Alice Channer : Jessica Jackson Hutchins : Linder
16 February - 12 May 2013
Review by Catherine Spencer
David Chipperfield’s design for the Hepworth Wakefield makes beautiful use of its riverside setting, situating the building in a flowing skein of water that accompanies the viewer’s movement through the circularly arranged galleries. The curatorial strategy in turn seems designed to pick up on the sense of movement and change that this bestows, combining strands of continuity with a diverse array of temporary exhibitions by established and contemporary artists. As well as a collection re-hang and a showcase of rarely seen works from the vaults of York City Art Gallery (closed until 2015 for its own much-needed regeneration), the Hepworth currently features exhibitions by Linder, Jessica Jackson Hutchins and Alice Channer.
The three displays are not directly related: while Channer has created works specifically for the Hepworth, Linder’s contribution relates to her experiences at Barbara Hepworth’s studio and sculpture garden in St Ives, and Hutchins’ exhibit - the American sculptor’s first UK show - is essentially unrelated to the gallery or its eponymous artist. While this might have resulted in a bit of a mishmash, the sensitive arrangement allows correspondences to spark between each show and the collection in elliptical play rather than forced lip service. As if reflecting the watery setting, an engagement with the tension between form and formlessness, and in challenging simple distinctions between the two, appears at several points in all three exhibitions.
This is most explicit in Channer’s sculptures, gathered together under the title ‘Invertebrates’. These creations purportedly take their cue from spineless sea-slugs, jellyfish and squid: casts of tights, trousers and leggings in synthetic-looking orange, yellow, blue and silver pigmented polyurethane resin droop from the walls or inch worm-like over the floors, as if the garments, freed from the dictates of human bodies, are embracing new shape and life. While echoing Robert Morris’ felt slouches and Lynda Benglis’ polyurethane poured pieces, the casts’ animalistic qualities also speak to the scuttling ‘geometry of fear’ sculptures currently on display in the collection rooms. They also contrast with the sharp, mirrored steel curves and partitions that make up larger pieces like ‘Spine’ (2013). This contrast conveys a crustacean sense of soft creatures taking form from hard shells, but all the gleaming steel also has unfortunate inferences of hotel ornaments and corporate lobbies, so that the overall intent feels unresolved.
Hutchins’ sculptures are more self-assured and generous in their frames of reference, bringing together collage, ceramics, and found objects in works that allude to theatrical backdrops, domestic dramas and the melancholy of architectural ruins. ‘Trojan Horse’ (2013) is a table-like arrangement constructed from aluminium ladders that suggest both DIY and the more serious technical paraphernalia of lighting rigs and stage scenography. Half covered by a swirling painted drape of paper, the table displays three oversize pots, their lips and handles ripped and wrenched, their glazes dripping and running as if still wet. Equally fantastic is ‘Lascaux’ (2012), in which a large tubular ceramic piece, whose shape vaguely suggests one of those obscene fly-eating plants, erupts grotesquely from the seat of a patterned armchair. The ceramic insertions in each work are often grossly anthropomorphic, but there’s an overblown beauty here as well as an impression of ruin and seedy decay.
At first, Linder’s exhibit feels like a slightly rote exercise in ironic collage appropriation and archival reference, with a series of works arranged around a Hepworth sculpture employing culled fragments of Vogue dating from the year of the sculptor’s death. But while this initial section is dry and anaemic (perhaps deliberately so - Linder has described collage as an act of ‘performing cultural post-mortems and then reassembling the corpses badly’), the second is richly sensuous. Here, images of 1970s dancers interwoven with the forms of birds, snakes, horses, bats and rabbits are illuminated on vertical light-boxes like a series of religious icons.
What really transforms these collages is the soundscape that Linder has created to accompany the viewer’s movement through the glowing light-boxes, relayed through individual headphones to particularly immersive effect. The soundscape melds excerpts of Hepworth describing her sculptural philosophy with birdsong, the tap-tap-tap of a chisel, and the gentle throb of a fishing boat motor. Hepworth’s reflections on the three forms central to her practice - the standing form, the closed form and the open form - demand engagement with the shapes cast by the bodies of both animals and humans in Linder’s collages. Hepworth’s observations are razor-sharp, the result of decades of thinking and working: fed into the viewer’s ear, their synesthetic effect is to attune and heighten vision. Linder’s exhibit makes a perfect transition into the displays drawn from the permanent collection, and for a good, long look at several of Hepworth’s own works.