Hannah Barry Gallery’s current exhibition ‘A Strong Affinity’ resonates somewhere between a science-fiction novel and an industrial blizzard. Inextricable ties to scientific processes and methodologies bond artists James Balmforth, James Capper and Mohammed Qasim Ashfaq as their work, calculatingly ordered, explores sculptural language. Beyond this set of compelling experiments and metaphors lies what really proves to be the unique turning point of the exhibition – the ability for one’s imagination to create equally lavish narratives bespoke to the peculiar characteristics of the work and the premise in which one absorbs them.
No sooner than entering the gallery ‘Imperfect Detachment’ (2014) glints seductively in the glare of the strip-lights. Materiality, its utilization and distortion, is somewhat of signature characteristic uniquely presented in Balmforth’s works. In this case, the juxtaposition between materiality and the action undertaken towards it is highlighted by the work’s title. The work is comprised of two 24 carat gold plated slabs of steel slanting against the opposing wall. The gold-coated steel slabs are recklessly lacerated in a show of nonsensical brutality in a diagonal fashion causing a strange physical and visual tension: Steel retains a rough industrial function and gold is greatly sought after and proclaimed as a symbol of wealth. When Balmforth, recklessly tears the slabs, he thereby renders all the materials, both in value and function, redundant.
This questioning and reassigning of one’s investment in a material’s properties is further explored in Mohammed Qasim Ashfaq’s ‘Falling Stars’ (2013). The set of three sculptures are precariously balancing in the far left corner of the gallery as if they are suspended in a perpetual trajectory that was only stopped by the floor of the gallery. The three works are made from steel and resemble loosely, triangulated maquettes. They are finished in a highly polished black lacquer, which one is continuously being drawn towards. However, it is this unusual finish, the oddities of the shapes themselves and their superficial fragility that gives it an otherworldly quality. Similarly to ‘Imperfect Detachment’, the title of the work along with the strip-light glare whitening one’s contorting reflection of themselves peering nervously back, largely expand on this idea in the viewer’s imagination. This thriving curiosity that is preyed upon begins to plan and construct ever-stronger associations between the works of Balmforth and Ashfaq and James Capper’s ‘Hydraulic Power Pack Sledge’ (2013), which lies at the opposing end of the gallery.
‘Hydraulic Power Pack Sledge’ sits like a mechanical serpent waiting to strike. A small motor vehicle pushes forward a larger vehicle in front of it. The skids of the mechanized vehicles collaborate with white walls as it creeps through an imagined snow-scape. On the larger vehicle, an extendable arm climbs into the sky, but what is it for? There is no explicit function to be found for this machine, but when contextualised in accordance to Ashfaq’s ‘Falling Stars’, a strong connotation to some sort of futuristic technology or unknown foreign intervention within the human race can emerge. This incredible oscillation between work and viewer presents something extraordinary, a new manner in which one views the work, not through the eyes of theory or technicalities but as a director producing their own answer from this impressively bombastic equation.