The title for Laura Aldridge’s major solo show at Tramway sounds like Internet slang; a caption borrowed from a contrived Instagram photograph perhaps, or a meme catchphrase. ‘California wow!’ is an indication of the mischievous nature of this funny but equally serious exhibition.
In ‘California wow!’ Aldridge’s artistic process takes centre stage, and the colossal Tramway 2 gallery gives the artist space to draw from all areas of her practice to fully immerse us into her world. There is a play on language, on visual association, and on scale. Some elements — such as ‘Be a Nose!’ (2014), with its direct use of irony — are arrestingly deadpan, and perhaps we should be wary of attributing meaning to them beyond their visual pun. Others, such as the artist’s ‘Display-scapes’, are more earnest, and tentatively we might give over to the luscious plethora of textures, colours and objects that evoke such strong emotional and visceral responses.
It is ironic, and perhaps meant, that the body is most absent in the large-scale photographic series ‘Seemingly’ (2015), that lines the back wall of the gallery. The photographs feature models (including the artist herself disguised in a pink transparent mask) carrying out various actions. The expressions on the models faces are invariably distant; as if the process of capturing the performances has caused the models to be reduced to props.
The subject/object problem continues into the three dimensional space of the gallery. It is here that the body is evoked most strongly, with the almost repellent combinations of materials and objects clashing to uncanny effect. Objects usually small and insignificant — car air fresheners and throwaway snapshots — are made large and urgent. We are forced to peer upwards and to physically maneuver ourselves in order to see things as a whole.
Smaller pieces such as ‘I’ll tell you about it, because I am here and you are distant’ (2014) reverse the immersive effect. The craft-like assemblage of objects including postcards and pressed plants is like a miniature exhibition citing some of the artist’s main ideas and influences. A postcard featuring a picture of Bruce Nauman underlines the artist’s affinity with post-minimalism.
In the middle of the gallery stands a large pink Perspex construction. ‘Seemingly (viewing)’ (2015) is a collaborative work created with architect Iain Macleod, and from within it, we experience a 360 degree rose-tinted view of the exhibition. The restless collage of colours, forms and textures that make up this show are muted by the overwhelming pink hue. ‘Seemingly (viewing)’ allows us to experience the exhibition from a subjective/objective perspective depending on which side of the Perspex walls we choose to stand, and it enforces the dichotomous strand of this exhibition: large/small, inside/outside, soft/hard, real/representation, irony/sincerity.
‘California wow!’ cannot be fully grasped through a mediated source. Though the concepts of this multifaceted exhibition can be understood from afar, it is defiantly a show to be experienced firsthand.