Alison Turnbull: Matt Calderwood
De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill on Sea
9 November 2013 - 23 February 2014
Review by Karl Musson
Enough generations have passed now that no one alive recalls a time prior to the mechanical, and latterly electronic, reproduction of images. Indeed, we will soon see the coming of age of a generation who have never known life without the internet. How does this affect our understanding of art which engages with a specific site’ Jane Won’s inspiring curatorial decision to place Alison Turnbull’s work with Matt Calderwood’s has an interesting bearing on this question.
‘Papercut’ (Calderwood, 2013), meets the considerable scale of the De La Warr Pavilion by covering large areas of the gallery wall with a collage of newsprint paper. At the beginning of this exhibition, the differences between the rolls of paper would have simply been the slight variations in manufacture. Over the duration of the show however, the strong sunlight which fills the gallery has faded the collage unevenly. A similar engagement with the specific conditions of the De La Warr Pavilion is seen in ‘Exposure Sculptures’, (Calderwood, 2013). These pieces are made of plate steel, welded into forms which chime with the modernist aesthetic of the building, and are then clad with a paper wrapping which connects visually to the wall collage.
Significantly however, these sculptures were placed on the roof of the pavilion for a period of time before installation so as to expose them to wind, rain, strong sunlight and high-saline air. The powerful result is a record of a specific place, as told by the conditions of that place. The paper has weathered and faded, and the steel has begun to rust in patterns which record how the sculptures met the elements they were exposed to. The substance of these works therefore, could be said to be that which the materials are not ‘supposed’ to be - the rust of steel and the fadedness of paper.
As John Berger pointed out in ‘Ways of Seeing’, because of printing technology we no longer have to go to a specific church or cathedral to view particular paintings in order to get a pictorial sense of them. But getting a pictorial sense of an iconographic, or notional image, is a very different thing to engaging with site-specific work. Perhaps a reason why Calderwood’s works sit so well in a high-modernist building in 2014 is that their durational quality, in keeping with their site-specific nature, resists being transported by reproduced images for viewing elsewhere.
As Calderwood’s works draw our attention to the specific place in which they come into being, Alison Turnbull’s work could be said to examine how other places appear from a site of observation. Several of Turnbull’s paintings undertake to represent the night sky. However, these representations begin not as direct personal observations, but as diagrams of a more technical nature. Turnbull breathes a new type of life into them as artworks, in a sense drawing, as a verb, from drawings, as a noun. Turnbull’s meditative, balanced paintings use their entrancing beauty to dissolve distinctions between ‘technical’ and ‘artistic’, and instead ‘give equal weight to cultural and scientific context of the found materials’.
‘Einstein’s Tower’ (Turnbull, 2013) and ‘Mendelsohn’s Staircase’ (Turnbull, 2013) have their origins in architectural plans drawn up by Erich Mendelsohn, the architect of the De La Warr Pavilion. In a different setting, these paintings would appear to be fairly large-scale. But the size of the De La Warr Pavilion’s Gallery 1 enables them to be hung in the space with the dignity of Georgian proportions, a link of lineage to Mendelsohn’s concerns with light, which seems to further settle the individual paintings into a captivatingly coherent exhibition. While more conceptual than the direct physical connections seen in Calderwood’s work, the thoughtful pace of viewing these paintings encourage allows time to sense thematic links.
‘Drawing Tables’ (Turnbull, 2010 - ) functions within a similar conceptual realm. This ongoing piece of work currently numbers six tables which display drawings made on different types of stationery from different places around the world. The place names within each table, such as ‘Rome’, ‘Lisbon’ and ‘Zurich’ refer to where the specific pieces of paper are from. As well as being from different places, the sheets of paper are also of different types. Some are ruled, some are graph paper sheets, others are isometric paper. Far from giving the impression that certain types of stationery are more popular in some places than others, ‘Drawing Tables’ moderates their different overtones, such as the officious look of graph paper, and brings their visual qualities into balance with their associated use, again giving ‘equal weight’ to artistic and technical.
Another very considerable aspect of ‘Drawing Tables’ is their archival quality. Corresponding with our increasing dependence upon the internet might be a decline in our use of hands-on processes such as drawing graphs and charts (without computers). A high-modernist building in the clear light of England’s south east coast might then be as suitable a place for a collection of drawings on stationery as it is for a site-specific exposé of modernist architecture. And in a sense, while we can upload as many photographs as we like to the internet, a certain zeitgeist cannot, it would appear, be mechanically reproduced.
 Alison Turnbull, quoted in De La Warr Pavilion text.