The biannual Jerwood Makers Open returns for its sixth edition, presenting new works by Sam Bakewell, Juli Bolanos-Durman, Jessica Harrison, Marcin Rusak and Laura Youngson Coll. The five artists were selected from 271 applications and were each awarded £7,500 to develop projects that explore making as practice and process.
Rusak exhibits on a large table a collection of items seemingly rescued from a scrapyard or an archaeological site, all at various stages of decay. Sticky tar brown amphoras, vases and amorphous shapes sit beside shields, tubes, bolts and metal slabs, sloughing off rust like dead skin. Some of these objects are found, while others are created or altered by Rusak using a concoction of dried flowers, shellac, beeswax and resin, sometimes with some flour, sugar or sand mixed in too. The objects all display vulnerability as their varying lifespan is underlined. Some will swiftly melt in heat and humidity while others will corrode and crumble over time into a pile of rusting debris.
Bolaños-Durman presents a large canopy with Art Deco geometric patterns covered by shards of glass. The canopy curves downward to the viewer, as though to provide protection from rain or light, while the pieces of colourful found glass are laid upon the surface as petals from a fading flower. The work is precious and feminine but it is also heavy and slightly ominous. The canopy looms with bits of cut glass that seemingly defy gravity and could, at any time, begin raining on to one’s upturned face.
Bakewell breaks away from a history with clay to chainsaw and chisel chunks of wood into rippling sculptures evocative of hair, wood, fire and smoke that feel darkly erotic. In ‘Deep calls to the deep’ (2017), a mass of finely carved navy strands whirlpool into a navel; in ‘She was a Visitor (for Patrick)’ (2017) a door combusting into black billows stand before two sandal-like parakeet green blocks. The imagery and woodwork technique call to mind sculptures from the Gothic era of Mary Magdalene, clothed only in her long blond curls, or St John the Baptist’s furry pelt mingling with his unkempt hair. Like reliquaries, these sculptures hold within themselves a symbolic presence that can be felt but whose exact nature and contours remain hidden.
Youngson Coll presents three vitrines containing delicate models of cells that depict the development of her partner’s fatal lymphoma. The advance of cancer and the body’s response are often described in militaristic terms but here they are represented as a vegetal ecosystem. Youngson Coll used vellum that has been bleached, stretched, scraped with a knife, and dyed to shape cells and tumours in the manner of tubeworms, anemones and corals, and veins in the manner of roots, branches and antennas. Vellum, a medium traditionally used to bind books and write on, is used here to transmit scientific and emotional information regarding illness and grief through sculpted form rather than penned content.
Harrison created a series of porcelain sculptures based on a Pinterest online collection of Parian ware busts and figurines. Parian ware was popular in the 19th century for its ability to imitate carved marble and was mass-produced by pouring liquid porcelain into moulds. Harrison eschews the mould, kneading and pinching the wet clay with the support of smooth and sturdy porcelain scaffolds running through chests, shoulders, necks and chins. The figures seem fragile with bodies penetrated by tubes and their trembling texture, as though straining into disappearance under the pressure of the gaze. Polluted, industrial smog seems to fall upon the figures, as a black glaze obscures the heads, vanishing into the white bases.
While no clear theme runs throughout the exhibition – which would be besides the point for an awards-based show – certain concerns seem to float at the edges of the five artists’ practices. There is an interest in collections and collecting, in out-of-favour mediums, forms and techniques, but most of all in the vulnerability of materials and of objects themselves.