Following Paul Noble’s freewheeling, high-rised and multifarious selection (see The Page’s review http://bit.ly/13w2Bnf), and in the unique tradition of having two selectors ordain two distinct exhibitions, comes gallerist Ceri Hands elegantly staged installment of Creekside Open 2013.
Jack West’s ‘Nodding Donkey’ (2013), its head hooded and bowed, greets your arrival at APT Gallery. Sound is a key, understated element of the piece, scrolling out an exhibition soundtrack of meditative cognitive grind, as its redundant oil-pump ploughs the gallery air. Above the constancy of its arduous wheeze, the intermittent drag of its chain on the floor summons Marley’s ghost dragging his misdeeds behind him for eternity. What sins weigh down the ghost of the oil-industry? The links crease and re-crease as the rig impotently paws the gallery floor, slowly depositing a fine film of the works black coating. The armature seems to churn out vast time frames in its evocation of a gradual wearing down of itself to a pile of motionless, elemental dust. Each time the chain is tenderly laid on the floor you notice a new configuration of links, like some industrial reading of tealeaves. These aspects tenderize the sharp formal poise of ‘Nodding Donkey’ as it drills for a version of minimalist repetitions, refinements and time frames that lie within us.
At the opposite end of the space, acoustically mingling with West’s chained melody and extending its hypnotic sway, is Mark Davey’s ‘Together’ (2013). Its twin neon strips read as a kind of stuck clock hand, passed back and forth interminably on some sadistic whim. Whilst I was there one of the tubes stood defiantly upright for a period, temporarily impervious to the volatility of the rhythmic vibration and the form’s grasp, before succumbing again to its back and forth. Davey develops an interesting tension between the mechanistic and the informality of discrepancy and chance. The endless metronomic variations of the neon strips cultivate a pleasing trance whilst juggling the works possibilities. Somewhere between the crack of a boule and the blowing of a light bulb, there is pleasure also in the sound of the piece. The delicacy of the neon’s casing landing at the end of each fall contains that part of the whole, extended by the soft glow of light, which reflects something fallible but determined.
In David Theobald’s ‘Workers’ Playtime’ (2011) the potential charm in repetitious lull turns into a balletic prison sentence. A DreamWorks style of animation adds to the initial innocence, and quite tangible recollection of maintaining a balloons air born status with slow motion, lackadaisical taps of the hand. Without any shift of pace, the piece gradually seems to become more and more foreboding – the balloons buoyancy a matter of necessity rather than playful doodling. Repetition is explored in abstract paintings elsewhere in the exhibition, in works connecting with the early influence of industry on modernism. It is the sculptural and animated ebbs of West, Davey and Theobald however that most successfully engage the quality of repetition in the industrial, and now the digital, leaving some of these painterly reconfigurations feeling rather elegiac and partisan.
Grant Foster’s ‘The Rose’ (2013) seductively secateurs all but the most arduous of floral metaphors. The wet on wet brush marks fluid brevity and the particularity of his colours co-ordinates breath a kind of drowsy confidence into the piece. This aching harmony could feel closeted, but Fosters’ compactness squeezes extra nuance out of ‘touch’ and ‘rose’. In Magritte fashion, a literal reading of the unified forms becomes quite unsettling; a rose grafted onto a face, a portrait of budding, mutative countenance, drifting towards a petalled implosion. The hand over the face/rose – a svelte slip of oily tendrils – betrays both embarrassment and sympathy for its poetic morphology. The pieces formal eloquence asserts itself on your attentiveness and it’s the small touches that your soon tracking, the gaps between the words…a ripple of yellow between an orange and a red, the way a rose seems to collapse in on itself. The artist’s alertness hovers over this quiet, alluring painting, lending you its magnetism towards flourish and detail.
“‘The Rose’ seductively secateurs all but the most arduous of floral metaphors.”
Agnes Calf’s ‘Rotation (Ear Plugs)’ (2013) seemingly draws on those formalist painters such as Robert Ryman, whose churned up surfaces release fine gradations of textural and tonal ranges for the eye and the mind to haze in, gearing up resonances and references beyond literalness. Made of clay, Calf’s intimate surface reveals the waves within a fingerprint, and the indentations of fingernails whose relentless prodding of this cocoon of inertia hovers between sensual absorption and panicked entrapment, a sleepy reverie or a kind of ‘locked-in syndrome’.
Usually seen stuffed into the ears either side of a furrowed brow, the earplugs lend the material a feeling of fragility, with their allusion to the protection of silence, or their quest for quietude. The whole seems to describe sleeps edges, a dropping in and out of sentience, skillfully drawing on its artistic references and weaving potential into the form and function of the earplugs. Calf’s self-framed sculptural spotlight reminded me of the writer Georges Perec’s skill for illuminating and weaving fascination into the everyday objects of our lives (I wonder if Calf has read his story ‘A Man Asleep’), and the ear-plugs become intriguing objects in themselves on inspection, chiming in all sorts of ways with minimalist rhetoric in their foamy cylindrical precision. The ‘rotation’ enhances the hermetic loops in the piece and tie you into its themes long after you’ve stopped staring into its soft turmoil. Sitting in a ‘quiet zone’ on a train on the way home later, the shuffling disdain for a rogue mobile ringtone accentuated the idea of silence as embattled will, and the pertinence of Calf’s themes.
Anita Delaney’s ‘Huh’ (2012) appears to show a sequence of everyday artistic trial and error theatricalized and reimagined as an Aphex Twin video. In short sharp edits someone smashes, drips and burns a series of materials, including themselves. There is always a hand present, a static sculptural component rather than a driving inquisitive force – it seems to be an artistic material itself, pointing, clapping, dripping and bleeding its way through the piece. In their interrogation of raw material, the hands and arms end up feeling interrogated. Outside the context of making art, ‘Huh’ plays with the idea that there is something quite depraved or psychotic about this kind of detached prodding and provocation of inert substances. The darkly humorous mania ponders the dividing line between exercising a loss of control and actually losing it. I would have liked its grinding Lynchian soundtrack to have been cranked up to a more pervasive level, flowing over the rest of the show and rattling the bones of the more contented, homagist works.
The thought draws me back to Agnes Calf’s piece. I’m reminded that all good art comes with its own set of invisible earplugs.
Creekside Open 2013 Selected by Ceri Hand A.P.T Gallery London 6-30th June 2013 creeksideopen.org jackwest.co.uk mark-davey.com davidtheobald.com grantfoster.org agnescalf.com anitadelaney.net