The ‘Creekside Open’ was established in 2005 and has subsequently settled into a biennial open submission competition hosted by APT Gallery in Deptford, London. Two invited selectors channel their yes votes into two distinct exhibitions, and ‘Creekside Open 2013’, selected by Paul Noble, is the eighth installment (Ceri Hand’s pick will be presented from June 6-30th).
Comprising works by 125 artists, Noble’s hang achieves an unlikely cohesion. Open competitions are usually anchored by multiple selectors, whose collective dissonance is aimed at surveying a breadth of practice beyond singular predilections. That this exhibition maintains a well-paced and fluid continuity reflects positively on the sole ballot box, and is testimony to well-judged curating. Whilst you do feel slight sympathy for the work up in the stalls, Noble manages to inject the mass with distinct shifts of pace, subtle stylistic groupings, and important passages of space. The salon-hang actually seems to suit a lot of the work as it ebbs, flows and tumbles from the busy walls into piles of sand, rows of bricks, or in Sarah Kate Wilsons ‘Black Gown’ (2011), a waterfall of symmetrical sequins that knot and curdle in reflective, decimalized currents as they fold on the gallery floor opposite Shane Bradford’s live goldfish, quietly swimming around the columns of a submerged Grecian ruin. Amidst this swell of overlapping ambition and momentum, where in ‘Creekside Open 2013’ are the works that hold against the current?
The collaging and collating of found imagery (Noble raises the spirit of Kurt Schwitters in the catalogue foreword) is as a practice starting to reflect a preoccupation with web based activity. There is an element of the collagist in the proliferation of online image collection sites such as Tumblr, where the user’s identity is essentially a curated accumulation of adopted imagery.
E J Major’s ‘APES AS LOVERS’ (2012) is a grey muted scoop of borderline and passport-stamped-over-the-border bestiality. Its images range from the playful to the overt, and engage the concern that aesthetic grouping is by nature often surface-deep. In a push towards thematic unification, undercurrents of meaning are ignored, and disparate depths are superficially tied together. Major’s images seem to want to pull in different directions, towards sub-categories of anthropomorphic particularity, or, in their interaction between man and his evolutionary echo, with the theme of constructed social and interpersonal practices.
There is a skillful flattening of sources in Major’s grainy unification, a subtle veiled asterisk that holds up and complicates assumptions of easy connections. As with all engaging collage based work it explores the notion that our identities are collaged, and that assumed inherent behavioral trends aren’t necessarily anymore intrinsic or natural than socially unacceptable ones.
A formal quality of slightly exhausted or worn down reproduction is shared by Ebrel Moore’s work, ‘Jesus Fat’ (2013). A fragment of Hieronymus Bosch’s ‘Christ Mocked (The Crowning with Thorns)’(1490-1500), sits beneath an image of a corpulently obese woman, coyly peering over her shoulder from a shower cubicle, surrounded by wallpaper apparently printed ad infinitum with gaping, open mouthed men. This fragment’s connection with the fuller Bosch painting, where the figure of Christ is surrounded by the faces of mocking tormentors seems intentional, and first impressions lead us to assume claims of empathy for the woman. The expression in Christ’s face complicates this presumption, his countenance seems to portray a knowing complicity with the tormentors, as if they are props in his story; ‘evil’ created to service the narrative drive of ‘good’. In turn, the face starts to connect with the woman above. It suddenly seems oddly flirtatious, moving with uncertainty between a morbid fascination and an empathetic understanding.
“A goldfish threading itself though the columns of 125 tender perspectives offers many engaging moments in this avalanche of a show.”
The fragments appear to have been photocopied several times and then put into files, before being torn out and placed together. As with Major’s piece, the weathered quality of the imagery creates a sense of indigestion rather than seamless, unquestioned reproduction. It is an absorbing, layered piece, which shows sensitive awareness of the possibilities in its source material as well as how to develop new movement from their proximity.
The theatre of suspicion, outrage and acceptance around the digital manipulation of imagery resides in Shubha Taparia’s video work ‘Stimulation’ (2012). Whilst the influence of airbrushing and related forms of illusion on our daily intake of imagery is common knowledge, seeing the process played out is strangely entertaining and absorbing. The frame zooms in and out of a scene centered on a decrepit old building. Slowly but surely shadows are removed, digital gardening crops unwanted weeds and pastes munificent window boxes on walls whose discoloration has been swept up by the wand tool. The speeded up footage gives the piece a humorous quality, and you can imagine ‘Yakity Sax’ by Boots Randolph motoring along as some hotel owner rapidly furnishes an illusion of virtual grandeur in time for an impending tourist season. When the screen closes in on a sign outside the house, the pixalised letters ‘Dr.’ appear to suggest the residence of a doctor, and the discrepancy between digital refinement and organic actuality engages the relationship between the medical profession and body modification, born of desires stimulated by digitally enhanced imagery. As online life continues to extend itself, Taparia’s warmly illuminated interiors, deftly pasted onto the transformed building, seductively invite us inside.
Sitting placidly in a patch of well-directed space, Jan May’s painting ‘Ring Binder’ (2011), establishes a calm, halcyon trance, emanating from and echoing around the figure in the image. Formed on the lull of several brush strokes, the ambiguous profile stares intently into the paper-punched holes on the side of the page on which they reside. Precisely cut from a top layer of linen and endorsed by a thin film of matt black acrylic, the absence emanating from these small hollows seems to envelop the figure and our interpretations of the scene. May’s previous work has touched on the themes of emigration and immigration, and the feeling develops that this figure has immigrated into a file bound statistic. In this slight meditation on absence, the holes function as a kind of melancholic, bureaucratic void, and leave you wondering as to the whereabouts of the paper/canvas that once filled them.
A show within a show, five of the exhibiting artists have made work whose central motif is the brick. Carl Andres ‘Equivalence VIII’ has been disseminated through a postmodern conflagration into ‘Divergence V’, with renderings ranging from painting, to banners, fake walls, and sculptures.
Lana Locke’s innovative use of materials draws you into her piece ‘Hand and Bricks’ (2012). Her bricks are florist foam bricks, gnawed into a submissive collapse, and their dissolving forms and colours lead you to imagine tragi-comically, the collapse of a florists, before broader resonances take over. Bricks spilled by collapsing buildings, toppled by earthquakes or bombs, seem pervasive in the news, and the presence of Nicky Hirst’s piece ‘Elemental 19’ (2013) nearby, depicting the twin towers, adds to the implied drama in the subject. It is Locke’s use of the hand that really develops her piece – the iconographic spacing of the fingers is at once superhuman and heroic, and theatrically desperate. El Greco built vast tapestries of meaning into subtle variations of hands, and Locke’s piece allows us to move in and out of the work’s potential, drawing in both overt social and artistic commentaries and simultaneously evading them and leaving us to wonder.
As I’m leaving APT Gallery, I hear the gallery attendants making a point of remembering to feed the goldfish, part of Shane Bradford’s piece ‘Déjà Vu’ with ‘Forgive & Forget’ (2013). As I give it a worried glance, I recall the goldfish’s famed lack of a memory, and consider the ravages and wonders of consciousness and memory that it is missing out on (it transpires that the fish, one present only in name, are called ‘Forgive and Forget’). Whilst the fishbowl’s fake Greek temples talk about glory turned to decay, for many of these artists entropy and decay seems to be an ever-present quality of life, rather than something that has been or will come. Across a profusion of styles built on the bones of modernist assertion, the immediacy of formalist seductions tempts us towards forgetfulness, whilst for others, the reformulated equations and footprints of source material demands we remember. A goldfish threading itself though the columns of 125 tender perspectives offers many engaging moments in this avalanche of a show.
Creekside Open 2013, Part 1 A.P.T Gallery, London. 2/5 – 23/5/2013 www.creeksideopen.org/index.htm www.sarahkatewilson.com www.ejmajor.co.uk www.ebrelmoore.com http://shubhataparia.com/ www.janmayblog.blogspot.co.uk www.lanalocke.com