Re-Assemble1 with its word splicing hyphen emphasises an expectation that the artworks will encompass configurations done, undone and re-done. Though, like many of the works in this group exhibition, there is an essential contradiction which runs through the title.
Assemble refers either to a group of people coming together which is temporary, else to the arrangement of componentry. If the latter is for a machine, there’s reasonable hope for the assembly to be more permanent, a direct opposite of the momentary mustering of citizens. The need or preference to “re” assemble then initiates the question of why. Was the original assembly broken? Obsolete? Do we have all the parts? Is this a necessity or a game?
As part of law firm Collyer Bristow’s ongoing commitment to the arts, in-house curator Rosalind Davis has assembled multiple contributions from 18 artists whose work intentionally or accidentally reconfigures its constituent parts. This isn’t just academic, it’s personal. As Rosalind’s own collaborations with fellow artist Justin Hibbs reveal, she is particularly and heavily invested in how space can be both clearly and deceivingly bordered, walled, outlined and mirrored. Their resulting work which can be seen at Arthouse1 as part of Observation Rooms, highlights possibilities, pathways and dead ends as short-lived arrangements which, despite their calculated appearance, are actually subjective compositions, susceptible to constant re-assembly.
Rosalind and I meet up at Re-Assemble where she spoke about the artists being selected on the basis of their work reflecting “something of where we are politically in the UK and how precarious things seem. From the Brexit vote to now, we’ve seen dramatic political and economic changes with people collaging ideas together from a diverse range of experiences and trying to remap territories around structural issues and borders. These notions were churning around in my mind when I was putting the show together. I was thinking about all the game playing and disruptiveness, not just here but abroad as well and how you can use artworks to articulate the actual things that are going on, possibilities that might arise from treading new paths as well as the interior feelings which are prevalent along the way. So what you’ll see in the exhibition is collage, hybridisation, manoeuvring, risk taking and precariousness. It’s also pertinent for the exhibition to be located in a legal environment where the daily goings on often include finely detailed negotiations around agreed boundaries in relation to systems of operation”.
Appearance and substance are at odds in Hermione Allsop’s three peculiar sculptures which greet us at the door. Made of wood veneer and a list of materials imitating that veneer, she employs a “fascinating and incredibly inventive approach to materials” remarks Rosalind. Her work is also seen in Ornamental Gardens (2019) where components with vastly different histories are bought together with eccentric cohesion.
Against a backdrop of diabolical disasters which leave the landscape in ruins, Diana Taylor’s work encompasses both her English and Cypriot cultural identities. She embraces traditional fabric, stitching and other traces of antiquity alongside print and paint which results in layering, obscuring and re-layering.
Ana Ruepp projects symbols and spaces in her compilations of wall based soft sculpture plus an array of drawing and painting material. A certain buoyancy is articulated by her installation title All things are so very uncertain and that’s exactly what makes me feel reassured (2019) which is just as well since Brexit is forcing Ana and her family to leave the country.
Ruin and Repair
Mandy Hudson and Tess Williams have developed their individual approaches to things falling apart. Mandy observes tumbles of objects huddled or tied together in an effort to control them else keep them safe. Tess rips, tears, patches and creates collision collages from the urban landscape with an increasing use of utilitarian and mass-produced products. Both artists evoke a descriptive remedy to our throwaway consumer mania.
Comparable to Tess, Fabio Almeida focuses on hard city surfaces, composing their light, texture and colours. His broad range of papers which have faded and marked over time are pieced together in a an intuitive and carefully considered manner though far from any sort of permanent solution. In fact, Rosalind recalled that he’d sent her an image of a piece which had changed by the time it arrived to be hung in the show. Naturally it becomes a perfect metaphor for our current political anguish where there seems to be no arriving at any agreed answer, any time soon.
Ben Deakin’s landscapes are a composite of places which may or may not be real. As much as there are pathways, there are also dissolves and disconnections which make navigation impossible. Nearby, Gary Colclough’s wall-based sculptures imply harmony might just be possible between the natural and built environments if borders and balances are acknowledged and respected. A highly relevant piece at a time when the UK parliament has just passed a motion in the House of Commons to declare a state of environmental and climate change emergency following the ongoing Extinction Rebellion street protests.
Carol Wyss’s etching plates feature barely discernible weeds composed of bones. She strikes a tricky connection between two species – plants and humans – and their propensity to be viewed as pests. A weed might just be an innocent plant considered to be in the wrong place. Displaced people seem to suffer the same judgement. In an interesting twist, weeds become the victim of their own namesake as they are weeded out to allow cultivated plants to thrive.
Elly Thomas creates soft sculpture which can be easily rearranged. In preparing her work for the show, Rosalind suggested “more is more, almost to the point of absurdity” and the result bulges out of its allocated space with weird depictions of infantile organisms, drooping, dribbling and bouncing for their place in, on top of and around a set of neat pillars surely meant for elegant display. Instead, the naughty mess makers rule, though luckily these ones are harmless.
In another display of momentary manoeuvres, Tom Hackney’s paintings depict the chess moves made during conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp’s competitive playing. A full rendition of the game is found on the reverse of each canvas. Where the board squares were left uncrossed they become blank spaces in Tom’s work, which emphasises how emptiness becomes a critical part of composing both a strategic process and a painting.
Angela Smith pours, drips and pools paint to create bizarre images of busts. They appear to be a gloopy, sludgy mimicry of Fuzzy-Felt where eyes are stuck on faces and heads are stuck on shoulders with an effort to convey the complex human psyche, edging on an internal Caliban - half human, half wild. Her characters might equally be composites of cobbled together ancestry or the biological mutations which bring about identity.
Greek Herm (or Herma) sculptures were once associated with fertility, luck, roads and borders, often touched by passers-by. Neal Rock channels the ideas around these superstitious carvings of antiquity, to create wall mounted object images. Titled Diptych (Therblig) (2019), these refer to the measuring tool for movements within manual labour in order to assess what is necessary and what is not. Likewise, Neal’s work undergoes its own complex process of extend, push, pull, fold and wrapping manipulation.
Idealism meets Humanity
David Ben White’s works capture all the allure of modernist mythology with its promise of a perfectly clean, unmarked, perhaps even unremarkable, compartmentalised life, while also defying its rules. Operating from Le Corbusier’s design principles, David presents living rooms where what’s on the box mimics what’s in the painting, else it’s the other way around. Regardless, the which comes first scenario plays out as the artertainment of our times where painting which once carried the aura of depth is on par with television, tasked with delivering mass consumption.
Despite the drag, drip and spray of paint, Ralph Anderson’s cut out pieces seem to achieve quite perfect surfaces. Rosalind describes them has “a coded language” and Ralph’s method of shaping the object around its drips and splashes, insist that the language embrace complexity, error and a degree of being out of control. This is all the more emphasised with his titles Use U’r Eyes and Use Y’r Mouth (both 2015) which seem to insist on communication relying on all the senses.
Rework and Reconfigure
Using systems of build and re-build, Dominic Beattie’s modernist patterns are composed, dismantled, reconfigured and worked over. Their repetition and interference recall the beats and syncopation of electronic music as they hold bright and present. Here his wall pieces are accompanied by playful little vessels as dance floor characters to their bigger, two dimensional siblings.
Touching the Intangible
Ismini Samanidou weaves untouchable elements of the natural environment as a testament to time, place and change. Her intense, laboured process to depict ever moving organic forms such as clouds, reflect the complexity of a time when our surrounds feel equally intangible.
Finely netted over Hermione Allsopp’s Ornamental Gardens, Kate Terry’s Installation #47 (2019) marks out a territory without all the heavy-handed invasiveness we might have come to know as normal. Her practice incorporates the partial which may be the beginning of something, what’s left at the end or simply a segment of a larger story. Almost impossible to photograph, her threaded work becomes like an embracing shadow which we can only see part of at any one time.
Future history might recall our current day as mayhem caused by anarchic fractures at a time of global access to information, changing of international power structures and a re-thinking of the UK’s place and citizenship in the face of such drastic transitions. There may be talk of failing systems, oppositions and collisions. There may be reassessments, revisions and restructuring. But there just might also be a hopeful story of new seeds being planted; for as long as the tree roots are not destroyed, new growth is possible as well as new forms of that growth. Consider that, after decades of scientific evidence and debate, Parliament seems to have been swayed by a teenage Swedish activist to take action. Is this simply a distraction from the awfulness of present politics? An easy, hollow happy face? Or is it a testament to the power of thinking, hoping and imagining something else, something better? In fact, insisting on it. Which brings us neatly to Rosalind’s next offering at Collyer Bristow centring around fantasy, titled The Immaculate Dream. Spring boarding from L. Frank Baum’s quote, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” the exhibition will include fantastical landscapes, constructed spaces, dark fairy tales and silent stage settings by 19 artists2 who invite us to explore a looking glass world in which pasts are reimagined and futures projected through the various lenses of cinema, technology, science fiction and cosmology.
1 Re-Assemble is at Collyer Bristow Gallery, open Monday to Friday during office hours by appointment and runs until 29 May 2019 with participating artists: Ana Ruepp, Angela Smith, Ben Deakin, Carol Wyss, David Ben White, Diana Taylor, Dominic Beattie, Elly Thomas, Fabio Almeida, Gary Colclough, Hermione Allsopp, Ismini Samanidou, Kate Terry, Mandy Hudson, Neal Rock, Ralph Anderson, Tess Williams and Tom Hackney.
2 The Immaculate Dream (14 June – 30 October 2019) artists: Alice Wilson, Carrie Grainger, Cathy Lomax, Clare Mitten, Guy Allott, Emily Jane Campbell, Graham Crowley, Hannah Brown, Jane Hayes Greenwood, Joanna Whittle, Julie F Hill, Michael Coppelov, Monica Ursina Jäger, Robin Dixon, Robyn Litchfield, Roza Horowitz, Sandra Beccarelli, Sasha Bowles and Steven Heffer