Castlefield Gallery, 2 Hewitt Street Manchester, M15 4GB

AND A 123
Castlefield Gallery
22 September - 5 November 2017
Review by Eli Regan

Downstairs, at Castlefield Gallery, Manchester, a light-emitting diode (LED) in the shape of a large ‘O’ forms concentric circles by switching its minute bulbs on and off. The effect of David Rickard’s piece, ‘C’ (2016), is hypnotic, drawing one’s vision in and out like waves on a shoreline. ‘C’ acts as a centrifugal force in which ripples and undulations in other artists’ work are felt in the exhibition.

The title of the exhibition, AND A 123, suggests a pace and a child-like playfulness that is experienced throughout the whole space.

Also occupying the downstairs gallery is ‘Not a decorator’ (2016) by Lisa Watts, a video piece split into three screens as a digital triptych. Three pitch-dark screens remain black save for the apparition of everyday kitchen objects. A kitchen roll is unfurled in the central screen with a similar mesmerising effect to Rickard’s ‘C’. Sculptural and striking, these commonplace objects are celebrated in Watt’s piece, becoming beautiful as they open out and close up in a clever nod to the rhythm of the exhibition’s title.

In another act, Watts (dressed all in black so that you can’t see her except for a blackened hand shown temporarily in outline) swirls a clothes basket with pink and orange post-it notes stuck to it from side to side. With the swirling motions some of the post-it notes fall to the ground forming an eye-catching but chance-based pattern. ‘Not a decorator’ uses these everyday objects to entice entices the viewer in a way that eschews a lot of tedious and difficult contemporary video art - a quality that Watts further captures in her live performances taking place in the gallery.

Repeated acts are also a concern for Nina Chua. Her marker pen pieces in varying shades of green and yellow are inviting enough, drawing on decades of earlier conceptual artists such as Sol LeWitt but also abstract artists such as Bridget Riley. It can even be argued that, with these references in mind, perhaps her marked repetition is a gesture towards the wider conceptual premise of repetition and non-originality.

Oliver Tirre’s ‘Practice Surfaces’ (2015) employs no such formalism. The works on canvas look unfinished, which is reflected by the work’s title, and are placed on plinths to be viewed from above by the viewer. This causes an interesting demand of the viewer, as they must move around the plinth to experience the work. But, there is an unsettling feeling when viewing the work, especially as the viewer has invested time to manoeuvre around the plinths; the unfinished look feels dulled in its delivery, although this is perhaps Tirre’s playful aim.

Upstairs, Maeve Rendle’s video piece ‘Either Or’ (2017) is shown on two separate TVs. On the left screen a younger man shown in profile intermittently recites phrases from Beckett’s his 1977 work, Neither, in French and then in English. An older man shown in profile on the right screen also recites different phrases from, Neither, sporadically. An unseen female’s voice, speaking in English, interprets them. The impossibilities of communication that Beckett explored in his plays and librettos are recreated here yet, it doesn’t seem to achieve much of Beckett’s clever oddness. By contrast Watt’s video piece is much more successful in reflecting the spirit of Beckett’s surreal mischief.

Overall, AND A 123 is a very cohesive group show with works by different artists traversing and overlapping each other thematically in a confident way that, had the works been seen individually, could have otherwise felt too isolating.

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