A tangential curatorial approach has been running throughout Sam Perry’s previous curatorial efforts - The Loneliness of the Middle Distance Runner, Flux Factory, To Begin, at the Beginning, NURTUREArt, New York and now Cities of Ash at g39, Cardiff - finalised as a result of tangential thinking on modernism and other factions of the built environment.
Is the first visual offering, painted across a photographic print of an urban residential area on the annexing wall of UNIT#1, an independently curated programme by Nia Metcalfe. As the title of the exhibition suggests, if this photograph is ‘nowhere’, then are we to retreat to nowhere? Tom Crawford seeks an investigation of the concerns behind contemporary urban development and regeneration, which is instantly seen in ‘Apparition’, oil paint on salvaged wooden hoarding from the 2012 Olympic site. Urban generation, by its very nature is for the purposes of advanced economy, and ultimately, gentrification. As instructed in ‘RETREAT!’ we are sartorially asked to return and comply, allowing development to continue, a conversation continued in ‘Apparition’. By reclaiming the material, it proposed a question regarding the life of materials after their intended purpose, such as what to do with an Olympic park, post-Olympics.
Rob Voerman presents small diorama-style shelters, fantastic liveable spaces but with dystopian twinges. The idyllic idea of the remote cabin in the woods in ‘Aftermath’, tainted with its reference to the cabin of the Unabomber, evokes with a vile narrative not unlike Jake & Dinos Chapman’s diorama style installations, ‘Mine is a most Peaceable Disposition…’ and ‘Wheel of Misfortune’, but where the Chapmans are interested in the canon of culture and art history, in Voerman’s works he is investigating the canon of architecture in regards to sculpture.
Within the city, there always appears to be a centre and then outskirts, if we think of the outskirts as centres in their own rights, then it can become an interesting mode of thought regarding curatorial practice.
Thinking about the architectural plans, moving from the outskirts towards an area of potential regeneration, we arrive at Emily Speed’s ‘Plans/Ruins’, pencil & gouache on paper with clay and wooden objects laid on top, dissolving into shapes, planes and potential blueprints. References to recognisable architectural models such as the stilt houses of Thailand, Roman arches and western brickwork show an international concern with responses to architectural problems relating to a lived experience. They are creative, architectural, nonsensical drawings, completely impractical as plans or actual buildings, so we are drawn back to consider each part of the whole.
Arranged clusters of small wooden offcuts, all with one deep sea-blue edge is Colin Booth’s site-specific floor based installation, Metropolis. Painstakingly arranged into large cities, with smaller clusters placed provincially nearer the edges of the offices. Feeling like a giant, the naturally outward looking view of the piece enforces the idea that we are constantly looking towards new horizons, and even standing (precariously) in the middle of the largest cluster of offcuts, we still find ourselves looking outwards to find the smaller clusters. A visual representation of an age of people living within the world that since the advent of the internet and ‘world-tourism’ we are able to drift from city to city, with great ease.
A visually surprising set of textile pieces are Hannah Waldron’s ‘Map Tapestries’, a more complex part of the exhibition, not instantly recognisable as a faction of the built environment regarding modernism. Drawing upon a personal visual vocabulary, Waldron’s work uses shapes and forms of architecture and routes in a wholly different way, reducing the canals of Venice and the subways of New York down to lines in the warp and weft of the weave.
Isabelle Hayeur, described as a ‘suburban explorer’ has a definite dialogue with Hannah Waldron here, Hayeur presenting ‘Uprooted/ Deracine’, static and panning shots of the quizzical fallout of urban living – motorway bypasses, car parks, fly tipped roadsides in varying detail and power stations. It suggests a landscape on the boundary of urban and rural, by showing negative aspects of urban living (littering), the periphery is questioned, and as mentioned earlier, is this not another centre? Although undoubtedly North American, the effects are recognised anywhere. Ceremoniously stationed at the rear of the gallery it enforces its exploratory and documentative nature and affirms its view on the liminal points of human landscaping.