BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead Quays, South Shore Road, Gateshead, NE8 3BA

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David Jablonowski: Tools and Orientations
BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead
1st February - 2nd June 2013
Review by Rebecca Travis

David Jablonowski’s new exhibition at BALTIC looks the part as contemporary art. In its coolly detached presentation and slick mix of new and old it also retains a distinctly ‘European’ appearance and feel. The works presented here predominantly deal with the history of information sharing, communication, duplication and the technology that has facilitated change in all of the above, drawing attention to modes of data exchange that we come to rely on but perhaps think little about.

Viewers are first confronted by one of three ‘Volumes’ (2012), Jablonowski’s large sculpted blocks that appear from a distance to be concrete, but on closer inspection are of crumbling Styrofoam - a material ploy that suggests there is more to this exhibition than first meets the eye. Whether presented horizontally or vertically they look like some kind of monolithic monuments re-imagined in Brutalist form and the effect is to make you very aware of scale, both of the space that they occupy and their size in relation to the body. They act as a solidly existing piece of sculpture, perhaps in contrast to the intangible and unquantifiable masses of data that we have access to daily, a contextual history of which is offered through screened interviews with the inventor of the Computer Mouse and Hyperlink.

Allusions to past, present and future are recurring themes both in the titling of works (‘Future of the Document (Nastaleegh)’, ‘Where It All Begins V’) and in the assortment of media, objects and forms that are used in Jablonowski’s assemblages and smaller sculptural works. Particularly interesting is ‘Multiple (Gestetner) 1.78:1’ (2013), an assemblage that focuses on technologies of text reproduction, in which two current Canon scan/copiers support the weight of an outmoded rotary stencil machine. Layers of printing plates and glass beneath the objects suggest scanning beds, and a sensory hit is provided by a tableau of exotic spices that adds immediacy of colour in an otherwise monochromatic presentation.

In newer works such as ‘Tools and Orientations’ (2013) and ‘Untitled (touchpad)’ (2012-13) Jablonowski explores the gestures of swipe technology by recording finger marks left behind on his iPad, likening our basic interaction with touch screens to the primal act of finger painting. This link is not immediately obvious but certainly merits thought, as touch technology marks a desire for direct contact through the fingertips. However, it is an unfortunate irony that these tactile urges are not catered for in the exhibition, with a ‘no touching’ rule applied throughout.

‘Tools and Orientations’ is an exhibition with much more to offer conceptually than may at first be perceived. It is a slightly overcrowded presentation of works and this, combined with its sleek and fragile appearance, forces a hyper-awareness of navigational movements that never quite allows you to relax. Viewers that make the effort to connect with the concepts will be rewarded with an exhibition that says much about our relationship to technology through the years, but others may be discouraged by the self-assured cool of Jablonowski’s sculptural interface.

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