In all the richness of sound and visual imagery you almost forget it’s the humble line that threads all the work together.
 On that note I’ve a few lines of my own.
You will visit ‘Drop me a line’ at the Thelma Hulbert Gallery.
You will visit ‘Drop me a line’ at the Thelma Hulbert Gallery.
You will visit ‘Drop me a line’ at the Thelma Hulbert Gallery.
You will visit ‘Drop me a line’ at the Thelma Hulbert Gallery.
You will visit ‘Drop me a line’ at the Thelma Hulbert Gallery.
You will visit ‘Drop me a line’ at the Thelma Hulbert Gallery.
You really should.

'Drop Me A Line Part I' is on at the Thelma Hulbert Gallery, Honiton until May16th 2015
More details and opening times at: http://www.thelmahulbert.com/thg.aspx?pageID=2

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this very detailed and lovely overview of our work at the fantastic Thelma Hulbert Gallery. So pleased you got so much from it. Angela Blackwell deserves huge credit to let us put up the exhibition by ourselves, drill into walls and leave us to our devices. A huge leap of faith and to see her smiling and laughing at the private view means it must have worked. Thanks Natalie for your words.