Saturday, 6 September 2014

Towards Monumental Sculpture

Spinningfields Manchester (UK) is a fairly compact mini-metropolis of commerce; all shiny glass, tweaked Modernist blocks, ground floor chain restaurants and bars, a ‘business, retail and residential development’. The kind of thing that arouses people in suits.

Bureau gallery has been based at 3 Hardman Square, right in the belly of the beast, for a number of years, using the extremely large foyer space for exhibitions and art events. 

Currently fighting for attention in the corporate emptiness that signals cash and success is Noel Clueit’s two-part installation ‘Towards Monumental Sculpture’ and it’s nice to report that in a straight fight Clueit has managed to win. 

The exhibition has two discrete parts: a large billboard sized wooden framework displaying two close-ups of areas of, according to Clueit, Henry Moore sculptures; the other end of the foyer has two touching DVD playback screens showing the same synchronized hand movements of someone copying instructive hand gestures on the pad of an apple mac. 

The organic curves of the fingers echo the smooth arches of the images of Moore’s works. The very same black and white images whose definition has decayed, on being blown up to such a degree, leaving the surfaces seemingly constructed from repeated stabs of black paint on a bristly painting brush.

The title, ‘Towards Monumental Sculpture’, may itself potentially imply a diagnostic cynicism about a flimsy monumentality which has long since been usurped by a different conception of space and scale; even the near infinite space of the techno-sublime has itself been thoroughly colonized by corporate branding which bleeds back into domestic space.

Clueit isn’t however interested in cocking a snook at civic and private statuary.

The ethical necessity of ‘Public Sculpture’ is predicated on the assumption that unyielding static blocks somehow incarnate the immovable and unchanging correctness of political and social institutions founding principles. 

However, Clueit is less concerned with sculptures solidity, its concrete physicality, than he is with its aping of the architecture of gesture. The successful imposition of the ephemeral on sculptures ungiving surface is what truly allows ‘sculptures’ experienced to resonate in the mind. It’s this knowledge that allows the installation to head towards its own presentation of monumentality with an apologetic grin. 

Clueit has actually managed to have his cake and eat it. 

Not unlike Credit Suisse who own the building. 

Friday, 5 September 2014

Third Space

Crusader Mill is a stone’s throw away from the centre of Manchester (UK) so it’s an ideal site for a gallery space. Indeed it’s so ideal that Magnus Quaife’s ‘Malgras / Naudet’ gallery closed and has now reopened as ‘Cardroom’, a gallery run on more democratic principles by a loose grouping of artists. 

Ironically Quaife’s curatorial input seems to have been central in bringing together Manchester and York artists for Cardroom’s current ‘Third Space’ exhibition. And, as usual with group shows, it’s a mixed bag.

Alyson Olson’s ‘Hang In There’ is a chemically yellow sheet of perspex pinned to the wall by a pink sheet of curtain. The perspex is angled almost horizontally and its almost fluorescent edges poke into and deform the materials vertical hang. Janine Goldworthy’s ‘Pure Land’ also uses material leftovers and found items: a ten-foot rod of metal pierces what appear to be two crumpled oversized paper towels whilst her ‘Mountain Fold’ looks like a knee high, horizontally looped length of a roll of paper, little nuggets of colour decorate the paper edge free of the floor and the whole thing appears quite unstable.   

The grubbily disposable and materially odd have a touch of camp about them in Jude Lin’s ‘The Day You Won Me A Unicorn’, a light pink painted pelt stuck on the wall and pieced together from nylon mesh, feathers and padding. The suggestive tactility of the components is emphasised in the scratchy abstractions of Lin’s ‘Touch’ drawings.

In the sculpture department, Tom Wray’s three oversized, lumpen ‘Crucifixion Nails’ pierce the gallery floor. There’s an irritating literalness about the work but it does get under the skin. More willfully obtuse, Helen Wheeler’s ‘Untitled (Glass 1)’ is a blown glass alchemical flask, its glass neck gripped by a metal clamp, filled with a cotton candy pink glass thread.

Apart from Megan Wellington’s body parts and vegetation collages, two static camera ‘films’ complete the show: Wellington’s ‘Garden Book Club’ (the same title is given to all her pieces) and Liam Healey’s ‘Haze’.

Wellington’s camera work looks like an old, lined black and white video of a man and woman alternately placing bland, leafy potted plants on a table top until it's full, cleaning the leaves with a sodden cloth then removing the plants. 

Also referencing the still life, and by extension a memento mori, Healey’s ‘Haze’ is a more artful affair: pink and white flowers (painted or real? It’s hard to tell) slowly come into focus on a smudged green background, a dark stain congeals into an image which gradually becomes increasingly defined until the looped sequence starts again.

The real conceptual glue of ‘Third Space’ is the works grotty aesthetic, a popular offshoot of shabby chic automatically popular amongst cash strapped arty types. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this, the career artist does after all have a tendency to go from a cheaply produced but thoughtful output to polished, slick and less interesting gallery-funded productions. But things may have reached a point in small gallery world at which the urban beards and delightfully scuffed furnishings of magazine culture are promoting an ‘aesthetic’ which is in danger of becoming an orthodoxy.