Hitting that elusive sweet spot between aesthetic pleasure and intellectual interest, ‘Drawn by its own memory’ fills the bright space of Laura Bartlett Gallery with materially diverse works by Nina Canell, N. Dash, Simon Fujiwara, Lydia Gifford, Hayley Tompkins and Phillip Zach. Their artworks are united by a visibly shared preoccupation with materials and issues of materiality. This thematic coherence creates a densely-knit cluster of associations and ideas surrounding physicality, tactility and embodied forms of knowledge.
On entry, visitors are greeted by Nina Canell’s ‘Free Space Path Loss’, a slim, rectangular copper frame discretely suspended against the white gallery wall. Though apparently simple, this work effectively sets out a recurring theme of the exhibition with an enviable degree of clarity. Fingerprints, indexical traces of humanity’s interaction with the material world, are scattered across the reactive surface of the metal. Canell’s work here also explores ideas of storage and the transmission of information; copper is a particularly pertinent choice of material, given its association with the fabric of telecommunications. Nearby, Canell’s ‘Brief Syllable (Flat)’, a thick, sculptural segment of telephone cable, interrogates whether a material object can itself hold or store memory. More tangible relationships of touch appear in N. Dash’s untitled photograph of a textile sculpture: a small, rather abject-looking scrap of cloth, rubbed and handled by the artist to the point of near-disintegration. Natural oils and dirt mingle with the philosophically-fraught notion of the transformative magic of the artist’s touch; a glamour that persists, nonsensically or not, to this day.
Some of the most intriguing works on show are two pieces taken from Simon Fujiwara’s ‘Fabulous Beasts’ series: two German, post-war fur coats, shaved and stretched over rectangular frames. Of all the works exhibited, these respond most clearly to the political potential of focusing on the materials of art: of considering the processes of making, trading, and all the surrounding relationships of power. The mechanisms of sublimated labour behind luxury goods are quite literally exposed via the original inked stamps, scribbled notes, and stitches of manufacture that are revealed beneath their plush exteriors.
More arbitrary, perhaps, though certainly crowd-pleasing, are Philip Zach’s Tetris-like configurations of chocolate bar-shaped tiles. Each is cast from a mixture of plaster and various materials, including ground coffee, turmeric, and ink. Hayley Tompkins’ ‘Digital Light Pool’, a plastic tray filled with the delicate, dry traces of free-flowing paint, is comparatively intimate and modest, yet appears more deeply invested in the logics of materials.
‘Drawn by its own memory’ works around the peripheries of persistently trendy ideas of Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO) and the much-reported artistic and philosophical ‘turn towards objects’. However, it avoids becoming bogged down by dry academicism or, for the most part, over-literal allusions. It offers a stimulatingly embodied art experience, yet given the inclusion of work equally appealing to the mind (such as the rather cerebral painting-sculptures of Lydia Gifford), does not rely on the thrills of tactility alone to make its mark.