Sunday, 23 February 2014

Ghosts Of The Meaningful.

Obfuscation and obscurantism are both great words to throw at a Scrabble board and guaranteed techniques for successful audience-baiting. 

Based on the Manchester (UK) side of the rainy Manchester / Salford border, the new ‘title date duration’ programme of studio-gallery presentations flirt with the above but purely in the interests of allowing ‘the art work presented to only be concerned with the act of viewing, and the will of the individual to view it.’

The first of the presentations ‘still,’ intriguingly ‘viewable between 19.12 - 19.14‘ of the launch bash, turned out to be the work of artist Sean Edwards.

Images of a cube of wooden wedges and a sheet of paper samples suggests that the neighbouring 1970‘s tabloid pictures are being born from, or about to be reduced to, paper or pulp. Could this be a direct reference to the inbred disposability of an obsolete medium? How is this really picked up in the simple chipboard and screw, homemade freestanding shelving units which pepper the space and obstruct the wall pinned elements? Any suggestion of DIY functionality is automatically undercut by the framing gallery-type space, the audience, scrawled diagrams, fragments of tabloid headers; it’s all basically a lexicon of suggestive bits.
These bits are, when stolen and recontextualized en masse, all materially solid and yet floaty, ambiguous signs in which contrary liminal impulses seem to coexist.

This is a ‘style’ of application which has gained considerable art world purchase in the last few years but Edwards’ construction retains a particular, individual conceptual gestalt which acts as a binding glue. 

Compiling stuff as a form of unfocused social anthropology which reveals a hidden grammar of communal discourse may initially suggest itself but is way off the mark. Edwards is playing a considerably denser game: here ‘meaning’ isn’t a vague, ambiguous straitjacket, it’s a tatty string vest, the comedy ghost of proud signification.

Rather unexpectedly it’s down to the temporary inclusion of a 2 minute VHS playback, about half way through the ‘opening’ event ( i.e. 19.12 - 19.14) of a very young incarnation of Bruce Springsteen explaining the live impact of Roy Orbison to make things a little clearer. A Springsteen trapped on a degenerating VHS tape singing the praises of Orbison’s otherworldly intangibility; a ghost reconstructing ghosts. 

Everything has become murky, vague; a straining towards meaningfulness is no longer possible but a presentation of the meaningless is equally impossible.

Like Joe Devlin’s recent invite-only ‘Black’ project, even if a sizeable percentage of the audience go home scratching their heads over the muddle-headed carry ons there is a genuine tone of questioning and application to the venture. The arts’ movements and shifts, its game-plays and potential contrariness, allows it to operate with a nimble tread and tone of aloof confidence which makes the whole affair either infuriatingly ‘elite’ or admirably cocky. 

What is beyond question is the fact that by contrast most of the city’s state-funded art institutions are left looking like a Brontosaurus thrashing about in a tar-pit; unwieldy, desperate and purely concerned with their own survival. 

Tuesday, 11 February 2014


Manchester (UK) Metropolitan University’s Holden Gallery is an exhibition space policed (programmed) by college staff (the students would obviously make a complete hash of the job).

Currently on show is ‘Diagrams’, quite simply examples of artistic practice heavily indebted to the instructive simplicities of the diagram.

There’s a reasonably predictable role call of established artists - Angela Bullock , Langlands and Bell, Simon Patterson, Mark Titchner - in itself not necessarily a bad thing.

Bullock has a stack of cubes exhibiting ambient throbbing, tasteful colours. Patterson has had stenciled onto the gallery wall the table of predictably misnamed chemical elements. Langlands and Bell have three bird’s eye views of architectural-type abstractions. Nothing outside the artists’ productive comfort zone.

‘Art’ may be predicated purely on a dissection of displays of shapes and colours, or on presentations of information revealing hidden social and political processes, or the voicing of a subculture’s opposition to wider communal assumptions about falsely ‘naturalized’ norms, etc. Fortunately ‘art’ doesn’t care. The minute it’s defined it moves home.

That said, any form of delivery that makes the audience do some work completing the pieces; any way of a presenting things as temporary snapshots of the process of thinking, as self-contained events indicating a meandering if oblique meta-narrative has got to be a good thing, hasn’t it?

But ‘Diagrams’ seems unusually hollow - maybe the work’s too easily comprehensible, too clearly stylistically and conceptually delineated, just too damned comfortably readable.

Cumulatively the collection of pieces in the show seem to petrify the motion of art’s scruffy vitality leaving the sense of the emptied architecture of a format - the reductive and diagrammatic - which finally, and sadly as it’s in the context of a contemporary educational institution, has lost any critical clout. 

When the final impression is the ambient tone of the restraining directives of a vacuous ‘mission statement’ something’s definitely gone wrong.