Am I just? Am I temperate? Am I brave?
Each of the seven works in Brian Groombridge’s exhibition at Susan Hobbs gallery is titled ‘dd/mm/yyyy’, a standardized dating system that has become commonplace on paper and online forms. By giving multiple works the same title, Groombridge evokes a Minimalist strategy of titling everything ‘Untitled’ to avoid biasing the viewer’s interpretation; however, Groombridge’s title conveys a particular association with time and its divisions, and each work in the exhibition appears to have some connection to this theme. Additionally, Groombridge uses elements from typography such as alignment, the grid and shapes that resemble letterforms.
All the works present a structure that must be interpreted by the viewer, as if one were scrutinizing an unfamiliar alphabet. The only work in the show with words in it, a quote from Aristotle’s ‘Nichomachean Ethics’ is about being just, temperate and brave. The text is drawn using the grid that type designer, Erik Spiekermann used to create one of his modular fonts. Groombridge uses the grid upon which the font was built, and the text, arranged flush left (in typographic terminology), reads:
“we become just
In its original context, the quote from Aristotle is preceded by two other examples of qualities demonstrated through actions: “men become builders by building, and lyre-players by playing the lyre.” Aristotle seems to suggest that ethical qualities are only manifested in ethical actions in the same way that technical skills are only evident in practice. For Groombridge the equivalent of Aristotle’s ethical qualities is the grid, and his skill as a sculptor is evidenced by what he creates within that grid.
One of the smallest works in the show is a tiny yellow plate with actual-size silhouette shapes of the five standard battery sizes: AAA, AA, C, D and 9V. What does this work have to do with time or dates? Certainly, batteries have a life span and everything that uses batteries only operates for a certain length of time. The sequence of letters and numbers within the silhouette of each battery defines its size, number of cells, power output, etc. This work immediately reminded me of the stone tablet or Abaco I had seen embedded into the wall of the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo in Assisi that displayed standard roof tiles and bricks so that any manufactured materials would be consistent.
Like the Aristotle quote that has both underlying grid and specific text, the batteries are defined by templates of standard sizes as well as an underlying code of letters and numbers. The silhouettes are positioned flush left, like typographic elements, and the sequence of numbers and letters within each silhouette is also flush left, at times mirroring the irregular shape of the battery with its protruding terminal.
A white hanging plate with three red graphic shapes is an interesting companion to this battery piece. It includes three shapes that are very similar looking that could be the bowls of lowercase b’s or the bubbles of carpenter’s levels. They have all been drawn with the same stroke thickness (about ¼”—the same thickness as the panel), but they are each a different size and proportion. The rectangular white panel they have been printed on hangs from one corner, a strategy Groombridge has used in several previous works that allows an object to find its own centre of gravity. The hanging hole is centered in the top corner so that the bottom corner is directly beneath it with equal mass on both sides of the vertical axis. The placement of red lines that are parallel to the top and bottom edges of the panel suggests that they are part of a system. Their sizes and positions maintain a graphic visual balance in contrast to the metal plate which is subject to gravity’s equilibrium.
Two coexisting grids are found in a free-standing work in the lower gallery, where a painted metal stand supports a white plastic slab that partially fills the top. The “L” shape of this element suggests a portion, something incomplete. The thickness and lengths of the sides of the white slab have been measured in inches making its modular system the same as the 1-inch square metal bar of the stand. Theoretically, it could have been used to measure all the parts of the stand.
The orange colour of the metal stand suggests tools and various devices that are used in surveying and measuring: tape measures, theodolites, even the orange ribbon attached by surveyors to wooden stakes. This work has a similar structure to the Aristotle quote with the orange bars defining a structural grid, and the white slab an object seemingly generated by this grid. However, it is hard to tell which part of this sculpture is dependent on the other, which is the tool and which is the material, which is the artifact and which the display system.
A similar work on the second floor consists of a solid yellow base supporting a white right-angled object similar to a carpenter’s square with a smaller white object near it made from the same aluminum T-bar. The right-angled object clings mysterious to the top and side of the plinth. What holds it in place? Part of this magic is because its centre of mass is outside its own physical body and somewhere within the yellow plinth; so it just stays there as if held by magnetism. The yellow colour is so evocative of Dewalt power tools that this sculpture reads like a work in progress, as if someone had set down their tools temporarily while they went to have coffee or lunch.
Another work in the show resembles the ranging poles used by surveyors that are painted in alternating red and white sections. This sculpture consists of twelve elements, each made of one-inch square aluminum bar and painted half cream and half blue - so twenty-four sections in all. Ten elements define its horizontal length while two elements form right-angled stops at each end. Do the twenty-four painted sections have any relation to the hours of a day? If so, this is not made explicit.
The work extends out horizontally from the north-west corner of the gallery so it is easy to imagine it swinging around like a gate. Like other works in this show, it is typographically arranged flush left. This work is both a physical object and a three-dimensional representation of a common graphic device for indicating a fixed measurement. It has the dual grid of many of the works in this exhibition. The one-inch thick aluminum bar is an industrial standard. As are the alternately painted 9 3/8” divisions. Groombridge has reversed the polarity of the blue and cream units at each end of the horizontal bar to give the work a specific orientation in space. These right-angled parts also suggest an underlying grid upon which the system could be extended. But this blue and cream span is its own discrete object, a sensuous gate from a Pythagorean highway that only admits the just, the temperate and the brave.
An expanded version of this text can be found at http://www.susanhobbs.com