Friday, 25 March 2016

More Blood and Bone for Richer Terrain

In a new exhibition that opened last week at Hestercombe Gallery, ‘Terrain: Land into Art’ aims to do for earth what Tania Kovats’ previously did for water in an exhibition almost a year before at the Taunton-based contemporary art gallery. What is terrain? Where does Terrain begin and end? What is our relationship within it? And how can it be explored and depicted as art, are some of the questions ‘Terrain’ addresses at Hestercombe Gallery, which has appropriately always hosted a land, garden, or earth-based theme to nearly all the shows in response to the grounds and context the art is situ in. Quoting Tim Martin, curator of the gallery and exhibition,
“...It has become apparent that where landscape meets art and art meets landscape is central to our overall vision for Hestercombe.”
Kathy Prendergast 'Land' (1990)
The show opens downstairs with Kathy Pendergast’s, ‘Land’ (1990) [pictured above] where a mountain-tent-map hybrid is erected like a tent, but instead of canvas whose surface becomes part map, part mountain-range complete with rivers. The idea of the human element of discovey, exploration and mapping is fused with a visual depiction of the landscape in which it takes place.
 As the title of the exhibition suggests, ‘Terrain’ conjures associations with military, surveying or geological approaches to mapping and understanding a site or area of land. And the exhibition broadly speaking feels more pragmatic or scientific in its approach; it has work from artists such as Hamish Fulton, whose word-based pieces based on a three week walk, have come from a human experience in the land but are presented as an experience which has already taken place, then been digested by the artist and processed into the resulting art work. It seems like what generally comes out at the end of this assimilation is remarkably detached, a lot cleaner, more considered, conceptual and analysed than that of the actual experience of being in the landscape. Does the art in this exhibition offer anything new in how we experience the landscape? Yes, but some of it does so better than others.
Simon Faithfull '30km' (2003)
Such is the nature of this exhibition which focuses more on those human reminisces of lived experience in the land than works which feel as though they are in the moment. They are traces and you have to really be prepared to imagine and be actively bothered about picturing the likes of Roger Ackling burning lines into card with a magnifying glass in the piece, ‘In Five Hour Cloud Drawing’ (1980) so as not to dismiss it as a bunch of lines on card.  Visually starved it is instead the process, and the lived-moment of creating the work, which is in my view a lot more interesting than the result.

There are of course exceptions, with Rachel Lowe’s ‘A Letter to an Unknown Person No 5’ (1998) is a film piece that records a car journey in which the artist’s hand desperately struggles to capture the moving landscape by drawing on the window with a pen. It is frenetic and humorous and very quickly becomes abstract, Futurist-like, this work touches that most of our experience of terrain is spent moving through it.  Similarly, Simon Faithfull’s ‘30km’ (2003) film projected onto a circle on the floor documents the launch of a weather balloon attached to a camera as it spirals upwards giving a dizzyingly aerial perspective of the land that cuts-out intermittently providing a camera's eye view rather than that of a human perspective. Tim Knowles’ work, ‘Mungo Bush Walk’ (2013) also offers an alternative eye, with a pinhole camera taking images of Australian outback as the artist travelled. It creates an alien-like landscape caught in a mirage haze from the heat of the sun, its brightness likely partly responsible for the out of focus quality of the image.
Tim Knowles 'Mungo Bush Walk' (2013)
Even where artists are working directly from materials within the landscape, the work becomes semi-detached from it through having that human interaction. Richard Long uses mud. Raphael Hefti burns moss spores on photographic paper creating a scientific, moon-like image. Art tends to claustrophobe landscape, frame it, contain it and put it in commutable little boxes so it is interesting when artists like Hefti take a small part of it that when altered opens it out to create an image that alludes to space, the cosmos and something much bigger than the spores it came from.
More inclined toward romantic and aesthetic connections with landscape, by the end of the exhibition I was craving to go squelch around the garden in welly boots, romp across a field through the long grass or run up a big hill and take-in a deep breath of fresh air. None of the work in Terrain is obvious; Peter Doig being one of the few who offer what will be to many a more, familiar approach to capturing and expressing the mood of a particular place, through paint in ‘Red Deer’ (1990). [Coincidently not my favourite Doig, so a little disappointing as he is a stunning painter.] Along with Gillian Carnegie, ‘Mono’ (2005) whose dark thickly painted flowers sit in a status between decay and mourning and works well alongside Anya Gallaccio’s decaying flower heads behind glass also in the exhibition.
Gillian Carnegie 'Mono' (2005)
In being more challenging the exhibition, like the nature of terrain itself, proliferates possibilities and opens up a dialogue into inventive and imaginative interactions between people and terrain. It aims to look ,“...more to the ground, where bodies and land meet,” but I would have liked it to go a bit deeper. I felt it a little too detached from its subject matter, Terrain is a concept, something outside and inside is the gallery where we come to terms and process what it all means. The Dutch artist, herman de vries (not in this exhibition) still being for me, one of the best artists for capturing a sense of a very human reality of bringing the land into the gallery in a way that still feels quite scientific but from a genuine compulsion and fascination to bring the outside, in. I would like to have seen a bit more angst a bit more warmth, expression than cold pragmatism which isn't in all the work but overall dominates the show. Essentially an interesting show but with a little more fish blood and bone, a little more guts, earth and muck and this exhibition could have really grown into something beautiful, unknown or wild!
‘Terrain: Land into Art’ is on until 4th July 2016 at Hestercombe

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Feeling Potty About 'Invisible Reality'

Confession; for someone who actively attempts to avoid pots, saucepans and baking trays involved in everyday life activities such as cooking I find them remarkably exciting as aesthetic objects. And let’s face-it, under the functionality of ‘art’ almost anything can become the item of consideration...

A celebration of surfaces, worn, burnt and brandished from a lifetime’s worth of cooking and scrubbing; the identity of sustenance past. A compendium of chrome, 50 shades of grey they glisten. A variation of vessels; big pans, small pans, kettles, buckets, karahi, woks and lids! So forgive me for sounding a bit potty, but the South West deserves to go mad for Subodh Gupta’s latest exhibition of suspended saucepans amongst other works on show in, ‘Invisible Reality’ at Hauser and Wirth, Somerset until May 2nd 2016.

'Chanda Mama door ke' (2015) Found aluminium utensils, fish string, steel. 107 x 191 x 191"
This work (pictured above/opp), titled ‘Chanda Mama door ke’ (From Far Away Uncle Moon Calls) is one of the more recognisable as being Sibodh Gupta’s work; it features the Indian born artist’s now signature saucepans which he has been using to make large scale suspended sculptures for almost three decades. Though nearly all of Gupta’s work involves using everyday materials, “use of functional and found objects relating to his home country, drawing on both cultural and social shifts as well as considering these objects as vessels with personal and geological histories” (but more on that later...) Here at Hauser and Wirth, Somerset they collectively form a giant suspended pot. They seem to defy gravity despite their weight and also suspend themselves in time as though mid-fall hanging silently and suspenseful in the wait for a crash that is never going to happen.
The everyday in this work is pleasingly recognisable as individual components but in a context that feels strange and unfamiliar; suspended as both small individual components each with their own history (and debatably beauty) but all part of a larger than life whole that alludes to something bigger than the sum of their parts.  Together they become the giant pot, a nebula or constellation of stars, an explosion, what is created is something more unreal than the mundane circumstances of their origin. The vessel, the pot, the jar and the saucepan also all having symbolic connotations with the feminine, the womb and links with ideas of creation, which are all rather grand and bigger concepts than the humble saucepan.

“highlighting the differences between our mortal lives and the mysterious cosmos beyond...He explores the connectivity between the two, how great meaning can be found in the everyday...”

That last statement echoing what I have felt/said for years....It should come as nothing new to those who have had to listen to me! I suppose the only difference being that ‘seeing’ meaning in the everyday and being able to communicate it in my art work are two quite different things and certainly outlines one of the challenges or ambition of what I’ve been trying to achieve. Back to Gupta however, this idea literally resonates throughout the exhibition and in the work, ‘Touch, Trace, Taste, Truth’ greets you aptly as you enter the exhibition in the form of what at first appears to be a gigantic yellow gong! Resist the temptation to touch! 
'Touch, Trace, Taste, Truth' (2015) Brass, steel, barbed wire. 120 x 120 x 64"
Beautifully simple and it isn’t until you peer around the other side that you realise it is in fact a brass pot suspended on its side (its bottom facing you as you come in, Oo-er!). I read somewhere in an article online that this piece and Gupta’s work in general attempts to, “Aggrandise that which we fail to acknowledge...” which again is fairly self-explanatory, but is a very effective way of justifying Gupta’s use of scale both in the literal sense (these works are mostly huge) but also the metaphorical of taking something meagre and making it something much more confrontational and profound. They almost swallow you up! It’s interesting for me personally because when I was researching artists that used the everyday in their work I mostly looked to the American Pop Artists and Abstract Expressionists as artists who blew-up (made big) egg whisks, car tyres, umbrellas and so on; but it had always felt, particularly with Pop Art (with the exception of Jim Dine), that it was too ‘throw-away’, commercial and embroiled in the visuals of advertising for it to truly link with what I was doing by drawing big tools that were a lot less slick than all of that work. Looking further East at artists like Mona Hatoum (who incidentally has a show at the Tate later this year) and probably Subodh Gupta (who I had previously always overlooked) offer a more meaningful approach to everyday objects that possibly would have fitted with my work more had I explored it further. It is that distinction between the mortal and the mysterious that is certainly something to think about.  

'Pressed for Space I' (2015) Aluminium, fabric, resin. 25 x 43 x 3"
You can see where Gupta’s training as a painter early on in his career has influenced his new work in the series, ‘Pressed for Space’ (also on show) where the celebration of surface in the pots and pans is emphasised at its most clearest. The pans are literally pressed ala Cornelia Parker style into the formal rectangle that denotes ‘art’ in the same way the plinth has traditionally done for sculpture. In these we can easily see the wear and texture of the metal pans, though not as easily recognisable for what they originally were they have become more abstract, formal elements; essentially, a painting made of saucepans! In-between the gaps are tightly packed fragments of coloured cloth which add some colour to the composition as well as allude to the biographical element in the work and Gupta’s Indian heritage. The title ‘Pressed for Space’ may also be a reference to living conditions as well as a sense of re-using, not wasting these objects after they’ve gone into disrepair. The resulting ‘image’ viewed like a landscape takes the idea of the romanticism of a landscape painting with the romanticism of the secret inner-lives of these objects that have now been crushed but like the surface of skin or the landscape forever retain the marks of their past histories. [Hence the archaeology comment mentioned earlier.]

'There is nothing outside the text' [detail] (2013). Terracotta jar, wire, steel.
That mentality continues in the piece, ‘There is nothing Outside the Text’; a large terracotta jar bears the scars of once being broken and presented now fixed, held together with wire and a couple of g-clamps. We’ve been here before, they are the ‘cracks that let the light in’ and a whole bunch of metaphors more that make walking around this exhibition like going to a poetry slam. That is what makes this exhibition all so blissfully accessible allowing for multiple interpretations but using archetypal symbols that help guide that meaning to more universal concepts or ideas. Some of the work I have deliberately left out also touches upon environmental ideas, such as the show’s equally immersive central piece, ‘Invisible Reality’ and ‘Specimen No. 108’ so there’s still plenty of excitement to discover should you go see it for yourselves. I’d recommend you do, this is by far the best exhibition Hauser and Wirth Somerset have done to date and sets a president for what is going to be a year of 'the everyday'...More details of which will be coming here very soon!

Subodh Gupta, 'Invisible Reality' is on at Hauser and Wirth Somerset until May 2nd 2016