Berloni Gallery, 63 Margaret Street, London W1W 8SW

Ben Woodeson: Obstacle

Berloni Gallery

29 May - 1 August 2015

Review by Philomena Epps

Ben Woodeson’s exhibition ‘Obstacle’ is currently on show at Berloni Gallery. At first glance, Woodeson’s sculptures appear to have a traditional modernist trajectory. They are attractive, large and simple structures. The physical properties of the materials are brought to the fore, as Woodeson’s precise and careful assemblage determines our interpretation of composition and form. There is no ‘high art’ pedestal, no gallery guide chiding you for getting too close. The sculptures are almost too accessible - making the viewer acutely aware of their own corporeality. Yet Woodeson’s modernism is more hot than cool. Dspite employing techniques of repetition and reduction, the work has a striking emotional impact. Not only do we become aware of the materiality of the objects in the space, but of our own flesh. Sharp edges prevail. In ‘Bent (Stainless)’, a sheet of stainless steel bends precariously over an old clothes rail. This technique goes one step further in ‘Point Taken’; a pane of large unframed glass is wedged firmly into a rickety old table. The viewer is in a state of permanent unease. Navigating around the artwork requires an astute level of precision. By walking through works, or ducking under them, one becomes distinctly self-aware. This is Woodeson’s intention. Our own physical and psychological characteristics are exploited as much as the materials. His exchanges between abstraction and geometry are rooted in transforming routine habits of looking.

There is an emphasis on discordance and primal reactive emotion. There is a parallel between Woodeson and canonical Minimalists, such as Richard Serra, or Carl Andre. Indeed, Woodeson’s own floor sculpture, made from shiny sheet brass, is called ‘I love you, I want you, I need you… (Hot for Carl)’. The similarities between Woodeson and Serra’s oeuvre are less tangible, but embodied by a sense of play, and curiosity about exploiting the laws of physics. It is clear that Woodeson enjoys experimenting with balance and gravity, establishing a working medium that lies precariously between instability and stability. A work such as ‘Slotted’ embodies this perfectly. Sheets of water-jet cut glass are inserted into one another like a jigsaw puzzle. Despite the mathematical execution, the degree that the glass sits at is still slightly nerve wracking. Teetering on the edge, the viewer too feels like they are poised at the precipice of action, or a breakage at least.

In ‘Rat Trap Neon’, multiple rat traps are glued to the strings of live neon bulbs that litter the floor. Here, our hyper-awareness comes to the fore as we stand at the cusp of an electric shock or having our foot or hand trapped. In ‘Aberration, Agitation, Anger’, ninety-six synonyms for ‘uncertainty’ are hand stamped into a curved sheet of brass. This exchange between sculpture and human emotion is at the core of Woodeson’s anthropomorphic modernism. Finally, three cut and pasted word collages on the walls expose the cogs of his working process: ‘dangling off the edge … can be a painful … conclusion’.

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