The first solo exhibition in the UK of Norwegian artist Kenneth Alme is currently on display at Rod Barton. Alme delicately weaves pop culture through the iron-clad, tried and tested examination of materiality and function, while retaining an exuberant flare of originality wrapped in a complexity that is uniquely engaging and unexpected.
In the centre of the gallery is ‘Lean-To’ (2014), a rudimentary shelter comprised of an angled wooden x-frame clothed by a thin green tarpaulin with a baby blue spray-painted motif. Hanging from one of the crossed beams of wood at the shelter’s entrance is a white t-shirt. This shelter utilises a sheet of tarpaulin in lieu of the bricks and motor of a conventional house, an ode to the lyrics of ‘Something in the Way’ by seminal grunge band Nirvana, which also provides the exhibition title ‘My Tarp Has Sprung a Leak’. The tarpaulin referenced in the song, was according to sources, providing the then homeless Kurt Cobain with shelter. With this direct channelling of pop-culture, one is made clear of an ever impending tangent that encompasses both this individual work and the exhibition as a whole - is there anything in this day and age that one cannot categorise and find recycled in pop-culture?
Shown alongside ‘Lean-To’ are a series of paintings in varying sizes that exhort a carefree and experimental hand, to the point of rushed reading and misunderstanding. Upon further investigation this initial interpretation is turned one hundred and eighty degrees. The two ‘Untitled’ paintings that greet the viewer upon entrance into the gallery are the result of allowing blue paint to seep and flow naturally with little duress upon stacks of un-primed canvas. The effects are soft, patterned smudging and repeated motifs, of which the surface application on the tarpaulin also originates. The areas where the paint has been controlled by Alme’s hand, loosely resembles flickers of lucidity whereby landscapes can become faintly recognisable. Perhaps then this is a reaction to the over recycling of information previously questioned, as it becomes so distorted from its original function and presentation that now all that exists is a world overcrowded by exotic mutations of history.
Alme himself notes that the tarp’s presence in popular culture is often symbolic of protection, citing Laura Palmer’s makeshift burial shroud in the opening of Twin Peaks and the father’s use of tarpaulin to shelter his family in Cormack McCarthy’s ‘The Road’, as well as the aforementioned Nirvana reference. In each instance the tarp fails to provide the desired function. It is after ascertaining this that one begins to read the exhibition as a whole, including its relationship to the interior architecture of the gallery – and suddenly there is a sense of dark comedy. The ceiling, made up of many tattered black fabric squares, fuses together to act as a quasi-tarpaulin rippling in a ferocious absent storm as even now by chance the protective nature desired from the tarpaulin object is mocked everlastingly. And with this ‘My Tarp Has Sprung a Leak’, with its light-hearted and subtly analytical crevices, is epitomised effortlessly as one unconsciously finds oneself discovering the failures of re-appropriated materials and objects in society, and the glimmers of hope they are given by the likes of Alme.