Sunday, 6 April 2014

This Space We Are

There’s been a slow incremental migration of art-events, instigated by that peculiar hybrid the curator-artist, away from Manchester (UK) city-centre into the borderland with its tougher neighbouring city area of Salford.

Gallery / art ‘facilitators’ ‘International 3’ have followed suit, moved to Salford’s Chapel Street and are currently staging the group show ‘This Space We Are’ pieced together from works which self-consciously reference the institutional mechanics of and peculiar currency which is ‘art.’

The title ‘This Space We Are’ may sound like Yoda mangling a Lawrence Weiner text-piece but it’s entirely appropriate for this exhibition’s concern in which the space or arena of art activity is intimately bound-up with its efficacy and value as a cultural enterprise.

To further milk the spatial metaphor, the human impulse to paint things hasn’t been limited to flat, vertical surfaces. Or rather the impulse to paint things has been given free-reign on flat and unflat vertical surfaces - canvas, linen, the human face and the front door. One name artist Monty has painted the gallery door green and confidently titled the activity / object / gesture ‘Door’, twice named artist Bob and Roberta Smith aka Patrick Brill is responsible for the colourful ‘International 3’ sign outside the building; Andrew Gannon has taken things one step further and painted the faces of gallery staff in his sociable but unimaginatively titled ‘Face Painting Work’.

Oil on canvas hasn’t been completely omitted from the equation. Enzo Marra’s half dozen small paintings show simplified box-like interiors with figures drifting in and out of the frame, playing with undetailed rectangles, all rendered in pasty troughs of pastel hued paint. 

There’s three further small oil paintings, Evi Grigoropoulou’s ‘Future Contracts’, of banal comestibles - an onion, a mango, an orange - isolated elements from an alphabet of foodstuffs all centred on ill-defined, dark, horizontal surfaces. They look like something between a Dutch still-life and a magazine food promotion; highly literal presentations of the digestible as a currency for a consumer culture. 

Sculpture and the moving image have one representative each. Joe Fletcher Orr’s ‘Decoy’ is a likeably clumsy mechanized compact of elements sticking out of a plastic bag, it is, however. in the wrong show. Dante Rendle Trayner’s HD Video ‘Show’ isn’t but fits far too snugly: a narrator’s head, decorated with a shaving foam beard hovers on screen. a rolling transcription of the head’s monologue, peppered with repetitions, misrepetitions  and contradictions witters on and on about the importance of networking with fictitious curators and collectors. The sleepy somnambulant delivery is affecting but the strained idiosyncracy of the piece is finally a little wearing.

Louise Lawler’s entertainingly unhinged ‘Birdcalls’ (1972 - 1981) consists of Lawler’ bird-like trilling of famous male conceptual artists plus a text-on-the-wall listing the artists names.

The birdcalls themselves work very well - the sound of art’s frustrated potency invading the space of the white cube. Unfortunately the text aestheticizes and standardizes the piece, it becomes an example of the castration and normalization of the eccentric and the application of the critical. The space of the gallery has absorbed and defanged another critique.

It may be temporarily necessary for ‘art’ to pull up the drawbridge and hunker down for a period but no-one should forget the importance of its function as a sand-in-the-vaseline of social discourse. The self-reflexive turn of the more interesting recent Manchester exhibitions is fine and dandy but only if it leads to self-reflection and hardier mutant offshoots of art practice.