Eleanor Wright: Thin Cities
Galltery North, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne
12 September - 17 October 2013
Review by Josh Wilson
‘Thin Cities’, Eleanor Wright’s exhibition at Gallery North, looks towards a current fixation with iconographic architecture, the nature of design technology and the spatial relation between body and form. The central exhibition was accompanied by a two-day event, ‘Tuned Cities’, which consisted of a symposium and a series of film screenings in collaboration with curator Sam Watson (CIRCA projects). From the didactic video essays of the urban environment in Zachary Formwalt and Patrick Keiler to the shifting, spatial paradigms of Beatrice Gibson and Mirza and Butler, the range of film and video on show was as intriguing as their accumulated length, which spanned a mighty three hours. An extended period of viewing - though it was clear that both artist and curator wished to provide the viewer with the chance of entering at any moment, and taking some enjoyment in such an interjection.
Wright’s central exhibition at Gallery North comprised two spacious floor pieces with modular patterns. To the right sat a black grid of curved PVC plastic links; to the left recycled salmon-coloured SBR rubber consisting of regimented arrow shapes. ‘FlatMatt’ was a sea of material repetitions, forming a large body which curved in a wave-like rhythm. The cheap-grade rubber was grounded by its rigidity, and the darkened PVC served as a pivot for the viewer, bouncing flickering light from its reflective sheen while retaining an absorbing, oil-like darkness. Perhaps the artist quite literally extends Roland Barthes’ take on plasticity, suggesting that it is ‘less of a thing than the trace of a movement’. ‘FlatMatt’ also alludes to potential space, existing in the obsolescent volume above its flattened plane. Rather than celebrating this flatness, each piece was as much about its potential height as its existing width: like a row of bricks marking the border of a house yet to be built.
The artist describes these floor pieces almost as skins, and indeed Wright takes this analogy even further by including footage of the Zaha Hadid designed Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre burning in Baku. It had caught fire due to a welding malfunction, which spread throughout the building’s voluptuous exterior, tearing into its many panels. As only the surface was damaged however, the building began to generate its renewable serpentine layer and replenish its skin. One watches the devastating footage under a speaker which emits a collection of field recordings gathered on site by the artist herself. The exhibition pursues certain material sensitivities in subtle, reactionary ways - in the light-responsive opacities of the vinyl photographic prints for example, applied to the interior and exterior of the gallery and shifting in opacity from day into the evening.
Perhaps ‘Seahorses’ are a direct contrast to this. Wright makes reference to Newcastle’s civic centre; an imposing city centre building, the product of the concrete advocacy of controversial politician T. Dan Smith. The two sculptures take shape as an extruding 3D image of a seahorse, and pierce the subtleties of the adjacent floor pieces like simple materialised products of CAD - that infinite, almost-utopian software used by architects such as Hadid as a preliminary item in their designer tool box.
Constant Nieuwenhuys and his ‘New Babylon’ architectural model proposed a malleable, interchangeable and (to many) utopian form in which to live, emphasising elements of play and desire in a new world. But from its inception ‘New Babylon’ was given a different name, ‘Deriville’: the literal translation of which is ‘drift city’. Wright describes her interaction with the Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku and how she circulated the building from afar, her circumscribing movement and her fixation with the contours, indexes and details of the CAD-made-real building in continuous perspective shifts - her drifting. It is relatable to the very movement the viewer experiences her sculptures in situ. Similarly, in the screening programme, spectators divert their attention from wall to wall, their bodies positioning from seat to seat, between three dispersed projectors. Eleanor Wright presents situations with her minimal objects; she invites a subtle mobility and thus a refined attentive interaction with materials and a playful awareness of space.
 Roland Barthes, Mythologies p.117